Tips to Prevent and Handle Sewer Backup

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Tips to Help Prevent and Handle Sewer Backup in Your Toronto Home

Unless you live in a brand-new development, the odds are your sewage lines are pretty old. We can say with certainty that some of these lines are over a century old, and are likely to have sewer backup for many reasons.

As new developments are built, lines from newly built homes are connected to old existing lines; creating a lot of traffic. Sewer backup comes along with all of that traffic over time and has some seriously risky side effects.

Stormwater and sewage water can be blocked from reaching their exit points, leaving that moving and growing water very close by. Apart from the water itself being toxic, damage to homes and possessions are likely to come with a flood.

Whether it's sewer backup caused by tree roots breaking through pipes or drains getting clogged with foreign material, this issue is not a joke. It ultimately comes down to a matter of safety, so all precautions and upkeep should be taken.

Apart from your safety though, damage repairs on sewer backup aren't cheap. And in a worst-case scenario (which is a reality for many people) your insurance won't cover any repairs.

To help prepare you, we've assembled a handy guide to sewer backup including what causes it, how to resolve specific issues, and other useful information.

Preparation and good habits can easily save you thousands of dollars in the end. Read on to educate and ultimately prepare yourself against sewer backup.

Insurance Might Not Cover Damages

It's common for homeowners’ insurance or business insurance not to cover flood damage. The solution is usually to be prepared with some sort of flood insurance or extension on current policies.

The first step to determining if you need additional services is to find out if your current insurance covers damages caused by flooding. Standard home coverages may cover water damage, but it isn't guaranteed by any stretch.

Usually, you will have to either add an endorsement to your existing policy or look for a different provider altogether. But that all depends on the type of structure you're getting insurance for and the location it's in.

As pessimistic as that sounds, you should assume standard homeowners’ insurance won't cover sewer backups. Again, first talk with your insurance provider to see if there are any extra endorsements to protect you against flood damages.

Your premium may only increase by $40 or $50+ a year, so it's at least worth looking into.

The short answer here: if you don't already have direct flood insurance, consider it. Contact your insurance provider to see if there are any additional policies for flood damage you can tack onto your existing policy.

What Causes Sewer Backup?

The possibilities are about as endless as you can imagine. All of nature seems determined to mess up your sewage lines. Here are some of the most common causes of sewer backup:

Damaged Sewer Pipes from Shifting Earth

If you're in an area that receives a lot of shifting or movement under the surface, damaged sewer pipes are probably no stranger to you. Sewer lines can break or collapse with the fluctuating earth and frequently do all over the world.

If there is any shift in the sand or dirt underneath pipes (such as a sinkhole) then a lack of support from beneath could cause a collapse. Older homes with older forms of piping are especially at risk, as their pipes are more brittle.

Solutions: In the event, there is sewer backup from shifting ground, there's little to nothing a non-professional can do. Look for local services offering excellent plumbing support with realistic solutions to your problem.

Tree Roots

If you have any large oak trees or big, hearty trees, then you've inevitably got their massive supporting root system around you. Nature isn't very kind on sewage lines; tree roots cracking or bursting your pipes are proof of that.

Older clay piping allows tree roots to cling to their porous surface, winding around and cracking them with immense strength. Naturally growing roots are likely to hit your pipes as they seek water, and many times, they find it in the sewage lines.

When it's dry season, the roots are in desperate search for water in the earth. The drips and leaks may call them down, but the water and the nutrients from the pipes' runoff are like buffets to tree roots.

Solutions: It may be hard to determine if tree roots are the problem when you're standing on the surface. If there are cracks near any permanent structure or material near the pipes, or you smell sewage gas, it could be tree roots.

If there's nothing you can do above, call the 24/7 emergency plumber services to assess the tree root damage and provide solutions.

Heavy Rainfall

People that live in urban areas (where there tend to be a lot of people in a relatively small space) are likely to see sewer backup during heavy rainfall.

Water travels in direct patterns with guided roads and runoff systems, but in nature, flooding moves over tough land into softer land. This can cause a backup around drains or even under the surface where water pressure is strong.

Solutions: If there is any sewage backup from heavy rainfall, call the local professionals and avoid any contact with the water. Get corrective work done on your plumbing when you can, and consider the help of backwater check valves.

Internally Blocked Sewer Pipes

This is the one that you can take the biggest responsibility for. Sewer lines were designed to accept and flush only a strict set of materials. Flush something foreign down there and things can get really bad fast.

You'll be able to recognize sewer backup in the pipes when the water from the faucet or toilet is rejected and comes gurgling back up. Nasty stuff.

Follow some best practices and only put down the drain what was meant to go down it:

  • Don't flush chewing gum, diapers, feminine products, or napkins
  • Don't dump trash or debris into the pipes, even in garbage disposals
  • Don't pour edible material like cooking oil, coffee, eggshells, or mayonnaise that could get caught or cause nasty problems.

Solutions: In a best-case scenario, you can plumb the gunk out yourself with a plunger. In a worst-case scenario, you call up your local reliable plumber to work on it for you with specialized devices.

Since we're already on the topic, this is a good time to talk about some other things you might not want to throw down the drain.

Common Items You Shouldn't Put Down the Drain

It looks like it fits down the drain, and since it's already moving waste away, why not just flush it? Well, for starters, you could start a big, costly problem by flushing something as little as oil down your kitchen drain.

If you're unsure about whether an item should be flushed or not, rely on the answer "no." Here are some other common household items that you shouldn't put down the drain:

Tissues or Wet Wipes

Pretty much the only things meant to go down our sewage pipes are waste and toilet paper, which is specifically designed to break down when wet. Don't believe the kitty litters, tissues, or wipes that say they're safe to flush.

The same goes for paper towels. Tissues and paper towels were designed specifically to repel water or soak it up and stay strong when wet. A few of those down the drain together can easily cause a sewer backup.


Though they seem small, thin, and relatively easy to flush, don't do it! These little sticks withstand the breakdown from toilet water and easily snag in the corners of the pipes of the toilet or in tree roots later on down the line.

When they get caught up, toilet paper and other waste can get hung up around the Q-tip causing a drainage block. And that'll send all that waste back up into your home, usually at a time when it's busiest (like a family get-together).

Cotton Balls

Similar to Q-tips, cotton balls won't break down in water. Instead, they'll clump together or with other materials to get trapped in bends around the pipe or in roots.

And because they're so fibrous, they're likely to snag on any sharp corners or rough edges. That'll make for a web of cotton in your pipes that will slowly grab ahold of all the passing waste.

Dental Floss

It doesn't matter if the dental floss you use is wax or not; it can still easily lead to a sewer backup. Floss moves like a tough rope to latch onto anything it can wind around. It's likely floss will wrap around turning parts or catch up in tree roots.

The trash can is the best option for any dental floss.

Oils and Fats

Not all oil products are obviously cloggers. Mayonaise, for example, will clog the drain just fine. The problem with fatty products is that they can go down the drain easily when they're warm, but solidify when they cool.

Over time they can build up plaque on the inside of your pipes, restricting flow to a tighter and tighter channel until it clogs the whole system.

Use Best Practices to Prevent Sewer Backup

Always use best practices and teach younger ones to do the same. Create habits that lead to smooth drainage instead of a big pile of... you get it.

Properly Dispose of Fat and Grease

Instead of dumping oil, hot or cold, down the drain, pour it into a place to cool and solidify a bit before dumping it in the garbage. Simply washing it down with warm water won't do the trick.

As we mentioned above, oils solidify on the pipes and make a big mess.

Don't Flush Paper Products

Obviously, don't flush anything else besides toilet paper and waste. Paper products are too often mistaken for flushable items. However, they don't deteriorate quickly enough in the water and pose a serious drainage risk.

Keep a trash can near the toilet to deter the habit of flushing paper products.

Replace Outdated Pipes

If it's an option for you, and you have it in your budget, you might want to beat the game and replace old lines with new plastic ones. This would also be a good time to assess the tree root situation in your yard, as well.

Backwater Prevention Valve

Installing a backwater prevention valve will help you avoid any water moving in the wrong direction. It allows sewage water to leave through the pipes but reacts by closing up when water moves in the opposite direction.

Check with a qualified local plumber to see what your options are for a backwater prevention valve.

Routine Maintenance

There are various tips and tricks out there that you can do on occasion to prevent any sewage problems. One of the most well-known is to fill up the sinks and then let them drain out once they're full.

The combined weight of the water and the pressure should hopefully flush out anything clinging to the insides of your sewage lines.

Sewer Backup Conclusion

There's no ignoring the fact that a repair on your sewage line is a costly matter. You can prevent having to spend thousands of dollars fixing toilets and pipes by following some of the precautions we've outlined in this article.

Follow best practices and teach best practices to those who don't get it yet. And when it comes time for that call to the plumber, trust the experts at Mr. Rooter to get the job done quickly and efficiently!

Have a need for a qualified plumber? Contact Mr. Rooter Plumbing Toronto today!