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Preventing Sewer Problems

Backup-Flow Valves

Backup-flow valves come in various configurations. Most common are flap, or check, valves, which open automatically to allow flow out of the house and close when the flow reverses. Mechanical, or gate, valves do basically the same thing, but must be operated by hand. Of the two, gate valves provide a stronger seal. Some valves incorporate the advantages of both types.

Backup-flow valves can be installed on a lateral line. This approach typically requires a plumbing permit and digging up your basement floor. They can also be installed on each plumbing fixture. This approach is easier and cheaper; however, these valves typically don't work as well.

Local codes and/or building requirements generally specify the type of backup-flow device you can install. Check with local officials before installing them.

Depending on where you live, your city might pay a portion of the cost for installing a backup-flow valve on a lateral line.

Overhead Sewers

Overhead sewers, which run along basement ceilings, are the most effective way to prevent sewer backups as they eliminate the connection between the main sewer system and the basement. With these systems, all above-ground sewage flows by gravity into the lateral line. Below-grade sewage is collected in an ejection pit. From here, it's pumped up to the house sewer line.

These systems are costly to install, but they're a good choice for homes with finished basements. However, they need electricity to operate. If there's a power outage, and there's no alternative power source to operate the pump, basement plumbing fixtures can't be used.

Keep Extra Water Out

As mentioned, illegal connections to sanitary sewers, such as footing tiles, down-spouts, and sump pumps, can overload sewer systems. In addition, defective lateral lines can collect ground water.

If your house has a sump pump to handle ground water buildup, it should discharge through a pipe in your foundation wall to the outside of your home. Downspouts and footing tiles should discharge to a ditch or storm sewer. If you can't tell where they're discharging, contact your public works department and see if they'll do an inspection. If necessary, they'll run a dye test to track drain discharge.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Common Household Disasters © 2005 by Paul Hayman and Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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