Blog A Homeowners Guide To Sewer Backup : Causes, Prevention And Backwater Valves

Jan 30, 2017

Sewer backup and insurance coverage

Sewer backup related water damage claims are on the rise in Canada. Severe weather, large rainfalls and sudden downpours are putting extreme stress on our sewage systems, causing them to back up into homes.

No one wants to come home from work or wake up in the morning to find a sewer backup in basement. It’s a situation that homeowners in Ontario fear not only because it can ruin cherished personal belongings, but also because of the extensive cleanup process, insurance claims, and it can be dangerous to your health.

How Damaging Are Sewer Backups?

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada :

Canada’s costliest natural disaster ever was the June 2013 torrential rainfall that flooded towns in southern Alberta. Insured damage was more than $1.72 billion. In June and July of that same year, severe thunderstorms struck Quebec and Ontario and resulted in more than $1.2 billion in insured damages.

Common Sewer Backup Causes

The causes of sewer line backups are more specific than the those that cause general house water damage. In most cases, sewer backups are directly related to weather events, such as in Alberta and the Ontario storms in 2013, especially if you live in low lying areas or valleys. However, there are other causes of sewer backups in Ontario that homeowners need to be aware of.

What causes sewer backup in basements?

There are five main causes of sewer backup :

  • Weather Events : Large amounts of precipitation, sudden rain storms, and even a fast winter thaw can bring more water into the sewer than it can handle, causing it to back up into your home.
  • A Clog : Sewer lines can become clogged just like your drains, and when they do, the sewage needs to go somewhere, and it’s usually into your home.
  • Tree Roots : Tree roots can grow into your sewer pipes and cause holes and blockages. They can also wrap around your sewer line and crush the pipes.
  • Broken Sewer Lines : It’s common for older homes to experience collapsed sewer lines. Over time, older cast iron and clay pipes will break down, creating sewer backup issues.
  • Sump Pump Malfunction : Excessive water in a short period of time can cause it to stop working correctly. Poor maintenance could also cause your sump pump to malfunction.

Why Are Sewer Backups Dangerous?

Unlike other water damage issues that are caused by rainwater getting into your home, sewer water can be very hazardous to your health.

According to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction :

Sanitary sewage is generated by the use of toilets, sinks, drains and other home water uses. Because this type of sewage contains a high degree of contaminants and can pose a significant risk to human health and the environment, it requires treatment at sewage treatment facilities before it is released back into the environment.

Sewer Backup Prevention Tips

As with other potential threats to your home, being proactive is always the best approach for prevention. Taking steps to prevent sewer backups can reduce the odds of having to deal with a basement full of sewage water. Here are a number of effective approaches to sewer backup prevention :

  1. Choose A Home On High Ground : Buying a home in an area that is considered low risk for floods, and on high ground, is something to consider when exploring home options. Another thing to consider when purchasing a home is large trees as their roots can cause many plumbi ng issues, including a sewer backup.
  2. Maintain Your Drains : Most sewer clogs can be prevented by performing regular maintenance and using your drains properly. Avoid putting anything other than toilet paper in the toilet, avoid pouring potentially harmful substances down the drain (such as grease), and if you have one, be smart with how you use your garbage disposal.
  3. Get Your Sump Pump Serviced Regularly : It is a good idea to have your sump pump looked at a professionally every few years to make sure clogs are not developing and it is running efficiently.
  4. Address Plumbing Issues Right Away : Don’t allow plumbing issues to linger. They will only become more difficult and costly to repair, and they can lead to significant issues such as sewer backups, basement flooding, and other problems.

Backwater valve installation can stop water flooding to your basement during stormy weather and eliminate the associated hassle and costly water damage.

Backwater Valves – Helping To Prevent Basement Flooding

Install A Sewer Backwater Valve

Having a backwater valve can be the difference between having a basement filled with sewage water and a dry basement. It’s a simple device that can be installed in your basement to prevent water from entering (or backing up) into your basement when water levels in the sewer are higher than normal.

Backwater valves have an internal flap that allows water to flow from your home to the sewer. However, if water flow changes direction and starts to come into your home, the flap will raise and block water from coming into your basement.

Benefits of installing a backwater valve include :

  • It provides your home with added protection against sewer backups.
  • It accounts for uncertainty of climate change.
  • It gives you peace of mind.
  • You could qualify for a home insurance discount.

Backwater Valve Installation

If you plan to install a backwater valve or other sewer backup prevention device, you may require a permit. Make sure to have it installed by a licensed plumber.

This video explains the process involved to install a backwater valve in your home :

How Much Does A Backwater Valve Cost?

The cost of backwater valve installation depends on your home. Installing the device in a new home will cost up to $250. However, the cost to retrofit a backwater valve could easily cost a $1000 or more.

There is some good news if you need to retrofit. Many municipalities offer homeowners subsidies to assist with the cost of backwater valve installation. Talk with your local city hall to see if a subsidy is available. Considering the costs involved, installing a backwater valve is a worthwhile investment, especially if you live in an area that is prone to flooding.

Sewer Backup Cleanup – What If I Have A Basement Flood?

Sometimes, no matter how many steps you take to prevent a basement flood, it will still happen. Basement flooding due to sewer backup can do a great deal of damage. It can lead to mold damage and growth, and the bacteria from the sewage will spoil anything it touches.

Therefore, sewer backup cleanups need to start as soon as you notice the damage. The quicker you take action, the more you may be able to save.

Follow these steps :

  • Do not go into the affected areas – they are contaminated and pose a risk to you and your family.
  • Call your insurance company to open a claim.
  • They will provide you with a list of recommended basement flooding cleanup companies in your area. Call them to start the cleanup process.
  • Your insurance company will send out an adjuster to come and assess the damage.
  • Work with your insurance adjuster and clean up company to eliminate the water, salvage items, create an inventory of damaged items, and begin the repair process.

Do I Have Sewer Backup Insurance In Ontario?

Prevent Damage From Sewer Backup

Water damage insurance coverage is one area where many Ontario homeowners are not clear on what is and is not covered. Sewer backup coverage, commonly referred to by insurers as a sewer backup rider, is only covered if you have taken out a separate policy to get the additional coverage. It is not covered in your standard home insurance policy.

However, sewer backup insurance and the installation of a backwater valve may be required by your insurance company. According to IBC, Depending on where you live and the prevalence of sewer flooding events, your insurer may require you to install a backflow valve. If you have suffered substantial sewer backup damage, the installation of a backwater valve may be required to maintain insurance coverage.

What Does Sewer Backup Insurance Cover?

Sewer backup insurance coverage provides you with protection specifically against damage caused by sewer backups in your home. It is additional coverage that will cover the costs of cleaning up and repairing the areas affected in your home, and replacing and restoring affected personal belongings.

When choosing sewer backup insurance, make note of the sewer backup coverage limits and deductible. Many of these policies have lower coverage limits and higher than normal deductibles.

Talk with a ThinkInsure home insurance broker to help you explore your options for adding sewer backup insurance coverage to your home insurance policy.

Do I Need Sewer Backup Insurance If I Live In A Condo?

Many people assume that if they live in a condo or high-rise that sewer backups won’t happen to them. After all, they only happen in basements, right? Unfortunately not. Sewer backups can happen in condos, too, especially in the lower level unit. Therefore, sewer backup insurance for condos is something worth considering if you are a condo owner. Talk with your condo management to see if this coverage is provided by their insurance policy or if you need to take out additional coverage.

Is Sewer Backup Insurance Worth It?

Whether sewer backup insurance coverage is worth it or not depends on your situation and, particularly, where you live and if there is a history of homes experiencing sewer backups. If you live in an area that is prone to flooding, then the costs of adding a sewer backup rider (which can be as little as $20 up to $250 per year) more than outweighs the cost of cleanup and repair, which can easily add up to $10,000 or more, not to mention the impact a backup will have on your daily life.

Learn more about your sewer backup insurance options by talking with our experienced home insurance brokers today!

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