LESLIE: Joe in Maryland is on the line and has a question about what to do when a sewer line backs up. What is going on?
JOE: Leslie, as I was going through my front door to enjoy my Thanksgiving dinner with my family, leaving the house I heard my watchdog water alarm go off.
JOE: And my heart sank. So I ran down to the basement and my basement was partly flooded. And after calling the plumber – I couldn’t find the leak – the plumber came. He looked and looked. He couldn’t find the leak, either. So he went into the basement – I mean into the bathroom on the finished part of the basement – and he looked under the vanity, looked into the toilet tank, couldn’t find anything. Then he flushed the toilet and water just overflowed everywhere.
TOM: So your sewer line backs up? Is that what happened?
JOE: Yes, sir. The main drain to the septic tank backed up.
TOM: OK. Yeah.
JOE: So I got over a company that’s similar to Roto-Rooter and they cleared it out but I’m hoping – I don’t know what kind of periodic maintenance I might do to prevent that from happening again. I asked the person who cleared out the drain – I asked him that question. And he said – well, he said, “The more water that goes through there, the better.”
JOE: He said because water goes through easily solids, he says they have a tendency to hang up just a little bit but …
TOM: Yeah. And then the sewer line backs up. So there were no roots or anything like that in the pipe that caused this? It was just a buildup of waste?
JOE: Yes. But let me tell you this: the angle of that drainpipe into the septic system, I saw it when they were putting it into the ground, because I owned the lot when the house was being built, and I don’t think they put a steep enough grade onto that pipe.
TOM: Mm-hmm. Right. Well, look, to do that kind of work right now – how long have you been in this house?
JOE: Over 40 years. It happened about 10 years ago. My entire basement got flooded. I had to have the siding or the paneling replaced, the carpeting. The whole bathroom had to be redone all over because the wicking went right up the walls and everything.
TOM: So it happened 10 years ago and then it happened again recently, so the options are either to reconfigure that plumbing line so that it has a better pitch – maybe if it’s cast-iron, replace it with PVC, which is a lot smoother inside and less likely to get hung up – or you could just commit to a maintenance schedule where you’re clearing that pipe, having that pipe cleared about every three to five years. And this way, you’ll stay ahead any time the sewer line backs up. That’s really your options.
By the way, it occurs to me that this is something that should be covered by your homeowner’s insurance, because it’s a sudden, incidental flood. It’s not an ongoing thing. If you get a flood from a plumbing system that happens all at once like that, that’s covered by homeowner’s insurance.
JOE: I see.
TOM: So you might want to reach out to your carrier and file a claim if you’ve already done the work or at least alert them to this. Because plumbing that breaks or backs up like that, that’s called “sudden and incidental.” It’s not the result of you just allowing a pipe to drip for months and months. If it happens like that, all at once, because of a plumbing emergency, then that’s covered by homeowner’s insurance.
JOE: I wasn’t sure of that, Tom.
TOM: I think so and I think you can call your insurance company or you can call a public adjuster. They don’t work for the insurance company; they work for you. They work on a percentage of what they collect.
JOE: I see.
TOM: They usually find every darn thing that’s wrong with that space. Every layer of paint, every nail is accounted for when they submit that claim.
JOE: I see.
JOE: Yes, sir. Thank you very much for all your advice.