What is a sewer backup?
It is sewer backflowing into your house coming up through your floor drains, toilets, shower or bathtub drains, sink drains, or other drains that usually take water away.
What causes a sewer backup?
Most sewer backups happen when the sewer line, called the lateral, that runs from your building to the City sewer line, becomes plugged or requires maintenance. Blockages can be caused by a number of problems: root invasion, grease build-up or debris that has been flushed down a drain.
What are the most common types of sewer backup?
House plumbing backup, lateral sewer line backup, main sewer line backup.
House Plumbing Backup
If it is just one toilet, sink or tub that is giving you a problem, it may just be a clog in that drain. If, however, every flush creates a sewage backup in your home, you likely have a blockage in your main sewer line preventing wastewater from flowing through the lateral line to the public sewer systems.
A plumber needs to be called to remove the blockage. The City can assist in determining if it is a blockage in the house, but will not assist in clearing the blockage due to the work required and liability restrictions placed on City workers.
Most sewer clogs can be prevented with regular maintenance and proper use of your drains. Here are a few tips that will help keep your sewer line clear.
Don't use your toilet as a wastebasket - Flushing facial tissues, napkins, feminine hygiene products, diapers and other waste down your toilet creates clogs.
Avoid dumping large quantities of anything down your garbage disposal that can become lodged within your sewer line.
Don't pour grease and fat down your drain as it hardens within your plumbing, collecting debris and creating a stubborn clog.
Lateral Sewer Line Backup
The lateral sewer line is the wastewater line that transports wastewater from the outside of the house foundation to the street sewer main line. They back up due to the following:
In older pipes, joints sometimes fail, allowing microscopic tree roots to enter and feed on wastewater. As time passes, the roots grow bigger and can stop the flow of wastewater because they catch items that should never be flushed down the toilet or sink such as feminine hygiene products, toilet cleaning products, baby wipes, diapers, rags, grease, toys, etc.
If the water flow stops, the property owner should call either a plumber or the City to open the lateral sewer line. If the City is called out, our current charge out rate will be explained to the property owner before work starts and the property owner will have to sign a Release form stating they understand the charges and will pay the invoice once received. The City can arrange for a payback schedule if the property owner cannot afford to pay the total invoice at once.
If the City is called to a plugged lateral sewer line, the workers do have some restrictions before they can work on the lateral line, such as:
1. The house must have a lateral sewer line cleanout next to an exterior foundation. The City will not try to run their equipment from an interior “stack” clean out to the wastewater main in the street.
2. The lateral sewer line cannot run under a building lien-to, porch, garage, garden shed, etc. If a tool gets stuck, we may have to dig up the lateral line to retrieve the tool.
3. Access to the cleanout location must be safe. City staff will not climb down crawl space or basement ladders to get to the clean out and stairs must be safe and well maintained.
4. The cleanout must be readily assessable. It cannot be hidden in a wall or under tiles, linoleum or carpet that must be damaged to get at the cleanout.
5. The area around the cleanout must be dry. City workers use electrical equipment to remove plugs and will not work in water due to the risk of electrical shock.
6. If the source of the plugged lateral sewer line is due to items that should not have been flushed down into the sewer system, the City will fine the property owner.
If the problem is tree roots, the property owner has two choices to make:
1. Schedule regular maintenance to have the lateral sewer pipe cleaned by a rotary cutter. The City recommends that a plumber is hired to conduct a regular schedule cleaning. The property owner will be responsible for all charges, regardless if the City does the cleaning or not, and the City will not reimburse the property owner for any of the costs.
2. Reline or replace the lateral sewer line which involves the property owner hiring a municipal contractor to dig part or all of the lateral sewer pipe from the building foundation to the wastewater main in the street. The City can recommend a contractor and will usually pay for the costs from the property line to the wastewater main. The property owner is responsible for paying for the costs incurred from the property line to the foundation, including landscaping, sidewalk or driveway that had to be removed and/or replaced, replacement of trees or bushes, etc.
If tree roots are found in the lateral sewer pipe, it will need to be replaced. Tree roots can grow far distances so may not necessarily be from the closest tree. Boulevard trees will not be cut down.
A collapsed lateral sewer line must be dug up and replaced. The property owner will have to hire a municipal contractor to replace the lateral sewer line from the house foundation to the sewer main. The City will cost-share the replacement cost for the lateral sewer line depending on the location of the collapse.
Frozen Sewer Pipe
Where the lateral sewer lines are too shallow and prone to freezing in severe winters. In these cases, the City will make arrangements for property owners to run a constant stream of water into a drain to keep the sewer line from freezing. If the lateral sewer line still freezes, the City will come out to thaw the line. Usually, there is no charge to the property owner.
Sagged Lateral Sewer Pipe
If the lateral sewer line has sagged, it needs to be dug up and relayed. Depending on the work to be done, the City may or may not participate in the cost-share program with the property owner. These cases are determined on a case by case basis. If the water service line is lead, the water line will be changed out at the same time as the lateral sewer line is dug up.
Sewer Main Line Backup
Main sewer lines run under the street and are used to transport wastewater from the sewer lines to the wastewater treatment plant for processing. They back up when they become plugged from grease, rags, feminine hygiene products, flushable wipes, cleaning products, and other items that residents should never flush down the drain.
How do I know what type of sewer back up I have?
If the upstairs toilet is plugged but the kitchen sink still works, it’s a house plumbing backup.
If it is a lateral sewer backup, all the house plumbing is plugged. If you put any water down the drain, it will come out of the lowest part of the basement. You need to either call the City or a plumber.
In main sewer line backups, wastewater will be coming into your house, regardless if you use water or not. Call City Hall at 306-445-1700 to report the problem.
My sewer is backing up. What do I do?
Call either the City or a plumber but be prepared to pay for the plumber’s service. In most cases, the City will not reimburse you for calling a plumber. If you call the City, you may be billed as well depending on the circumstances that the City worker finds that caused the sewer back up.
Move items away from the flow coming into your property. Do not use your bathroom, sinks, or water while the sewer backup is occurring as it will only make things worse.
If I had a sewer back up, what do I do?
Call your Insurance Broker and be prepared to answer the following questions:
1. What happened?
2. What time did the incident occur?
3. What was damaged?
4. What did you do to protect your property?
5. Who did you call for help?
6. What time did you call for help and what time did they arrive?
7. Who came (name of the company who came to help) and what did they do?
8. Did you take pictures of the damage?
If the incident happened at night and you called a private business for help, please call the City in the morning to inform them. They too may ask similar questions for their record.
If your furnace and/or hot water heater was involved in the flooding, call SaskPower and/or SaskEnergy to come and check whether these items were damaged and require replacing.
Remember, all damage claims against the City must go through your insurance company.