Ottawa Sewer Backup: What to Do Next and Tips for Prevention

A plumber's hand holding open a home's sewer cover to expose sewage water clogging the pipes.

In Canada, more than eight in 10 households depend on a municipal sewer system. These are the plumbing lines that direct wastewater to a public treatment plant. The local government is responsible for the upkeep of these systems.

However, each of these homes also has its own sewer line that connects to the municipal one. As such, when an Ottawa sewer backup occurs, it's more likely due to a clog in your home's main drain and sewer line. In this case, it's your duty to get the plumbing issues addressed.

Keep in mind that sewer backups can occur in more than one area in your home. Affected pipes can also leak out wastewater simultaneously. Either way, you should get all these corrected right away, as they can cause severe water damage.

Ready to learn all about what you should do in case you run into a backed-up sewer? Then let's get this guide started!

Know Who's Responsible for Which Part of the Sewers

Many homes in Ottawa have two types of sewer lines running under their property. The first is the sanitary sewer, which is the pipe that carries wastewater out of your property. The second is the storm sewer, the pipe that collects and drives rain and groundwater away from your home.

As with your home's sanitary sewer, your storm sewer also connects to the municipal line. You are also responsible for the part of the storm sewer that's within your property line. As such, it's your duty to fix any problem that affects any portion of either sewer line within your home.

A perfect example is a storm sewer backup caused by a clog within the public line. If this happens, the runoff from your property won't be able to pass through the clog. As a result, the stormwater may back up into your home, especially if you have a basement.

Basement flooding, by the way, is one of the most expensive plumbing issues you can ever face. In Canada, the cost to repair such disasters averages $43,000.

Still, many household activities can clog the storm sewer line within your home. These include improper disposal of mown grass and other wastes. These can block the drainage easements located on your property.

Gear Up Before Inspecting the Backup

Did you know that untreated wastewater can house 1,000 to 10 million virus particles per litre? It can also contain 100,000 to 10 billion colony-forming units of E. coli per litre! What's more, there are plenty of other scary pathogens floating in it, like worms and protozoa.

All that should be good enough reason never to ignore the signs of a clogged main sewer in your Ottawa home. This way, you can have the blockage removed before it causes a massive backup.

If you're already dealing with a backup, though, be sure to don protective clothing. Please do this even if there's no sign of flooding. Wear rubber gloves and boots and a protective face mask to avoid exposure to these pathogens.

Even if you're only doing a quick inspection, it's best to protect yourself from these dangers.

Determine Which Drains or Toilets Have Backed Up

A clogged sewer will send the wastewater flowing back into the direction it came from: your home. As the water rushes back inside, some of it will flow out of the first opening it passes by. In most cases, these are the holes in lower-ground drains or vents.

As such, the first places you should check are the floor drains in the basement or the first floor of your home. Hopefully, not a lot of wastewater has backed out of these, so that you don't have to wade in filthy water.

If water keeps gushing out of the floor drains, call emergency plumbers right away. This usually indicates a main drain line collapse that needs to get fixed right away. Otherwise, all wastewater will likely flow back into your home.

Inspect and Unclog the Cleanout

Minor backups typically recede after several minutes. If this is the kind of problem you have, you may only have to clean your home's building drain.

A cleanout is a type of fitting that allows for main drain cleaning. In Ottawa, cleanouts are mandatory in residential plumbing networks. However, some older homes may not have this fitting.

In any case, you should still look for this pipe as you may be able to unclog your sewer through its opening.

A cleanout is usually a pipe that has a diameter of 3 to 6 inches. A small part of it should protrude from the ground and be visible and easily accessible. Its topmost section should come with a plug that you can unscrew using a wrench.

You can open this up, but take care to do it slowly, as it may be full of liquid and solid wastes. Also, make sure that you let as much of the waste buildup trickle off before inserting a plumber's snake in it. Carefully remove as much of the clog in the building drain as possible before replacing the cover.

Once the cleanout is clog-free, allow a small amount of water to run out of one of your lower-ground taps. The unrestrained drain line should now let the wastewater flow to the public sewer line.

If you're still getting backups, it's likely that you have a damaged sewer line. In this case, you should get in touch with a licensed Ottawa plumber.

Contact an Ottawa Sewer Backup and Drain Repair Specialist

Having multiple sewer backups should be your cue to hire an Ottawa drain cleaning expert. Do this even if the water does recede. The longer you put off having your drain lines cleaned, the bigger the clogs inside them will get.

This is even more important if there's quite a lot of effluent (liquid waste) bubbling out of your drains. Even if the water looks clear, it may already be full of pathogens.

Sewer backup experts will come to your home, no matter the time of the day. This means that they can get rid of the wastewater before they drench your entire home. From there, they will diagnose your plumbing system to find out the root cause of the backup.

Plumbing video cameras allow these pros to detect where the backups are from. From here, the expert plumbers can devise the most appropriate course of action. If their inspection reveals a collapsed line, they may advise you to get a trenchless repair.

What's important is that Ottawa plumbers will help minimize the water damage in your home. Since you can rely on them any time of the day, then you should ring them up as soon as you experience a backup.

Get Drying

If you catch the backup early, you won't have to worry about water damage. However, if some amount of effluent did creep into your home, you'd want to start drying things ASAP.

Portable dehumidifiers can get rid of excess water vapour from indoor air. It can also help you prevent moulds from thriving and spreading. This is especially important if you have asthma, as 10% to 30% of people who do are allergic to moulds.

A sump pump can also help get rid of a few inches of water. You can rent these from specialty stores. Rest assured, though, that plumbing experts in Ottawa will bring one during a service call.

If you have big fans, use them to speed up the drying process. Make sure you continue to run your dehumidifiers.

Contact Your Home Insurance Provider

Depending on the cause of the flooding, your home insurance company may cover some of your losses. Most standard homeowners' policies don't, but if you're unsure, it's best to ring up your insurer. If you have a sewer backup policy, then the damages you've incurred should get covered.

Preventing Future Sewer Backups

FOG buildups are among the biggest reasons for both public and private plumbing woes. It stands for fats, oil, and grease. They are responsible for a huge chunk of the $250 million that Canada spends to clean up sewer systems each year.

The problem with these liquids is that they are quick to congeal. They don't even need a below-zero temperature to solidify. Away from the sun's heat, they can turn into huge blobs that block private and public sewer lines.

The proper way of disposing of FOG is to collect them in heat-resistant containers with lids. You can even pour them into old plastic containers, as long as you do so when they're at room temperature. Once the jars, bottles, or jugs are full, you can then throw them away with your usual household waste.

Aside from proper FOG disposal, here are other ways that you can keep your drains healthy.

Pay Attention To Your Drains' Cries for Help

These "cries" usually take the form of gurgling or bubbling sounds. A properly-working drain would never make such sounds, as these indicate partial clogs.

Drains that emit foul smells or mould-like odours also signal blockages in the drain line. There may be something big down there that's not only clogging the pipe but is also in a state of decay.

If you're only dealing with a single problematic drain, you can try to plunge the clog away. You may also use a plumber's snake (also called "auger") to clear the blockage. However, if you have many slow-draining clogs, then it's best to contact a licensed plumber.

Don't Treat the Toilet as a Trash Bin

To reduce your risks of sewer backups, stick to flushing only the waste that your body produces. Thick wads of toilet paper can still cause clogs, especially if you already have a lot of FOG in your drains.

Also, know that items labelled "flushable" are, most of the time, not really flushable. Wet wipes, in particular, are behind a lot of the country's sewer woes. The 14-ton "fatberg" found back in 2014 in London, Ontario, for instance, was full of wet wipes.

So, as much as possible, stick to flushing only the two "Ps" that you excrete. You should also consider switching to toilet paper that's easier to disintegrate. The quicker it dissolves, the fewer chances it has of mixing up with existing clogs.

Clear Limescale and Consider Getting Hard Water Treatment

Many parts of Ottawa have hard water, which, over time, can also cause clogs in your water supply and drain pipes.

Hard water doesn't have severe health effects, but it may make your tap water taste funny. As mentioned above, it can also cause clogs in the form of limescale formation.

Limescale is a layer of hardened minerals that only gets thicker over time. The more of it that builds up, the narrower your drains' insides will become. It won't be long before you start feeling the effects of clogged drains.

Don't wait for limescale to cause a full-on sewer backup. Get your drains cleaned by Ottawa plumbing experts regularly. You may also want to ask them about installing a water softener in your home.

Don't Let Sewer Backups Mess up Your Ottawa Home

As you can see, an Ottawa sewer backup isn't just expensive to repair; it can also be a huge health threat. That's why it's always best to prevent them rather than deal with them.

If you've had a minor sewer backup, then call in the experts to inspect your plumbing system. This way, the pros can clear clogs and repair your sewer line before it causes a major flood in your home.

Have you noticed multiple slow-moving drains in your Ottawa home? If so, then don't wait for those to start leaking out backed-up wastewater. Give us a call instead, and we'll be happy to inspect and clean your likely-clogged main drain!