Friday, August 7, 2009

Sewer backs up and the basement floods - What should I do?

The City of Ottawa has a publication about the procedures to be taken in case of basement flooding. The following is a copy of it. It is really important to read the entire document prior to dealing with a sewer back up:

Home Owner's Guide to Sewer Surcharging Clean-up

How does sewer main surcharging affect basement flooding?

Sewer main surcharging can happen during heavy rainstorms or spring run-off; the sewer system may not always be able to handle all the extra water flow. Water and/or sewage may back up into the basement through floor drains, unsecured clean-out caps on the sewer lateral piping system in the basement, or other plumbing fixtures that are below ground level. It mainly occurs in areas where surface water and sanitary wastewater share common piping systems. This is usually the case in the older neighbourhoods of the City of Ottawa.

Surcharging could also occur if the sewer main located downstream from that area is
collapsed or blocked by waste and debris. Sometimes pumping stations break down or
construction activities in the area may cause problems.

First steps

If you have a back up of water and/or sewage in your basement, please…
1. Check the toilets, sinks, waste pipes and any installed backflow preventing device in your residential sewage system. Clear any blockages to ensure that the water on the floor is not due to an internal plumbing problem or that internal plumbing problems are not contributing to the situation.
2. Call 3-1-1 if that does not solve the problem, and City staff will come out to determine the cause of the problem.
3. Don't use toilets and sinks unless it is absolutely necessary. (Any water sent down the drain will likely end up in your basement.)
4. Be patient! City staff will respond as soon as possible.
5. Make sure someone will be home to let City staff in.
6. Locate the building sewer clean-out caps. They are usually located in the basement floor near
the front wall, close to the water meter. In older homes, the cap may be located at the base of
the waste stack, which is the main internal drainage pipe coming down to the basement. This pipe goes through the basement floor and leads to the underground sewer main located beneath the street. Make sure that the cleanout caps are not blocked by furniture or other items and that they are accessible to City staff. Do not attempt to open the clean out.
7. Contact your insurance company to advise them of the back up into your basement.

Assess risk

Bacteria / viruses
Water contaminated with sewage may contain a number of bacteria and viruses, which can affect health. The major health concern is related to organisms that affect the gastrointestinal tract causing vomiting and diarrhea (gastroenteritis), and those that affect the liver (Hepatitis A, yellow jaundice). You can contract these illnesses by consuming contaminated food or water, or by putting contaminated hands or articles into your mouth. These bacteria and viruses may be present in the water backing up into your basement; they are not transmitted through the air. Skin irritation or infection can also occur from contact with contaminated water, particularly if open cuts or sores are present.
* Immediately add small amounts of household bleach (approx. two litres) tostanding water.
* Remove standing water with pumps or pails, then with a wet/dry shop vacuum.

Whenever floodwater reaches or is threatening to reach gas-fired equipment (furnace, hot water heater, stove, etc.) immediately call Enbridge 24-hour service line (1-888-447-4911). A technician will be dispatched to turn off the gas service to any affected buildings. Enbridge is responsible for the gas distribution piping up to the valve feeding the home.
If the gas supply needs to be shut off at an individual gas-fired appliance, you must call the service company from which you rent your gas-fired equipment or a heating contractor certified to work on gas-fired appliances. Either will dispatch a technician to the site as quickly as they are able. Please ensure that when you place your call with the service provider that you explain that you are experiencing a back up of the sewer lateral in your basement and that your request is urgent.

It is not safe to enter your basement if the water level has reached any plug, electrical outlet, extension cord or baseboard heater. If the water has not yet reached any plug, electrical outlet or baseboard heater and your distribution panel and main switch are still above water, you may be able to shut off the power yourself. Wear rubber boots when walking on a wet surface. If you plan to shut off the electricity at the main switch, first make sure the surface you are standing on is dry and that you are not touching metal (pipes, ladder, etc.). Since dry wood is not a good electrical conductor, stand on a wooden stool or chair, and then shut off the main switch using a dry wooden stick such as a broom handle. If it is not possible to safely shut off the main switch, or if the water has reached the panel or any electrical source, do not touch anything. Instead, call
an electrical contractor licensed to work in the City of Ottawa.
Before turning the power back on after the water subsides, call an electrical contractor to check your installation and confirm that there is no risk of electrocution or fire if the power is restored.
Hydro Ottawa (613-738-6400) can shut off the power at an outside source if required (meter, stand pipe, pole or transformer). Hydro Ottawa will only restore power after the customer (or your electrical contractor) obtains a permit number from the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) and someone with access to the home is present at the time of power restoration. The ESA can be reached at 1-877-372-7233.

Record the details of damage with photos or video, if possible. Contact your insurance agent. You may also want to record the dates and times of your calls to the City and your tracking number in case your insurance adjuster needs that information.

Never mix ammonia-based cleaning products and household bleaching agents as toxic fumes are generated when they are mixed together.

Water damage in your home can increase health risks if the water is not removed quickly and mould develops. Exposure to elevated levels of indoor moulds can affect your health by triggering allergic reactions, or causing eye, throat, and skin irritations, toxicity, or infection.
One species of indoor mould, Stachybotrys atra (or Stachybotrys chartarum), has been linked to severe illness. It grows on cellulose-based materials like wood, paper, and drywall when damp or wet for prolonged periods. This type of mould is dark-green to black in colour and produces toxins that are released into the air. If you or a family member experience symptoms associated with indoor mould exposure, consult your physician to determine if moulds are a possible cause.
Anyone can be affected by mould, but some people are more susceptible than others, including:
* people with asthma or allergies to moulds
* infants and young children whose lungs are still developing, and
* people with weakened immune systems.
Mould will grow in humid conditions. The best way to prevent mould contamination is to ventilate and dry your basement as quickly as possible. Items, such as waterlogged drywall (gypsum board) should be removed and discarded to prevent mould growth. Structural members (wall studs) should be dry before closing cavities in walls, crawl spaces, etc. Discoloration of surfaces and structures may be a sign of mould. Mould may be any colour: black, white, red, orange, yellow, blue or violet. Dab a drop of household bleaching agent onto a suspected spot. If the stain loses its colour, it may be mould. If there is no change, it is probably not mould. If you suspect mould growth, seek professional guidance on proper cleanup
procedures. The local Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) office can refer you to certified Indoor Air Quality Investigators (IAQs) in your area.
The following agencies can provide information on indoor moulds, their health effects, proper mould clean-up procedures, and advice on health problems related to indoor air quality:
* Ottawa Public Health, Environment & Health
Protection division: Tel: 613-580-6744
* Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
(CMHC): Tel.: 613-748-2367, TDD: 613-748-2447
* The Lung Association CAN-DO Program: Tel.: 1-800-97-CANDO

What to keep or discard
Subject to confirmation with your insurance company's adjuster's evaluation, the following may have to be discarded if they have been in contact with wastewater:
* All insulation materials and all less expensive articles that have been soaked, including particleboard furniture, mattresses, box springs, stuffed toys and pillows.
* Electrical or gas-fired appliances that have come in contact with water or wastewater.
* Furniture coverings, padding and cushions. The frames of good quality wood furniture can sometimes be salvaged, but must be cleaned, disinfected, rinsed and dried by ventilation away from direct sunlight or heat.

Valuable documents
Separate valuable papers. You may wish to ask a lawyer whether to save the papers themselves or just the information on them. Items of particular value that show no visible contamination pose a minimal risk once they are completely dry.

Scrape heavy dirt from washable clothes, rinse and wash several times in water and detergent treated with household bleach, and dry quickly.

* Throw out canned goods and other foods that may have been affected by floodwaters. This would include contaminated herbs and vegetables from your garden, if it were covered by floodwater from the sanitary sewer system.
* A full chest or upright freezer will keep food frozen for up to two days if there is no power. A half-full freezer will keep the food frozen for about one day if the freezer is kept closed. If your freezer will be without power for a long period of time, move the frozen food to a family member's or neighbour's freezer. Discard any thawed food that has remained at room temperature for two or more hours.
* A refrigerator will keep food cool for four to six hours, depending on the kitchen temperature and original temperature of the refrigerator. Place securely wrapped packages of raw meat, poultry or fish in the coldest section of the refrigerator. If available, place ice in the refrigerator to help keep it cool.
* Discard any food that has an obvious strange colour or odour.

Other Material
* Remove all soaked and dirty materials and debris including wet insulation and drywall, residual mud and soil, furniture, appliances, clothing and bedding.
* Articles such as stuffed toys and paper goods contaminated by floodwaters should be discarded because they cannot be properly sanitized.
* Minor debris can be left out for regular garbage pick-up.

Equipment to have on hand
It is advisable to have the following equipment on hand in sufficient quantity for the number of people who will be cleaning up the basement following a back up. If practical, store the items in a container near the top of the stairs to the basement so they will be easily accessible when you need them. (It is not a good idea to store these items at the far end of the basement).
* Rubber boots, rubber gloves, dust masks
* A rubber-backed rug or mat that can be used to transfer in and out of your boots so that any potential contamination is limited to the basement area. You should be prepared to discard this mat following the clean up.
* Household bleach
* Old clothing that can be discarded after the cleaning operation
* An old mop and pail to wash down walls and floors
* Heavy duty garbage bags
* Rags and old towels

Recommended procedures during clean up

* Wear protective clothing overalls, rubber gloves, protective eyeglasses, rubber boots and a facemask.
* Stay clear of electrical equipment and do not attempt to change any fuses if you are standing in water or on damp ground.
* Never mix ammonia-based cleaning products and household bleaching agents as toxic fumes are generated when they are mixed together.
* Follow proper lifting procedure when lifting or moving objects in order to prevent back injury.

* Open windows to allow fresh air in.
* Ventilate and ensure that there is adequate cross ventilation to remove any fumes. Begin dehumidifying the house and continue through the cleaning process until the house and its contents are completely dry.

Getting started
* Immediately add small amounts of household bleach to standing water.
* Remove standing water with pumps or pails, then with a wet/dry shop vacuum.
* Hose down any dirt sticking to walls and furnishings then rinse several times, removing the remaining water with a wet/dry shop vacuum.
* Work from the top down. Break out all ceilings and walls that have been soaked or that have absorbed water. Remove wall materials at least 500 millimetres above the high-water lines.
* Wash and wipe down all surfaces and structures with household bleach, ensuring that there is adequate cross ventilation to remove fumes. Then rinse again.
* Disinfect the walls and the floor using a household bleach and water solution. Wait for the area to dry completely before re-using it.
* Wipe down surfaces that have not been directly affected with a solution of one part household bleach to four parts cold or tepid (not hot) water, mixed with a small amount of non-ammonia dishwashing detergent (household bleach and ammonia, when mixed together, produce toxic fumes). Then rinse.
* Scrub affected furniture with antibacterial soap and water and place outside to dry away from direct sunlight (weather permitting), or steam clean.

* Rinse and then clean all floors as quickly as possible. Replace flooring that has been deeply penetrated by floodwater or sewage.
* Wastewater-soaked (sewage) carpets must be discarded.
* Storm water-soaked carpets must be dried within two days. Homeowners can't effectively dry large areas of soaked carpets themselves. Qualified professionals are required.
* Clean and deodorize storm water-soaked carpets or have them professionally cleaned.

* To minimize the occurrence of mould it is important that materials are thoroughly and rapidly air-dried without application of direct heat. Items can be dried more quickly if they are set outside, protected from direct sunlight (weather permitting).
* Clean all interior and exterior surfaces of walls, cupboards, etc. with a solution of water, household bleach, and non-ammonia dish detergent and dry thoroughly, checking often for mould and killing it with household bleach. Ensure that structural members (wall studs) are dry (which could take weeks) before closing cavities in walls, crawl spaces, etc.

Taking care of yourself: Stress resulting from basement flooding
The trauma of basement flooding can be overwhelming. Taking care of yourself is essential to coping emotionally during a flooding event. The following tips will help you and family members deal with stress from basement flooding:
* Take the time to eat; you will need to keep up your strength for the clean up.
* Take small breaks during clean up to re-charge. Take this opportunity to relax and stretch your muscles and back.
* Help children deal with stress by providing them with healthy food and talking to them about how they feel.
* Whether you require physical or emotional help, be sure to reach out and ask others for help. Do not hesitate to seek aid from family, friends and community support services.
* Stay informed; unnecessary fears can often lead to panic. Avoid this by finding out as much as you can about what is happening. Take things day by day and rely on your social network.

Before re-occupying your basement
If electrical appliances, outlets, switch boxes or fuse/breaker panels have been flooded, do not energize or return to service until they have been inspected by a licensed electrical contractor or Hydro Ottawa. If they have been soaked, replace the furnace blower motor, switches and controls, insulation and filters. Inspect all flooded forced air heating ducts and return-duct pans
and have them cleaned out or replaced. Replace insulation inside water heater, refrigerators and freezers if it has been wet. If insulation replacement is not practical, these appliances may have to be replaced or specialized cleaning services may be required in order to ensure that mould will not grow in the affected appliances. Inspect the basement for the presence of mould and that all material in the basement is completely dry.
Flush and disinfect floor drains and sump pits using diluted household bleach, and
scrub them to remove greasy dirt and grime.

Work with your insurance company to select a reputable contractor for restoration and remediation of your property. The City recommends that you include a statement in your agreement (contract) that the contractor will ensure that all work performed will conform to the Ontario Building Code, and that a building permit will be obtained from the City when required by the Ontario Building Code Act.
Any work performed on the plumbing system requires a building permit. Please consult the City's Web site for more information on building permits:
To find out if the work you are planning requires a permit, please contact Building Services branch through the Contact Centre at 3-1-1.

The Ontario government also has established a
Web site for the Building Code. For specific
information on the Building Code, please refer
to their Web site:

Level of City service
The City regularly cleans its sewer main systems. We also inspect and monitor the city sewers using closed circuit television and other methods. When we find an operational problem, we follow up with the required maintenance, repairs and rehabilitation. Large-scale re-engineering of infrastructure related problems can take longer to solve.
However, unanticipated problems can occur and occasionally this can result in the back
up of water and/or sewage. The City has expert staff on duty at all times to respond to
such circumstances.

What City staff will do
City staff will first check the City main sewer system adjacent to your property to make sure that it is working properly. If the problem is operational in nature, it will be fixed as soon as possible. Systemic problems require more time to resolve.

Extended pick up of damaged materials
Following a sewer surcharge event, the City will arrange for additional curbside collection of items that must be discarded, if required. The City will provide affected residents with a schedule of the additional collections and warning labels to be placed on those items to deter other people from salvaging them.

Parking control
If the events dictate that some materials have to be temporarily stored in residents' driveways, the City will work with the residents to ensure that traffic and parking issues are addressed. The process could involve issuing temporary parking permits.

Health information
The Environment & Health Protection division of Ottawa Public Health is available to answer questions and provide public health information about safe clean up after a basement back up. In addition, in the event of a large sewer surcharge, public health inspectors will provide important information and facts concerning safe clean up to the residents.
The City will use all available methods of communication (door-to-door, automated voice messages, media releases) to provide residents with information during a major sewer surcharge event.

Property owners who have incurred damages to buildings or contents should contact their insurance companies for assistance. Their insurer normally submits a claim to the City for investigation and response, on their behalf.
Correspondence regarding sewer-related damage claims against the City of Ottawa should be forwarded to:
Risk Management Section
City of Ottawa
100 Constellation Crescent, 4th floor West,
Ottawa, ON K2G 6J8
Telephone: 613-580-2655, Fax: 613-580-2654, or e-mail at

The Claims Office of the Risk Management Section will ensure that the claims are
acknowledged, investigated, tracked and evaluated, and will then determine the
claim's outcome.

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