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Every other article you find online will have almost identical information when it comes to sewer backup. The lists go into why sewage backs up, the same couple of “signs” are presented, and most of the outcomes are the same: Clean it yourself or call upon a pro restoration company to properly clean, remove, and disinfect your home from sewage.

This information is great, but it’s the same thing again and again. So, we decided to help you out by creating an article that lists everything all in one place. Let’s start out by stating that we are professional water damage experts. Blackwater (sewage water, wastewater, etc) is a common emergency we take care of for homeowners.

Now, this makes us qualified to answer your questions, seeing as though we’ve been dealing with water damage and sewage backup for over 20 years. The information you see here is factual and approved by our licensed restoration team. What makes our information better than a plumber’s? We’re the ones that literally clean up the crap, while plumbers only deal with the plumbing problem. We have seen it all and have restored it all.

Alright, let’s jump into a few educational points just so you know what you’re dealing with here.


What Exactly is Sewer Backup?

It’s just as it sounds like, it’s sewage that’s backed up into your home through drains. Sewage backup is a messy, smelly experience, so it’s no wonder that it’s hazardous just to be around. Sewer backup goes by various names, a couple being “blackwater” and “wastewater”. No matter how you spin it, backed-up sewage is a disgusting emergency. To be very clear: it is an emergency!

Why is sewage backup not safe? Because it’s filled with contaminants and substances (bacteria, stool, pee, grease, etc) that get disposed of for a reason. The bacteria we’re talking about is very unhealthy, seeing as though it’s a contribution of all of the things that find their way into your pipes and out to the main sewage system. By not safe, we literally mean that you shouldn’t be in the same vicinity as the sewage. Just breathing it in can be dangerous to your health.


Will Homeowner’s Insurance Cover Sewage Backup?

Not unless you have additional coverage. It’s an out of sight, out of mind scenario for most homeowners like yourself. Typically, you don’t tend to think about your sewage system until a catastrophe happens, like sewer backup spreading throughout your home. Most insurance providers have additional coverage options available for sewer lines and water mains.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, you are responsible for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of your sewer lateral (the underground pipeline that connects your home’s sewer line to the city sanitary sewer main). The sewer lateral is located under your yard and is only present when you are connected to the city’s main sewer system. If you don’t fall into this category but are in a remote location, you may have a different system installed for the disposal of sewage.

Not ideal right? This is the unfortunate circumstance that we live with as homeowners. That’s why having additional coverage is extremely important. In case of emergencies, you want to know that your insurance will cover the costs of damage incurred by sewage or damaged pipes.


What Causes Sewer Backup?

A lot of different scenarios can play out that cause sewer backup. Here are several possible problems that might have happened to cause sewage backup in your home.


1. Clogs

Blockages are a leading cause of sewage backup problems. Since the pipes for your sewer line are very small in diameter compared to other pipes in your plumbing system, 4-6 inches, they can easily become clogged. Below are a few things that can cause clogging.


2. Grease

You’re not supposed to dispose of lots of grease down your drains, this leads to clogging since grease is thicker than water and can be difficult to break down throughout the pipeline cycle. Do not dump grease down your drains, for the sake of your plumbing and the city’s sewage system.


3. Non-flushable Items

Not everything can be flushed down the toilet. Yes, even if it says it can be flushed down the toilet. People tend to flush down materials that don’t disintegrate or break apart shouldn’t go down the drain.

An example of something that breaks apart when you flush it: toilet paper.

An example of something that isn’t biodegradable: cotton balls.


4. Sewer Line Damage

For homes that are connected to sewer systems, sewer lines are installed to connect a house’s drains and the main sewer drain. It’s an underground pipeline that sits beneath your yard. Its sole purpose is to push the flow of sewage and water away from your home into the city’s sewer system. If it is damaged, this can cause sewage backup.


5. Storms

Flash floods, high winds, and snow can lead to unanticipated damages. Heavy rain and hail storms can flood sewer systems, causing the water flow to work backward into the home.


6. Tree Roots

Trees and bushes that are close to your pipe system are cause for concern since the roots are so strong, they can literally break through your pipes. If these roots are intertwined in your pipe system, they could become a blockage or lead to pipe leaks.


7. City Sanitary Main Blockage

Back in the day, cities built sewage systems before installing sewage treatment plants, many of which have not been replaced. When the city’s sanitary main becomes blocked by debris or flooding, it can cause backflow which inevitably pushes hazardous water back into your home through the piping system’s sewer line. Not much can be done in this situation seeing as though it’s the city’s responsibility.


8. Aging Sewage Pipeline

In time, all things age. When your sewage pipeline (the system that flushes sewage out from your home, through the sewer line, and into the city’s sewage system) begins to corrode and decay, it will become faulty. Pipes generally last a few decades, but it all depends on the materials that the pipes and lines are made of.


9. Faulty Drainage Systems

If your home’s drainage system is damaged or was misguided in the installation stage, it could lead to flooding. Sewer backup may not just enter your home, it could flood your yard. If you smell anything strange in your yard or from your drains, it’s likely that sewage is sitting or flowing in the wrong direction. More on this below.


What are the Signs of Sewage Backing Up?

You need to know what signs to watch out for even if you don’t have a sewer backup problem. As a homeowner, having an understanding of sewage telltale signs is imperative so you can prevent it from getting worse.


Gross Smells From Drains

Most of the time, your drains don’t smell. Yes, your kitchen’s drain probably will since it is used as a disposal option for foods, but your other drains shouldn’t have a noticeable scent. If you smell a rank stench coming from your drains, sewer backup is probably a candidate to the problem.


Darker, Colored Water In Your Drains

If you’re noticing dark or colored water in your drains, it could very well mean that the sewage is already starting to slowly backup through the pipes. We’re talking about water in your drains, not water that comes from fixtures such as a faucet. Your water main and sewer line are two separate systems that work in tandem but don’t use the same pipes. Water that doesn’t look potable is typically unsafe in general.


Slow Drainage

Are your drains slowly leaking water through to the pipes below? This typically means that your pipes are clogged by something. Maybe it’s just a ball of hair that’s in the way, but it could be sewage backing up through the pipes, making its way up through the drains.


Sewage Backing Up Through Drains

We get that this is obvious, but when you see water pushing its way back up through your drains, that’s sewer backup. Bubbling in your drains while water is flowing can also be an indicator of sewer blockage.


Wastewater Flooding the Front Yard

If your front yard is flooded by dark, smelly water, that’s sewage backup. If you live in a municipal area, you likely have the sewer line we previously discussed, which runs directly through your front yard into the city. So, if you’ve got a flooded yard and the water stinks something fierce, it’s definitely sewer water that seeped through the damaged pipes into your yard.


How Can I Prevent Sewage from Backing Up?

Great question! You shouldn’t simply know the signs of sewage backup, you should do everything you can so these signs NEVER show! We’ve got a few preventative suggestions for you.


Fix Combined Plumbing Connections

Not everyone knows how to properly install plumbing. It’s a terrible situation to find out that pipes are interconnected with one another when they really shouldn’t be. For example, the sump pump and flood control shouldn’t be connected to the sanitary main. Systems that connect sewage and stormwater into the same pipeline are bound for consequences.

Low-lying drains in spaces like basements can become avenues for flooded systems to spew sewage backup water into the house. Have your pipes inspected to make sure this isn’t your potential future.


Install a Backwater Prevention Valve

This is a double-hitter seeing as though this device will protect your house from any water backup problem. If you do have a combined plumbing system like the aforementioned situation, this device can prevent water from pouring back into your abode. If you’re experiencing a downpour like a flash flood and your system becomes overwhelmed, a backwater prevention valve can also assist.

Essentially, this device is installed in your pipeline as a flap that closes off the pipe when water flow is pouring backward. Below is a diagram of this excellent invention.

Image source: Square One


Dispose of Grease and Non-Flushable Items Appropriately

As previously discussed, too much grease and too many items flushed down the drain that never should have been tossed through the pipe system can lead to sewage backup. The trash can is a friend at all times, so dispose of your grease and non-flushables there so you don’t back up your pipes with disgusting, hazardous sewage.


Have Your Piping System Inspected Regularly

If you’re concerned about your pipelines or you think you’re on the brink of sewage backup, just have a plumber come out and inspect your system. You can set up an annual maintenance plan with your local plumber so they can keep your house’s water flowing in the right direction.


We Don’t Recommend You Clean Up Sewage on Your Own

The thought of property loss is a terrible thing, but we highly recommend that you leave sewage cleanup up to the professionals. In this day and age, most tutorials are available online. How-tos and step-by-step guides are all over the place; people tend to get the idea that everything can be done DIY. This really isn’t the case here with a sewer backup situation.

As professionals, we can safely say that you AREN’T safe doing this yourself. If you want the job done right, you need to call in the people who are licensed and certified to deal with wastewater. You don’t only have water damage when sewage leaks into the house, you also have hazardous bacteria spread throughout your home. It’s unhealthy to even breathe around sewage like this.

We strongly suggest bringing in the pros when you have a sewage or water damage-related issue. If you’re in the Gunnison, Colorado area, we service you. However, if you don’t live in this area, we recommend finding a local restoration company that will take care of your needs. Most franchise companies would rather take your money and do a horrible job with the cleanup and construction. Local businesses are trustworthy, just look for their good reviews.


How You Can Clean Up Sewage Water

Again, it’s unsafe to be cleaning up sewage by yourself, especially without the proper gear and equipment. However, if you’re hellbent on cleaning up the sewage by yourself, here is a safety guide to help you at least clean up a little bit of the damage.


Turn Off the Electricity

You have water running into your house and likely have wires, open outlets, and other electronic equipment lying about, so cut off the electricity. Go to your main electrical panel and flip off the circuit breakers where there is water. It’s probably best to turn off the vast majority of your home’s electricity just in case.


Turn Off Water Supply

You don’t want water to continue flooding into your home through the drains, so turn off the water supply to stop the system from causing a larger issue. Even a little bit of sewage water is a lot to deal with.


Get Your Family and Pets Out of the House

Safety comes first! If you have other people in the household when there is sewage backup, get yourself and them out quickly. Have pets in the house? Ensure that they stay out too. As we’ve stated, sewer water is extremely hazardous, don’t get near it without proper protection.


Wear PPE

If you’re going back into the house to try and clean up this mess, wear personal protective equipment (PPE). HAZMAT suits are ideal since you’re covered head to toe in protective gear. Bacteria spreads; touching sewage water can cause health risks like rashes. If you inhale the bacteria, it could lead to respiratory issues. Suspended bacteria microbes will be in the air, which can create problems such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps.

Suit up!


Don’t Use Drains & Water Appliances

You’re going to have to extract the water in your house, but you shouldn’t use drains or other water appliances during this time. Remember, you turned off your water supply for a reason. Drying out the area is the most effective response to water damage.


Clean Up the Sewage

You’re going to have to “get your hands dirty” to clean up the sewage. Fishing out large pieces of sewage matter will aid when you extract the water.


Use a Wet Vacuum

Industrial wet vacuums are a go-to with water extraction, but there is plenty of other equipment you’ll need to get this job done right. You’ll need to dry out the area entirely after the sewage is cleaned out. This includes using air movers, air scrubbers, flood pumps, dehumidifiers, thermal cameras, and moisture meters. Each piece of equipment serves a purpose to ensure that the water has officially been extracted and removed from all materials in your home.


Disinfect

If you can get all of the sewage and water out of the home, you’ll have to disinfect the area during the cleaning process. However, there could be several other steps you’ve missed if the water has been sitting for a while. You may have to remove drywall, baseboards, and other organic materials. Furniture and other belongings may need to be thrown away if the sewage touched them or came close enough to leave bacteria on the materials.

Disinfect after you’ve officially removed all of the sewage and water.


Replace the Carpets

This could expand to “replace parts of the house” if the sewage was severe. However, if the water soaked the carpets, you’ll definitely need to replace them. Carpets are dreadful to clean out after water damage, especially when sewage is involved. It’s honestly best to just completely remove the carpets and get some new flooring in.

Be as prepared as you can be if sewage backs up in your home! Anyone could be susceptible to a sewer backup situation, but those who are prepared to handle what comes next will be safer and know the steps to take to clean up after the mess. We’re here for you if you need us.