Sanitary Sewer Back-Ups

Sanitary Sewer Back-Ups

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2301 E Sand Lake Rd
Lindenhurst, IL 60046
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Sanitary Sewer Back-ups
A sanitary sewer backup into your home or business is unpleasant to deal with and can be very destructive.  Sanitary sewage is a health hazard and may carry infectious diseases.  The cost of clean-up and replacing destroyed property can be high.  Protecting yourself and others from sanitary sewer back-ups is everyone's responsibility.  The following is intended to provide you with some background on how back-ups occur, how you can help prevent them from occurring, what can be done to protect yourself and what to do if you experience a back-up.

Village Sanitary Sewer System
The Village of Lindenhurst operates and maintains a system of sanitary sewers, lift stations and pump stations that convey wastewater from homes and businesses to a wastewater treatment plant that is also operated and maintained by the Village.  Generally the waste water moves under the influence of gravity through a network of pipes that slope downhill.  When a gravity sewer becomes too deep pumps in a lift station are used to lift the waste water to a higher elevation before releasing it back into a gravity sewer constructed at a lesser depth.  Sometimes the distance between the source of the wastewater and the wastewater treatment facility is so long that pump stations are used to push the wastewater through a force main to a distant location where it is then released to a gravity sewer at a lesser depth.  It is important to note that the Village's sanitary sewer system is separate from the storm drainage system that conveys rainwater to area lakes and streams.  However, it must also be realized that illegal connections to the sanitary sewer system or leaks may allow rainwater into the sanitary sewer system.  Over the years, the Village has repaired broken pipes, sealed manholes, changed manhole lids and installed manhole chimney seals to keep rainwater out of the sanitary sewers.  The Village has also constructed storm sewers and allowed building owners to connect sump pump discharge pipes to the storm sewers, where they exist, as a means of ensuring that the sump pumps are not connected to the sanitary sewers.  Unfortunately, since sump pumps are generally beyond the Village's control there is no way to ensure that sump pumps are not illegally connected through the plumbing systems inside private residences and businesses.  All sump pump connections to the sanitary sewer system are illegal. 

How Do Obstructions Occur?
Sanitary sewers can become obstructed and when they do the sewage floods the pipe system upstream of the point of blockage until it eventually finds an outlet from the sewer.  The outlet may be a sewer manhole in the street or it may be the basement of a home or business.  When the sewer becomes obstructed the weight of the sewage upstream of the point of blockage creates a pressure (or surcharge) that forces the sewage out of any available outlet.  It is also possible for the sewers to surcharge if more sewage is introduced into the pipe than the pipe is capable of handling.  When the sewage vents into a basement it is commonly referred to as a sewer surcharge or sewer back-up.
The causes of sewer surcharges or back-ups are many.  They can be caused by:

  • Accumulations of grease perhaps in combination with other foreign objects such as hygiene products, diapers or rags that are flushed into the sewer or dumped into manholes.
  • Tree roots entering the pipe through cracks or joints.
  • Collapsed pipes or pipes damaged by construction or maintenance activities.
  • Equipment failures at pump stations.
  • Hydraulic overload - more sewage than the pipe can handle.

Over the years, the Village has identified areas that have a history of becoming obstructed.  As a result the Village has implemented a routine inspection and routine preventative cleaning program in those areas.

What Can You Do to Help Prevent Sewer Back-Ups?

  • If you have an illegally connected sump pump - disconnect it and put the sump pump water on the lawn.
  • If you suspect that something is wrong with the sanitary sewer - report it to the Village immediately so the matter can be investigated.  If the area proves to be a chronic problem area it can be added to the routine inspection list.
  • Stop flushing wastes, that can be disposed of in the household trash, down the toilet and/or sink drains.

The following items are best kept out of the sewer:

Cooking Oils, Shortening, Butter, Margarine, Lard, and fat from meat.  These substances may liquefy while you are cooking but once poured down the drain they will cool, solidify and may adhere to the inside of pipes and contribute to the formation of a partial or full obstruction.  Instead, pour grease into a container and store it for later disposal in the household trash and wipe the pan out with a paper towel to remove as much grease as possible before washing it.  Some cooking oils can be recycled.  Grease is a major component of sewer blockages and your efforts in keeping it out of the sewer system will help maintain the reliability of the sewer system.

Sauces, gravy, pan drippings, etc.

Stop using the garbage disposal.  It may be convenient but the food waste you grind up and send into the sewer still contains grease and other components that are best kept out of the sewer.  Instead, dispose of food waste in the household garbage.

When peeling or trimming foods or rinsing dishware prior to washing, place a strainer in the sink drain to catch small scraps that would otherwise be washed down the drain.  Dispose of the scraps in the trash.

Dairy products - these may contain fats that can accumulate in the sewer.

Disposable shop towels/rags, disposable hand towels, baby wipes, diapers and other hygiene products.

If your building has a grease trap or triple basin installed in the plumbing system have it checked to be sure it is operating properly and have it cleaned regularly.  Residential structures such as single family homes generally do not have grease traps.  Commercial buildings, especially those housing restaurants, are the buildings most likely to have a grease trap.  Automotive repair facilities or other garage or parking facilities may have a triple basin.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself from Sewer Back-Ups?
Start by locating the municipal sanitary sewer that serves your home or business.  It is probably in the street or front yard, but it may also be located in a side yard or rear yard.  If possible find the sanitary sewer manholes both upstream and downstream of your home or business.  If you are unsure call the Village.

Then do an inspection of the plumbing system in your building.  Have a licensed plumber assist you if you are unsure of your abilities in this regard.  In general, if the lowest elevation at which sewage can overflow inside the building is higher than the manhole lids, the building is reasonably protected.  The lowest overflow elevation will probably be a floor drain, but may also be a toilet, bathtub or shower drain or possibly a sink.  As a sewer backs-up the sewage seeks its own level and if the lowest overflow elevation inside the building is lower than at least one of the manhole lids the building is vulnerable.  Please realize that there are exceptions and no guarantee can be offered that simply because the elevations are good an overflow is not possible.  Consider, for example, if a vehicle is parked on the manhole lid and rising sewage cannot push the lid open.  In this case, the next available outlet may be in the building.

If the building is vulnerable, there are several measures that can be taken to increase the level of protection.  Each has positive and negative aspects and none offer a guarantee of 100% reliability.

1.  A standpipe can be fitted over the floor drain.  The standpipe does not prevent the sewage from entering the home but if properly installed, the sewage stays inside the standpipe.  However, the standpipe protects only the floor drain and if there is a toilet or other plumbing fixture nearby once the sewage reaches the overflow elevation of the other fixture it will overflow into the building.  In addition, the only way to assure protection when no one is home is to leave the standpipe in place.  The purpose of the floor drain is to allow water, from a broken water pipe, leaking water heater, etc. to drain out.  If the standpipe is installed permanently the floor drain does not function.  Thus minimizing the risk of damage from a backed-up sewer increases the risk of damage from a leaking/broken pipe or water heater.

2.  A check valve could be installed in the sewer lateral between the main sewer and the building or possibly inside the building.  There are numerous commercially manufactured "backflow preventers" which utilize check valves on the market.  Information on these products can be investigated by searching "sewage backflow preventer" on the internet.  A check valve based sewage backflow preventer is superior to a standpipe as it functions automatically regardless of time of day or whether or not anyone is in the building.  However, check valves are not fool proof.  A check valve is a valve that allows flow in only one direction.  There are check valves that are normally closed (they open when flow in the desired direction occurs) and there are check valves that are normally open (they close when flow in the non-desired direction occurs).  Check valves are a good concept but it must be remembered that sewage is not a clear liquid.  Whether normally open or normally closed, there is debris in household wastewater that can become snagged in the valve opening and prevent the valve from closing completely.  In fact, some of the commercially manufactured valve systems have clear plastic inspection windows and cleanouts so the owner can check to see if the valve opening is obstructed and remove any debris.  Normally open valves, are probably less likely to snag debris but since they are normally open, they must be relied upon to close when needed.

3.  Yet another possibility is a commercially manufactured sewage backflow preventer that uses two check valves in series with an overflow and pump.  These devices must be installed outside the building in a manhole.  They are designed to enable the plumbing system in the building to remain in use even when the main sewer is surcharged.  This is accomplished by the overflow and pump.  When the sewer becomes surcharged the check valves close.  Sewage from inside the building then overflows inside the backflow manhole and the pump located in the manhole then collects the sewage and pumps it into the surcharged sewer.  Systems such as this appear to provide the best possible protection and convenience but undoubtedly at a premium cost.  In addition they are more complex.  First, whether powered by a battery or 110 volt AC current, a connection to the building electric system is required.  Second, check valves are still involved although having the pump capability may be a luxury that is not necessary if the goal is simply to prevent a back up.  The double check valves alone provide this function.  Thus it would seem that installing a more simple check valve system would serve the intended purpose.

4.  Yet another option is to modify the plumbing system to create an overhead sewer system.  This involves installing an ejector pump and pit in the lower level and re-plumbing the vulnerable plumbing fixtures and floor drains to drain to the pit where the pump then collects the sewage and pumps it out.  By lifting the sewage and discharging it into a standpipe at an elevation above that of the sanitary manhole lids outside.  The portion of the former gravity service that came under the footing and to the floor drain must be abandoned and permanently sealed.  This solution is probably the most physically invasive but if it is possible to retrofit overhead plumbing into the building it is probably the most reliable method of protection.

5.  Call your homeowners insurance agent and inquire about insurance that covers sewer back-ups.  Most basic homeowners' insurance policies do not include coverage for sewer back-ups so if you do not ask the agent specifically it is likely that your policy will not include coverage.

What Do You Do If a Back-up Occurs?

1.  Alert your family members and be sure everyone, including pets, is evacuated from the area.  Prevent all human and pet contact with sewage.  Sanitary sewage is a health hazard.  Be aware that sump pumps may be pumping the sewage into the roadside ditch, the yard, etc.  Keep away from the sump pump discharge and any place outside the building where sewage may be accumulating.

2.  Call the Village.  Don't assume that someone else has called; your home or business may be the only one involved.  We would rather receive multiple calls rather than none.

3.  Stop using the plumbing in the building.  Please consider that the blockage might be in the service lateral connecting your home or business to the main sewer and the waste coming out of the floor drain may be the water that has been flushed down the drain elsewhere in the building.  If the service lateral is obstructed, water from inside the building will flood the lateral and eventually overflow through the lowest opening to the plumbing system - typically a floor drain in the basement or lower level.

4.  If you attempt to clean it up yourself:

     a.  Avoid any contact with the wastewater or waste contaminated items.
     b.  Always wear protective rubber gloves and waterproof boots.
     c.  Protect your face, eyes and mouth.  Protective goggles are recommended if you are using a hose to
         wash down contaminated areas.  Rain gear is also advisable.
     d.  Protect all cuts and scrapes - Immediately wash any wound that comes into contact with sewage.

5.  If you desire professional assistance there are companies that specialize in cleanup of sewer back-ups, flooding, fires, etc.  They can be found by looking for "Disaster Cleanup" or similar phrases in the telephone book or on-line.