Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gross Out Update: Discovery, and Containment


When I first walked down the basement steps, chatting on the phone with my sister, I had no idea what I was going to walk into. After the initial shock, I grabbed the camera, and my rubber boots. Here's a clip from the video, showing the sewage erupting from the floor drain:

Great video, right? Maybe I should have a motion sickness warning at the beginning.

Like many houses built in the 1920s, the basement floor slopes to the drain. The drain is about six inches below the highest point in the room. Right at the drain, the sewage was about seven inches deep, and only about an inch deep on the far side of the basement.

My first call was to family ("What do I do??") and my second call was to the plumber we know. Next, call the city water bureau. It was 6:00pm, and the after hours recording directed me to pick this number, and that until I reached the after hours sewage emergency line. I gave my address and a description of what I saw ("There is literally sewage flooding my basement!!"), and was told that the emergency crew would be over after their current call.

I went back to the basement for pictures. I also took pictures of the outside of the house, showing how dry it was- it had just started lightly raining, so our downspouts were not a factor.

If this happens to you, call the city, and wait for city maintenance to come out and check it out. If the problem is on your property, you need your insurance company and a plumber. If the crew determines that the problem is in the city's sewage main line, the city is liable. Hold off on calling your insurance company until you have more information- and save yourself a wasted claim. Preserve those discounts! I called our insurance company, to ask advice, which initiated a claim. It was after hours, so I couldn't reach my agent directly. Luckily, in the morning our agent identified our "claim" as "inquiry only." Phew- discounts intact!

Between phone calls, I also talked to our neighbors, letting them know to check their basements. We were the only house effected! But that's great news for them, so I'm glad that everyone doesn't have to deal with it.

When the city crew arrived, I showed them to the basement. The flood had receded, and I could really tell just how gross things were. I pointed out the clean out. They looked at the toilet (literally, just looked at it. "ok, there it is.") Then, we went out to the street, and looked in the manhole. They let me look too, and take pictures. The guys were super nice.

The dark, open pipe at the bottom of the manhole is the sewer. It's about 10 feet below the surface of the street. You can see how high the flood reached in the manhole, and the fresh deposit of debris. The top of that flood was about three feet below the street surface. 

The manhole is uphill from our house, so the top of that flood is roughly about the ceiling of our basement. So yes, plenty of pressure to push into our pipe, and into the room.

The crew told me that this showed the blockage was in the main line, NOT on our property. This is very good news for this homeowner, because we are not liable for problems on the city's side of the line. They made special emphasis on the fact that the problem was in the city line, and that we should contact Risk Management the next day to make a claim for losses.

Our next call was to a restoration company. The first company I tried called back before I could dial the next company. They could have sent a crew out that night, but I thought for what would get done that night, it wasn't worth the added stress and missed sleep. So we arranged for the crew to come to the house in the morning. 


When the plumber called back, he advised that we pour lime on the sewage remaining in the basement, to help limit the spread of germs, and help with the odor. We also taped over the doorway from the kitchen, to contain the smell. 

Here is where I try to do math:
One square foot is 12x12 inches = 144 square inches per square foot. Basement is roughly 550 square feet. 550 x 144 = 79,200 square inches of total area.
Average depth of sewage = 3 inches. 3 inches x 79, 200 = 237,600 total cubic inches of sewage.
Using this converter, that comes to 1028.5 gallons of sewage. All up in the NE PDX Basement. Wowzer!

It was about 9:00 when I got of the phone with the restoration company. I spent almost three hours on the phone with a number people, trying to figure out what to do, and trying to schedule the clean-up. It was exhausting, and I didn't sleep to well that night. Luckily, clean up started Friday morning, and they made a ton of progress, so I slept like a rock on Friday night. Looking forward to a few more tonight!


  1. I feel your pain. We've been through this twice and then we invested in an overhead plumbing system and ejector pump. It is a terrible thing to go through - particularly when we had wall to wall shag carpeting the first time around. Hope you are cleaned up and have piece of mind soon. I still have flood nightmares.

    1. So sorry to hear that Chris! I'm not sure an overhead system work have helped us, but I would love to hear about your experience! I'm not surprised you still have nightmares- it's very haunting!

  2. Leslie, here is a link to all of my "flood" posts.
    You have to scroll back quite a bit to get to the beginning. Here is our plumbing work too:
    Our situation is very specific in that we live in a part of the village that is low so during particularly large rain events, the combined sewers back up into our basements. If you put in a mechanism to stop the back-up, then you are okay. I had to have my drain tile disconnected from the main system as well. You may have an entirely different problem but the investment is worth looking into if it fits your needs.

    1. Hi Chris, Thanks for the link! It's always nice to know we're not alone :)

      We were told the backup valves would not have worked in this specific incident (due to the volume of sewage backing up in the main line), but that's not going to stop us from installing them now! Hopefully it will offer us some protection were a smaller backup to occur in the future.