How do I keep sewage from backing up into my home? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

If the city utilities are no longer operational, what do we do about sewage? Is there usually a valve or something inside our homes to turn in case the sewer lines are no longer operational?

-- Evangeline (, January 17, 1999


Good question. I wish I could say the same for the answer...

The solution varies greatly. There are inflatable "plugs" which can be inserted into the "clean-out" (in theory), but these are rather special-purpose plumbing tools. In looking through my plumbing books (I changed a washer once, but I'm a programmer by trade) it looks like the best case is homes where there is a whole-house "trap" with a "clean-out" on both sides of the trap. The plug works best there.

If, like me, you are not so lucky, you will probably need to get a plumber to look things over. I'm in a new house with new houses going up nearby. I'll be looking at what the plumbing looks like before the basement floor is poured in similar units, to get more ideas.

Other factors - some housing developments have special values which prevent back-flow. Also, "sh*t flows downhill", so you might want to note if should TSHTF, will you be crapping into folks' basements "downhill", or will they be crapping into yours...

Any comments from the more "plumbing-inclined" on this last issue MUCH appreciated!!!

-- Anonymous99 (, January 17, 1999.

You can install a backflow prevention valve. Ours cost about $400 including labor. It went into a box like a water meter right at the foundation of the house where the sewer line exits. Before you let the cost deter you, call your insurance agent as many homeowner's policies have specific rates and endorsements depending on whether you have such a device or whether you want coverage for a sewer backup. The insurance issue may change the economics of your purchase decision. Before you spend any money, you may want to have someone from the sewer utility come to your home and talk to you about the risk of backflow. Depending on the elevations of the sewer lines and manholes, you may have a greater or lesser chance of having a back-up problem.

-- Puddintame (, January 17, 1999.

You've got two problems: your sewage and everbody else's sewage. The need to prevent backups into your home has been dealt with above so I won't elaborate further here except to emphasize that you need to consider your elevation with respect to the rest of your neighborhood and the nearest sewage lift station downstream from you. Be able to plug your pipes.

Second, what you do with your own sewage depends upon whether we are talking short term (days) or long term (weeks or more). Short term, chemical toilets are a quick and easy choice although not necessarily economical. Long term, consider buying a book right now which has been recommended by others here before:

The Humanure Handbook : A Guide to Composting Human Manure
by Joseph C. Jenkins

This is one incredible book that will show you how to safely, ecomonically and easily deal with human digestive byproducts without turning them into waste and adding to the problem. No, it's not as simple as dropping them into purified drinking water like we do now, but it is easy for most folks (except for those who live in high-rise apartments) and it produces far less waste and pollution. The book is very cheap (less than $20 delivered) and is well written. I consider it one of the most cost-effective Y2K investments I have made. It is an excellent long term solution and one that requires almost no money. You will need to actually READ the book before you have the need of the information it offers. (i.e. it's not a quick reference like a dictionary). You will need to prepare ahead of time in order to take advantage. One word of warning though...the book may require that you change your current attidudes towards the disposal of human byproducts. I don't recall who here in the Yourdon forum first pointed me towards this book but I owe them a great big thank you.

-- Arnie Rimmer (, January 17, 1999.

I'd say your up shit's creek my friend. Find where your sewer comes into your house, dig it up and let it run in the street instead of in your house. Find out where all your cleanouts and City sewer entries are at now and have a game plan. Maybe there's a way to cap the main sewer into your house. Find an alternative now to your sewage needs.

-- onseptic (, January 17, 1999.

An excellent question, and a valid concern! My best advice would be to sell your home now. Try to find a DGI who will buy it - and fast! You'll need your equity to buy your survival rations, generators, gas supplies, firearms. Then you can move to a rural area. Find a place with its own well and septic system with leachfield. This should solve your problem.

-- skeptic (, January 17, 1999.

Even if one could make preparations not to get inundated with sewage in your own home, the houses all around you would be spouting sewage all around you. Right? You folks up north may not have to worry until spring time when it all thaws. I not only live in the south, I live in Charleston SC. which is in an area known as, "The Low Country" They used to grow rice here because it is so easy to flood the ground.

Bill in South Carolina

-- Bill Solorzano (, January 17, 1999.

I'm going to have a "ball valve" installed on the 4-inch PVC sewer line from house to sewer line. When things start to "go south", I'll simply turn the ball valve to the "off" position. . . A ball valve costs $188 retail here. I'll do the work myself or hire a plumbing company. Good luck.

-- Albert E. Potts (, January 18, 1999.

You said that if the utilities no longer work that means no water in large amounts will be flushed into the sewer this means no back up right. Everything will set in the pipe and stink and produce gas the pipes will soon be stopped up. If you get a big rain or snow melt the same sewer is used to handle this runoff it will run out of the manhole in the street the big problem will be when the water is turned back on this will have the same effect as. Get in your car and take a trip to the local sewage treatment plant and smell the air when they are repairing the setteling ponds this is what on water will smell like! Some people think water in the sewer always flows down hill this is not true the amount of flow is what moves the waste it floats on top of the water if you look in the pipe you will see water most of the time and it moves slow when the flow slows beyond a point it will stop and back up. It takes millions of gallons of water in a small town to flush the pipes the bigger the town the bigger the stink. If i were you i would move to the country.

-- Cowboy (, January 18, 1999.


-- fhfjfnbfjdkj (, January 19, 1999.

Cowboy -- "Some people think water in the sewer always flows down hill this is not true..."

On this you're flat out wrong. Sewer lines are always pitched for gravity flow. The slope is usually very slight but it is sufficient.

BUT -- sometimes an obstacle, such as an intervening stream, between the origin of a sewer line and the treatment plant, makes it necessary to lift the flow over the obstacle. This is done by a lift station, where a catch basin (a glorified sump) collects the flow, a pump delivers it to what is called a force main, through which the entire flow travels under pressure. Once over the hump, the line returns to gravity flow.

Loss of power kills the lift station pumps. They have emergency generators, but only a limited supply of fuel. The expectation is that power outages never last more than a couple of days at most. (But there are always surprises.)

But not every sewer line passes thru a force main.

If the power's out, the water supply probably will be too. But some sewers are combined -- they carry storm runoff too. When a good rainstorm or snow melt hits an inoperative lift station, the flow has nowhere to go except up. As it rises it backs up the line.

Wear hip boots at that time if your house is susceptible to this sort of flooding.

-- Tom Carey (, January 20, 1999.

Mr. Tom Carey you do not know what you are talking about what this Cowboy tobacco chewing idiot said is true. The water will find its level in the pipe. Sewer lines are laid out of pitch all the time if you use a small pitch at the end of a line by the time the run is finished one mile down the road it would be over 80 feet deep in the hole. You say they use a pumping station these are very expensive to install i do not know who is talking out their ass more you or that cowboy the system you talk of would be to complicated to install you and cowboy should jump in the sewer and take a ride home.

-- J.B.C. (, January 21, 1999.

Step 1: Remove your toilets. They are bolted down. Unbolt them and set them in the back yard for use as planters.

Step 2: Cap the soil pipes to which your toilets were connected. Your local plumbing supply store can provide what you need to do this job.

Step 3: Install a composting toilet where one of your regular toilets used to be. If you can afford it install one in place of each toilet you removed. There you go! No more sewage problem! Hope your neighbors do likewise.

-- Bob Podolsky (, January 28, 1999.

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