Damaged Sewer Pipes Lead to Flooded Basements

December 11, 2018 Brendan Ellingham

Sewer lines are leaking. And if you’ve ever had to endure a flooded basement, you’ll know how painful the result can be. Storm water and ground water, often referred to as ‘inflow and infiltration’, is seeping into leaky lines; overwhelming the pipes and leading to back-ups. Our changing climate is resulting in more and more heavy-rain occurrences; putting further pressure on an already-vulnerable system.

Cracks in the pipes are the obvious culprits. But how those cracks have occurred is often due to preventable causes. The Ministry of the Environment and the Ontario Provincial Specification Standards have outlined protocols around the installation of pipes leading to sewer lines. Aside from choosing the proper piping, the bedding and back-filling that surrounds the pipe is of crucial importance. Backfilling must be specified correctly to ensure no damage to the pipe or joints will occur. It also can’t impede future taping or cleaning operations; or result in pressure that could restrict the pipe’s flow capacity. And, the placement and setting of the backfill has to be done without disturbing the alignment of the pipe.

The standards, however, do provide some confusion of their own. The pipe leading to the sewer may fall under two jurisdictions depending on which side of the property line it’s on. As the pipe heads from the house’s drain to the property line, it’s standards are set by the Ontario Building Code – and the responsibility of the property owner. Once it has gone beyond the property line, it’s now under the jurisdiction of the Engineering Departments. The enforcement of these standards, however, is less than consistent. A small survey done in 2015 found that, in 73% of cases, no inspections were done on private laterals – the piping leading from the building or home to the sewer line.

For the home or property owner, they typically only become aware of substandard installation or pipe performance after it’s too late. Whether the issue is localized around their property or neighbourhood, or the broader system has become overwhelmed, the result is a back-up. These can be costly, painful and unsanitary situations. Having an approved Backwater Valve can ensure sewer water will not back-up into the home.

A Backwater Valve, essentially, ensures water can only flow one way – out. If a clog occurs somewhere along the sewer line, or a heavy-rainfall event leads to the system being overwhelmed, sewer water will rise back toward the home. The floatation device on the valve rises to prevent the sewage from flowing beyond the valve. This provides an assurance of safety – for both, personal health as well as for basement furnishings – and significant peace-of-mind for the homeowner.

Some municipalities are now requiring Backwater Valves to be installed during construction. Most are highly recommending them. The cost of installation varies significantly depending on when the job is done. If it’s done during construction, it’s a simple job that costs around $200. If it’s a retrofit to an established home, the cost and effort are more of an undertaking. Ideally, this installation would happen before the basement is finished. To provide room for the device, a trench that spans about 1 meter must be dug in the floor. The length of this trench may vary depending on the pipe layout and construction of the home. The cost of this project in an unfinished basement would be in the approx. $1,000 to $2,000 range. For any homeowner, this would be the definition of a ‘grudge purchase’. But, especially those who may be in areas where the risk of flooding is higher, it’s probably a very wise investment.

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