Navigating Through a Sewer Backup Nightmare

If you have ever experienced a sewer backup in your home you may have wondered to yourself, what should I do now? Between worrying about lost personal items and the overwhelming smell of raw sewage, most people are not sure what to do after a sewer backup.

The first thing you should always do after a sewer backup in your home is to call a water restoration company, like Action Extraction. Sewer backups are not recommended to be handled by homeowners and it is important for your health, and the health of your family and loved ones, that they be properly assessed and taken care of by a certified water restoration firm. Let us talk about a few reasons we may experience sewer backups.

Things That Cause Sewer Backups

Blockages

Blockages happen in plumbing systems when something becomes lodged in the sewer line, preventing water from escaping the home. These blockages happen for many reasons. Grease being poured down the sink may coagulate into a waxy ball, collecting toilet paper and additional grease. Wipes, yes even the flush-able kind, can get stuck in your plumbing’s rough interior also collecting debris as they pass by blocking waste lines and causing sewer backups.

Tree Roots

Tree roots seem to be the most common cause of sewer line blockages we come across. Tree root systems stretch out 360 degrees around a tree and for as long as the tree is tall. A small crack in the sewer line is enough for a tree root to find its way through and the waste and water creates a perfect environment for the root to grow.

Once the blockage is created, whether by root, wipe or grease (or more!) water traveling that waste line needs to find a different way out. Water will always choose the path of least resistance and when presented with a way to relieve the pressure building behind it, it will take it. Unfortunately for us and our homes, that path is typically a floor drain in our basements.

Sewer Backup From a Basement Floor Drain

A sewer back up in a basement from a floor drain is the most common of the basement sewer back ups we will find. Whether the blockage has occurred in the front yard or underneath the foundation of you home, these types of backups are typically small and are a result of water from in the home being unable to leave the home. We will usually find that a back up starts in a basement drain and is often found just by the smell alone. So, what should you do if you find this type of sewer back up in your home?

Your first order of business should be to call a certified water restoration company. They should have the tools and expertise to guide you through these next steps. While it may be tempting to go down and look through all the damaged items and building materials you may have, it is important to allow your restoration team to assess the damage and help create a strategic game plan to keep the rest of your home safe from cross contamination.

What are the Steps after a Sewer Backup?

Protect against cross contamination

The first thing a water rest

oration company should do in regard to your sewer back up is to lay down floor coverings or runners leading to your basement door to protect against cross contamination. Any carpeted areas should be covered in plastic, including stairways that will be in use to assure the spread of germs is reduced.

Protective Wear

After the floors have been properly protected, the lead flood tech will begin the task of assessing the damage done. Depending on the severity of the sewer back up in your basement, the tech may be dressed in head to toe coveralls. Gloves up to the elbows and full-face masked respirators may also be in use.

While all sewer back ups are not created equal, the flood tech will have a mind towards their own and your protection throughout the mitigation process. If able, the tech may begin with a negative air machine, or air scrubber, to maintain air quality throughout the process as well.

Evaluation – Professional Instruments

The technician will assess the floor cove

ring, walls, personal items and any other building material you may have in your basement. When it comes to sewer backup in a basement floor drain, all porous and absorbent materials such as drywall, wood panel, bathroom vanities and carpets must unfortunately be removed and discarded. Sewer water contains millions of viruses and bacteria that cannot be properly cleaned out of absorbent items. To analyze these items, flood techs use many different tools and moisture detection meters.

Sometimes eyesight and touch are the only things needed to determine whether or not an item has been saturated. Cardboard boxes and natural wood walls typically give away any indication of moisture. Drywall and cabinets, however, tend to hide their moisture content beyond what the eye can perceive. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into a flooded basement that looked as if the walls were untouched only to find, through the use of a non-penetrating moisture meter that they had saturated up the wall close to a foot! Some of the other materials we need to analyze are a bit trickier to trace.

Wet padding under a carpet often times will have a plastic barrier between the carpet backing and the padding itself called a spill guard. While that spill guard may be great at preventing stubborn stains upstairs when your toddler decides to upend his or her cup of apple juice, in a basement that spill guard serves to trap moisture beneath it. Using a penetrating meter, a flood technician should be able to map out exactly how large of an area had been affected without even having to pull the carpet up.

Addressing Humidity After

a Sewer Backup

Some other helpful tools of the trade are items like a hygrometer. A hygrometer will help the flood technician determine the size and quantity of the dehumidification systems they will need to use to maintain a healthy relative humidity. Humidity levels above 60 percent run the risk of transferring water from the floor to your walls and ceilings through condensation.

Think of what happens when you grab a can of soda from the fridge and set it out on the porch on a hot June afternoon. The can becomes like a magnet for moisture in the air, pulling water onto its surface. The same can happen in your home. The higher the humidity level the lower the dew point, or the point at which your items will condensate, becomes.

After Analyses – Cleaning After the Sewer Backup

After the sewer back up in your basement has been analyzed and all of the wet items have been inspected, it is time to let your restoration team get to work. Having already set out your floor coverings, you team may ask for a place for temporary storage. This could be a garage or spare bedroom. The reason for this is to separate your clean and dry items from your wet and contaminated ones. Once again, any porous item affected by a sewer backup in your basement should be looked over by your flood technicians.

If an item is clean and can be safely removed from the basement, it will be wiped down with an antimicrobial agent and placed in the area designated for clean items. Any items affected by sewer water that are non-porous like glass, plastics or metal may be placed in a clean zone only after being thoroughly cleaned with an antimicrobial agent. Items that have been damaged but have sentimental value, like pictures, can be set aside to be dried and then encapsulated. Clothing should always be thrown away, as well as children’s toys and wooden furniture. Once your team has finished analyzing all of the personal items its time to move to the walls.

Materials Management After the Sewer Backup

Basement Walls

Your lead tech should have informed you at this point which walls of your basement may have been affected. While a sewer back up of a basement drain due to a blockage tend to be smaller floods, we have seen entire basements filled wall to wall with sewer water. When it comes to mitigating sewer water from walls, the only answer is removal. Wood paneling and drywall will absorb sewer water, with drywall sometimes reaching almost 2 feet of absorption.

Your flood tech will create a 1 to 2 foot cut on any wall that may have been affected by sewer water. If, after removing the wall, your tech finds insulation behind that wall, 2 feet of that insulation will also be removed. One of the most common questions I get as a water technician is, why do we leave the wooden substrates on the ground. The answer is fairly simple. In a perfect world we would. It’s just not feasible to remove entire walls and gut basements down to the foundation. So, what do we do to clean these surfaces? All substrates are soaked down with an antimicrobial agent and dried in place. After they are dried, we coat these surfaces with an oil-based primer so seal in the wood.

Flooring Materials

Once the walls have been treated or removed it is time to move onto the floor. There are only a few types of floor covering that can survive a sewer back up. Any absorbent floor coverings will always have to be discarded. That includes carpet, padding, laminate wood and hardwood. Any floating style laminates or vinyl style flooring’s will also always need to be removed.

There is no way to pull and clean sewer water from underneath these floors that would provide a clean enough end result. Ceramic tile, installed over a cement foundation, is typically OK, as well as glue down vinyl tile, so long as the installation is secure and there are no gaps in the tile for water to find. Any loose vinyl or ceramic tile will allow water to become trapped underneath it and will always have to be removed. Once your flooring has been removed, or inspected and deemed salvageable, it is time for cleanup.

High Pressure Steam Cleaning – Necessary after a Sewer Backup

Starting from the base of the stairs, your team should have cleaned your floor using high pressure steam cleaning regardless of your floor covering. High pressure steam cleaning has multiple advantages to regular mop cleaning. By pressure blasting your flooring with high pressure, hot steam, we are able to break loose any stubborn contaminants and push water out of the extremely small pockets in your concrete floors or grout. Mop cleaning requires multiple bucket and mop head changed whereas steam cleaning allows us to introduce clean water to the problem and remove it quickly and cleanly.

Treating all Surfaces – Applying Agents for Germ Elimination

Once your basement has been thoroughly steam cleaned your tech should go through and spray an antimicrobial agent to all surfaces. At this point the smell of sewer water in your basement should be a thing of the past! You will also be free to move about your basement without worry of cross contaminating the rest of your home, though we always recommend homeowners spend as little time in these environments as possible until the entire mitigation project is complete.

Placing Drying Equipment – After the Sewer Backup

After the floor has been cleaned completely and an antimicrobial agent has been sprayed, it is time to place our equipment. Depending on the type and scope of your water loss, your tech will place certain equipment around your basement to force air over your wet building materials. Fans are used primarily for this purpose, set against walls and over flooring to push dry air along wet materials in an attempt to soak that excess water up and pass it to our next piece of equipment, the dehumidifier.

Remember the analogy we used earlier about the can of soda on a hot July afternoon. This is what our dehumidifiers do. Dehumidifiers have copper lines that drop their temperatures below freezing. As saturated air passes over those copper lines, water freezes on the lines pulling the water from the air and re-inserting it back into the drying chamber. This process will happen hundreds and hundreds of times with new saturated air returning from its trip around the basement to be dried and entered back into the chamber.

Air Quality Control – After the Sewer Backup

Lastly, the water technician should install and air scrubber or negative air machine if they have not already. These machines contain a 3 stage filtration system. The first stage is a large particulate filter, able to grab dust and dirt floating in the air. The second is a small particulate filter, grabbing what the first filter was unable to grab. Last is a HEPA filter. This High-efficiency particulate air filter has the ability to trap particulates as small as 2 microns! As air is passed quickly around your basement, having an air scrubber in the mix to keep you and your family safe is a must have for any basement sewer back up.

Having these essential steps followed after a sewer backup will allow your property to be fully restored. When you first see the horrors of flooding it is difficult to know exactly what to expect from water damage cleanup. The standard to shoot for is always complete restoration where everything looks as it did prior to the water emergency.

So What’s the Cost?

Of the 3 types of home water damage sewer water backups are understandably the most expensive  any fun to deal with for you or your home, but you may be wondering how it is going to affect your pocketbook. The answer to how much is sewer backup cost will vary on the amount of damaged property. Sewer backup cost for cleanup is covered under insurance, so long as you have an added rider to your policy. Typically, this would be called back up of sewer or storm coverage, though every insurance company is different in their terminology.

With back up of sewer and storm coverage, you will be covered under a cap with 5, 10 and 15 thousand being common cap totals. Your deductible will be taken out of the repair side of your insurance bill most often, so when it comes to clean up and mitigation, your insurance will cover your costs 100 percent.

Without this coverage through your insurance, clean up and mitigation rates can start in the hundreds and end in the thousands. Check today to make sure your home is protected by sewer back up insurance and avoid the headache of a costly and unexpected repair.

Sewer Backup Prevention

So how do you avoid ever even having this problem in the first place? It is a question I am asked constantly, though often too late. There are plenty of things you can do for your home to avoid having to call us for a sewer backup cleanup. A yearly or bi-yearly drain checkup is a great place to start. Having a plumber come by your home to do a general wellness check up on your plumbing system is something that every homeowner should fall into routine with.

As you would with your furnace and hot water tank, yearly check ups will keep your waste systems free of debris and potential blockages, and alert you to any problems you may have before they become costly. You can prevent blockages by limiting the items that go down your garbage disposal and never allowing grease in any form to be poured down the drain. When it comes to flushing things, only toilet paper should ever be flushed down the toilet. While flush-able wipes may advertise their safety, they are often the cause of blockages in homes due to their break down rate.

While toilet paper breaks down quickly, flush-able wipes may take weeks to finally break down giving them more than enough time to create a blockage and fill your basement will sewer water. If you find sewer water in your basement stop water use immediately. Any water that goes down any drain in your home will end up in your basement. It is imperative.  that you immediately call a qualified water restoration company and a licensed plumber. These professionals will have you back in business in no time!

Sewer Water is Dangerous to You and Your Family

Sewer backups are dangerous. There are millions of tiny microscopic bacteria and viruses ready to infect and endanger anyone that may come into contact with its water. While it may just seem like another headache to deal with as a homeowner, it is important to realize the seriousness of the situation your home is now in. While home repair sites may encourage you to just bleach it and forget it, I hope after reading this blog you will feel empowered and understand exactly what to do after a sewer backup.

Remember, your very first step should be to call a water restoration company. If you have a plumber, you should also call them to help find the issue. You should resist the urge to go down into your basement and sort through your damaged belongings. By doing this you will likely bring that contamination into the rest of your home on your shoes.

Your restoration company should be certified and provide any equipment needed to complete the job including covering the floor leading to your basement. Water mitigation projects typically last 3-5 days depending on the circumstances. Lastly, and most importantly, every mitigation crew should have proper personal protection equipment and an air scrubber installed on site. All of these things combined should provide you with a quality and professional result to your sewer backup mitigation project.

So What Now?

Action Extraction Inc. has been in the industry for over 30 years. All of the examples and breakdowns of mitigation processes are examples pulled from our day to day work. We’ve seen sewer backups of sewage piled 3 inches high down to small 10 square foot blockages. What we’ve learned from these jobs is that no one sewer backup is worse than another. All sewer backups are serious and need to be handled quickly and expertly.

That’s what we offer here. All of our technicians have seen thousands of sewer water backups big and small. If you are experiencing a sewage backup in your basement, I hope you have found this blog to be helpful and informative. We also hope that you will consider Action Extraction for all of your water damage restoration needs now and in the future.