Protecting a home from sewer backup flooding requires several key steps.
- First, the home must be equipped with flood protection devices like backwater valves, sump pumps, eaves trough, and downspouts, window well covers, and be optimized for proper drainage.
- Second, those devices must be maintained and inspected regularly by experienced professionals who can identify problems with existing equipment or gaps in the protective system as a whole.
- Third, a proper insurance policy with specific flood insurance endorsement should be in place to act as a safety net.
- Finally, municipalities should be encouraged to update drainage infrastructure to account for rising populations and added strain to community systems.
As the issue of flooding continues to rise over the next several years, cooperation and preventative action by homeowners, municipalities, insurance companies, and home builders will be key to protecting communities across Canada.
Before the Storm
The ‘Before the Storm’ Corporate Knights article discusses flood protection for Canadians from a financial perspective.
“Otherwise stated, for every $1 spent on flood protection, the savings per 10-year period, per household, would equal $4.30. That’s a big savings for individual homeowners, insurers, the housing market, and Canadian society as a whole.”
6 Crucial Steps to Protecting Your Home
1. Backwater Valves
One of the most critical ways to ensure the protection of your basement from floods is by installing a backwater valve. A backwater valve is a one-way or check-valve that allows water to flow in only one direction. It is installed on the main water line that moves wastewater from toilets and sinks in your house into the municipal sewer line.
Backwater valves are essential in preventing sewer backups into your house. During heavy rainfall or when a municipal waste water system fails, water can flow from the city sewer system into your house, filling your home with bacteria and virus-infected sewage. Backwater valves are designed to close when water flows toward your house, effectively sealing the main line and preventing the backflow of sewage.
Backwater valves are so effective in the prevention of basement floods that many municipalities offer subsidies for homeowners looking to install one in their home.
The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction has produced an excellent guide called Protect Your Home From Basement Flooding.
2. Maintenance Programs
Backwater valves are highly effective, but if neglected, they will not continue to function as they should. The Insurance Bureau of Canada agrees. “We recommend having it inspected by a qualified person on a regular basis.”
Installation of a backwater valve is the single best thing you can do as a homeowner to prevent a disastrous sewer back up in your home. A well-functioning backwater valve will prevent contaminated municipal sewer water from entering your home. But, like any continuously operating mechanical device (especially one that operates in a dirty aqueous environment), it is likely to suffer a buildup of waste material and debris that will seriously hamper its functioning. It requires regular maintenance.
A regular maintenance program is essential to keep your backwater valve functioning properly in the event of a sewage backup, and may also help your bottom line. An inspection certificate from a qualified company such as Backwater Solutions Canada may qualify you for a reduction in insurance premiums. [fact check]
What should you expect from a backwater valve maintenance program?
A reputable company that services backwater valves should be able to offer:
- Cleaning and inspection of your backwater valve twice per year
- Inspection of all O ring seals to ensure proper seating on the valve
- Test inspection of your sump pump and drain lines to ensure proper function
- A thorough inspection of your foundation to assess for leaks and moisture saturation
- Inspection of all eaves trough and downspouts for proper drainage
When finished, your maintenance company should supply you with a certificate verifying that your backwater valve has been cleaned and is in good working order. That’s important to your insurance carrier. If you are the victim of a flood and they find that you had a backwater valve that was clogged as a result of inadequate maintenance, you may be exempt from coverage!
3. Disconnect from Municipal System
Downspouts direct water runoff from your roof to a drainage system like weeping tile buried in the ground. Water collected in the weeping tile (or foundation drain) will enter the municipal sewage or drainage system. During heavy rain, if too many houses are connected to the municipal drains, the system can become overwhelmed and backup, forcing water into your basement. Many municipalities are asking homeowners to disconnect their foundation drains from the municipal system and instead, direct downspouts out into the yard away from the foundation where they can drain naturally. Disconnecting from the municipal system is also a grant program in some cities.
4. Grading and Slope
If the ground around your home’s foundation does not slope down and away into the yard or another drainage system, you are almost guaranteed to experience leaks at some point. Water will seep down the walls of your foundation and into your home through cracks that form over time. The fix? Build the ground up around your foundation so it measures 10cm to 15cm higher than ground that is 1.5 meters away from the foundation.
When a homebuilder planned the construction of your house, they used architects and surveyors to make sure your property allowed for adequate drainage of excess water. They also made sure that your property grading did not interfere with the grading plan for the houses around you. That planning is necessary for every new build so that runoff from your neighbour’s property doesn’t end up pooling on yours. Sometimes homeowners inadvertently change that drainage plan through unsanctioned DIY projects that go uninspected by City planners. If excess water is consistently pooling in a particular area of your property, or that of your neighbour, it may warrant a call to the City for an inspection of your drainage.
5. Sump Pumps
Sump pumps are designed to manage foundation water that collects on and near your house. Installed in the lowest point in your basement (usually in a sump pit), it uses a float valve to activate the pump when the water level reaches a predetermined height. That water is then directed up and out of the home, away from the foundation. If you disconnect from your municipal system, you will need to install a sump pump. It is important to test your sump pump periodically by lifting the ball valve to make sure it comes on when it should.
If your sump pump has a backup battery system, it is also important to have a qualified person inspect it for carbon monoxide buildup. Fire departments occasionally attend residences where the smoke and gas detectors have sounded, to find a buildup of CO in the backup battery system.
6. Seal Foundation Cracks, Floor Cracks, and Window Wells
Small cracks in your foundation may seem innocuous when compared to the potential of a sewer backup, but some types of cracks signal a weak spot that could become problematic. When water saturates the soil around your foundation, water pressure (or hydrostatic pressure) builds exponentially, forcing water to find even the smallest opening into your basement. Floor cracks are a magnet for hydrostatic pressure! Be sure to seal foundation cracks and window wells to prevent water intrusion. Keeping your basement as dry as possible will also help to prevent mould from finding a home inside your home
Home Flood Protection Checklist
Backwater Solutions Canada Maintenance and Inspection Programs
(Water Management Inspection for Home Owners)