Okay, let's talk about backed up sewers, etc.

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Just read the thread on y not stay in city....

Many people will HAVE to stay, for many reasons. And, if power & water are interrupted for any length of time, the sewers WILL back up.

What should someone do? Say it's 12/31/99, (not that I think stuff will all happen instantly) and you believe services will shut off at midnight. What can you do to keep the nasty from coming into your apartment?

Plugging up the drains is not too hard to figure out, a wet towel jammed in and 'watered' occasionally should work in the sinks and tub, but how do you keep the toilet from throwing up all over your fuzzy pink bath rugs? A bigger towel? And will this method stop the methane gas that may come up? Plus, many have told that the tub is a good place to store water, but couldn't it easily become contaminated by methane or backflow?

Composting toilets aren't cheap, but I've told my mom (lives in city, hates the boonies) that if she won't be out here in the sticks for New Year's, she'd better have one. And LOTS of potable water!

-- Arewyn (nordic@northnet.net), November 08, 1998


I just built a house and to perform pressure tests, the plumbing contractor had a device which resembles a small rubber ball. He inserted it into the mail sewerage line leading to the street and inflated it using a hand pump. It effectively seals out any incoming water, waste and methane gas.

-- Richard Badish (inbox@web-comm.com), November 08, 1998.

Richard, that inflatable ball sounds like a handy thing to have.
When the Pacific Northwest had the Great Flood of '96, the pressure from all the water from the streets swirling into the system caused back-up in lower places.
From all the thoughtful & detailed posts on this previous topic, I was encouraged that *maybe* the sewer back-up won't be an issue. Maybe I read it wrong. It's a little mind-boggling, all the factors.
If we had a house, I would go right out and purchase that inflatable ball, a plumber tutor, and rig up a lever way (or something) to quickly put same into action.
Unfortunately our apt, ie storage spot (we're hospice caregivers so are in other ppl's homes most of the time, but have our storage watched/protected 24/7) is linked to all the other apt, and the Manager might look askance if we started messing with the main line. *LOL, ticket to eviction* My husband Ashton was thinking of unbolting the toilet and bolting a metal plate over the hole. Toilets are heavy though, aren't they? Can anyone think of a less cumbersome method? Also, would towels work in the sink? Doesn't seem quite strong enough.
Once again, thanks for your thoughts, A

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), November 08, 1998.

Oh this isn't high-pressure water - 1-2 psig max - so tackle the problem one at a time, always leaving yourself an "out" when things recover.

Blanking off the toilet seems a bit extreme, but it would work. Got think about that to get a more "elegent" solution that's easier. The inflatable "footballs" may be available at plumbing supply stores - I'll have to look. Weight? Manageable by one person if you takeoff the upper water tank. just cumbersome to have to "refit" on to the seal and retighten down everything. You'd have to rehookup the water supply piping too.

Sinks? There is P-trap or J-trap under each that is relatively accessible with only a large adjustable wrench, or by hand. A simple "chemistry set" type rubber cork or plug (1" or 1-1/2" diameter is typical in US) will do just fine. Anything else that size would work.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), November 08, 1998.

Robert! You give us hope. "when things recover" and all your excellent help. Sounds like all we need is some corks and inflatable "footballs" and we're clean & dry! Whew *really hoping now*. Is there some easy way to just jam the football down the toilet & inflate in place? Then unflate when the world comes round? A new kind of flatulence :) And of course we'll want to have extras on hand for our side-by-side apt neighbors and *especially* the folks upstairs. Nothing like cultivating neighborly love .... xx

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), November 08, 1998.

I live in a 2 bedroom upstairs apt in Charleston SC. Charleston and vicinity is called, "The low country" We are at sea level with marshes all over the place. My little apt has: 2 toilets, 3 sinks and of course the dishwasher and clothes washer drains. that makes seven ways for all that stuff to come and visit me in my apartment. There are eight apartments in my building. That makes 56 inflatable balls for my building alone. There has to be a better way. do you rekon it will seep or gush?

Bill in South Carolina

-- Bill Solorzano (notaclue@webtv.net), November 08, 1998.

In most houses, if you look at the main sewr connection in the basement, you should see a Y connector. One part of the Y goes to the house and the other part is capped off. You can unscrew this and use your blocking device. That way the house only requires one "block". I suspect you could devise a number of things to work. In my area, there is an outside vent cap which could be taken off to relieve pressure. Methane gas is quite explosive and, considering how people will be using kerosene heaters and woodstoves, this is potentially a dangerous situation. Thanks to those bringing this subject up.

-- R. D..Herring (drherr@erols.com), November 08, 1998.

If anyone has any additional information on how to plug the sewer- line at a single-point where it leaves the house, please post!

I have a house built 5 years ago with a 5-6" plastic pipe "capped- off" in the basement. I thought it could be used only to "snake" the line. If it can be reliably used to "plug" the sewer-line to/from the house so that outside pressure can't get into the house, I would love to go that route. Any additional "buzzwords" that I can use to do web-searches (or ask down at "Home Depot") would be great. URLs to web-sites would help too.

I had planned on cutting the sewer-lines in the basement and capping them off, and then re-connecting them when things settle-down. But if I can just stick something in the line where it leaves the house, that would be much better!

-- Anonymous (Anonymous@Anonymous.com), November 09, 1998.

I am not a plumber, but I have worked as a plumbing designer (Robert Cook, P.E., should know about ASPE) for 25+ years. The way plumbing pipes are designed and installed varies from state to state. Here in the southwest, you might plug the toilet, the sink, DW, washer outlets, etc., but don't forget those bathtubs and showers! The S--T will backup through those pipes too.

In the southwest we install a cleanout immediately outside the building (house, apartment complex, etc.). If TSHTF unscrew the cap for the cleanout and insert your inflatable plug (football?). Your whole house (apartment) will then be protected from sewer backup. If you can't find the cleanout outside, try your main vent pipe on the roof. Usually these roof vent pipes extend all the way down to the main sewer pipe under your house (apartment).

Lots of luck. If TSHTF and no electricity for a long time, and your neighbors continue to flush and otherwise contribute to the collected waste in the public sewers, won't your neigborhood smell just great (not to mention potential for breeding ground for disease!).

-- Lizard (digging@themine.com), November 09, 1998.

On an old ship I worked on, we had lots major leaks. Several times I've been deep down in pitch black keel areas, looking through a hole in the skin at the fish outside. Those 4 inch green glowing columns of water coming up from the holes are pretty but you don't want to watch for too long. We had blankets, pillows and mattresses, along with 2x4's and other pieces of wood on-board for just such occasions. The first thing is to force the blanket or pillow against the skin and over the hole and block it in place. Plywood or boards cover the stuffing and lengths of 2x4's wedge it all in place. Last, the whole thing gets buried in as much concrete as it takes. You have to make do on how to enclose it in whatever situation you're in. Usually its held in place by surrounding framing or machinery to some extent, but you have to improvise. You mix it sort of dry and let the incomming seepage finish it up. Pray a lot that it doesn't get too soupy. You can put in a weep hole, a small pipe or somesuch, to take the excess water away from the concrete until it hardens and then that is easily sealed later.

Then; in another line, a friend of mine worked on digging the tunnels that bring the upstate lake water down into NYC. These are giant tunnels that go for upwards of a hundred miles and probably more. He says they were constantly running into underground streams and springs and they had to shut them off. They plugged them by pumping soupy concrete, or grout, into the crevases for as far as they could pump it. He said they sometimes dried up wells a mile away.

Point is, I guess if the time comes, and you would know it, it might be handy have some concrete to pour down the toilet hole in the bathroom floor. You can keep pushing it down with a plunger until you're satisfied it'll hold. Any side pipes, drains etc. could be treated the same way. I don't think you would have a problem after that.. Except if and when things came back to normal of course. But it would probably be worth it, all in all, don't you think?

-- Floyd Baker (fbaker@wzrd.com), November 09, 1998.

Oh my ... concrete. Those who have houses, if you want to go digging afterwards ... but us dangle-by-a-thread apt dwellers, concrete = major ticket to eviction, probably lawsuit too, prison? Agree that protecting health/shelter/possessions may justify it, but would rather be prepared with an easier alternative. The inflatable football in vent pipe blocking all sounds the best :) too good to be true? What about apt. complexes? Experts, please give us the scoop ;) xxx

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), November 09, 1998.


I like the idea of an inflatable plug. Is there one that is used in the industry or will we be hoarding our kids toys to plug the lines? :)

Any info would be appreciated.

-- Paul Hepperla (paulhep@terracom.net), August 24, 1999.

A couple of houses away from us lives an elderly couple whose son-in-law is a major construction contractor for local and state government. A few days ago there was great digging in their front yard and, lo and behold, a sewer cut-out appeared. (This is an older neighborhood, built before sophisticated plumbing code existed.) In the six years we've lived here this couple has never had a sewer problem of any kind (nor has anyone around here) and there are no nearby trees to cause root problems. Another neighbor, who asked about the work, was told the couple's son-in-law felt they might need a cut-out, no other explanation. I'm thinking the son-in-law knows intimately the deplorable operations of the local water and sewer department (chronicled a couple of times on this forum) and figured, as we do, that if anything goes wrong at Y2K it's going to be W&S. Must try to winkle out the details! Also must check on the cost of a cut-out for our own sewer line and the feasibility of blocking with an inflatable device. Ashton and Leska pointed out some time ago that if you have uncontrollable sewer back-up in your house the Health Dept. can declare it a health hazard and force evacuation.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), August 24, 1999.

Yes, Old Git, sounds like your neighbor may have figured out the only real solution to sewer backup: install a permanent backflow prevention device. Apparently it's not all that expensive, compared to losing your house and all its contents.

If the sewer overflows into a residence/business, and cannot be cleaned up with hot water and bleach, or industrial cleaning solvents, within 24 hours, authorities try to force evacuation and even condemnation due to health hazard. Obviously in times of mass flooding, there is not the time, means or will to kick everybody out of their homes. But the rainwater mixes in and dilutes the sewage. And folks still make sure and have their place gutted afterwards and rebuilt. After all, it seeps up the sheetrock and sponges it up with bacteria -- carpets & furniture too.

But Y2K is a flood of computer malfunctions and undiluted raw sewage back-up -- a digital "storm." Imagine all the people having to evacuate their homes in the middle of winter -- only to find raw sewage gushing out of manholes and running down streets and into "parks" etc. In the midst of transformer explosions, uncontrollable fires, hazmat accidental catastrophic chemical releases, looters, mayhem -- the great outdoors of the cities will not be so nice for "camping."

Unfortunately, those "plugs" are not a good idea. Their pressure cannot be maintained past a couple hours, and they actually serve to create a methane pressurized "bomb" that will rocket thru the walls/roof after the fermenting hose behind it reaches the no-holds-barred point. Just visualize ... bomb projectile followed by forceful unending hosing of fermented toxic gaseous sewage !!!!!

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), August 24, 1999.

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