It is a homeowner’s worst nightmare…a Chicago sewage back-up into the house. It is a smell, disgusting mess that poses a special set of challenges and hazards. Cleaning up after a sewage back-up is an unpleasant job, but it can also be dangerous. It is better left to professionals. An explanation of how sewage issues can occur, why they cause health concerns and destruction of property, and how to hire a professional will help you understand the dangers of sewage leaks and ways to prevent future problems.
Sewage leaks are the second leading cause of water damage in a home or business, behind flooding. They occur with sewage pipes burst inside the structure or when there is a blockage in the line and the raw sewage backs up into the building. Anyone using the plumbing in a kitchen or bathroom in a home or business that does not have its own septic system, contributes to the sewage system in that community. Everything that goes down the drain or toilet travels through sewer pipes beneath the city to a waste water treatment facility. The sewage may either flow through the pipes via gravity or it could be pumped through the line. That is, when everything is working well. Occasionally something goes wrong.
Any number of things can cause sanitary waste to back up from the sewage system into a home or business but the biggest culprit is tree roots. When the roots of trees, bushes, and shrubs push down into the soil, they are searching for moisture. The tiny root endings will find any hole or crack in the pipeline – especially at the joints – and wiggle its way in. When the tree grows, so does its roots, and pretty soon the roots are so big that they block the flow of sewage. The waste material is still entering the pipeline, but since it can’t progress through the pipe, it goes back from where it came, backing up into the building and causing a messy problem.
Tree roots aren’t the only thing that can cause a Chicago sewage back-up. Grease is another big culprit responsible for sewer pipe blockages. Some people will pour hot grease, in liquid form, down their sink drain where it cools and solidifies. In other cases, poorly maintained commercial grease traps are to blame. Grease should never be disposed of down a sink drain or flushed down a toilet. Instead, pour the hot liquid grease into a bowl and allow it to harden as it cools. Then scoop it into the trash.
Another reason for sewage backing up into a house or building is a malfunction in the sanitary main. If the main becomes blocked or if a pump fails, raw sewage could seep into surrounding basements through the floor drains. No matter the reason, a sewage back-up can be costly and difficult to clean up.
Homes and businesses with septic systems are not immune to sewage back-ups. A blocked line to the septic tank could cause the raw sewage and gray water to flood the building. As with public sewer lines, tree and plant roots can pose a major problem for septic lines. The roots penetrate the pipes and obstruct the flow of waste. The semi-solid waste becomes entangled in the roots and, after time, the entire pipeline is blocked.
A sewage back-up could also be caused by issues with the septic tank itself. If too much gray water enters the system, the water overtakes the solid waste which can then block the intake pipe.
If the home or business has a garbage disposal that is linked to the septic system, still other problems may arise. Kitchen wastes entering the septic tank may not break down as quickly or completely as bathroom waste. Grease from the cooking process, in particular, can be detrimental to the septic system. Because grease does not completely dissolve, it causes a sludgy build-up to form at the bottom of the septic tank and requiring more frequent septic tank pumping.
The overall function of the septic system can be negatively impacted by harsh chemicals entering the septic tank. The septic system works because bacteria breaks apart the waste and it leeches away into the drain field. If too many powerful chemicals, from cleaning supplies or medicines, are pushed through the septic system, the natural, beneficial bacteria may be killed off or their numbers may decline, upsetting the balance between incoming sewage and outgoing fluids. This, too, can eventually lead to a back-up of raw sewage from the septic system into the home or business.
Lastly, structural damage to the underground septic tank can impact its effectiveness. Sometimes, this can occur naturally, such as if the ground shifts, causing the tank to list to one side. But most often, this type of damage to the in-ground tank is man-made. Heavy vehicles, like cars, trucks, bulldozers and tractors, driving over the ground above the septic tank is the leading cause of the movement and shifting of the tank. If the tank moves, the intake can dislodge from the tank and all of the waste flowing through it will have no place to go, causing a back-up in the building.
Because sewage clean-ups are costly and hazardous, home and business owners should take steps to properly maintain their septic systems. A well-maintained system is less likely to fail. Proper, routine maintenance includes limiting the amount of chemicals that enter your septic system, never driving over the area where the septic tank is buried, and avoid using the garbage disposal, especially for greasy foods. Home and business owners should also be mindful of the amount of gray water that is introduced into their septic system. There are ways to decrease the gray water waste, such as taking shorter showers, repairing water leaks immediately, and only washing full loads of laundry and dishes. The tank will need to be periodically pumped by a licenses septic pumper. The frequency of septic pumping depends on the usage. Lastly, home and business owners should be aware of where the septic tank is buried so they can avoid planting bushes, shrubs, or trees near it. A root destroyer product that contains copper sulfate can dissolve roots that invade the septic system.
Due to the unsanitary nature of sewage, back-ups can create a hazardous health situation. Sewage is human waste. It is full of bacteria, germs, and viruses that can cause serious health problems for people living or working in the building. The contaminants can spread diseases, like hepatitis A, typhoid, and diarrhea, and can lead to vomiting and dehydration. Disease is spread through contact, and it not airborne, although the unpleasant smell may drive people out of the residence. Touching the contaminated water, then touching the mouth or lips, can allow the germs and bacteria to enter the body. Depending on the nature of the sewage leak, a person may inadvertently drink the contaminated water, which also, of course, poses a health concern. The germs and bacteria can live on hard surfaces for a long time which is why a thorough cleaning is needed. If walls, floors, furniture, and other surfaces are not decontaminated as soon as possible, long-term health risks are possible.
Additionally, the liquid sewage can encourage mold growth, which causes another set of health concerns. Headaches, respiratory issues, and allergic reactions are all symptoms of mold exposure. Often, mold grows in places that cannot be seen, like behind walls or in crawl spaces. Anytime there is a sewage leak, there is a potential for mold growth, therefore a mold removal expert should be called into properly eliminate the mold.
A sewage leak can damage property, too. Like a flood or water leak, a sewage leak can destroy carpeting, wood flooring, drywall, and furniture. Any soft materials, like rugs, carpet, upholstered furniture, pillows, mattresses, shoes, and stuffed animals should be thrown away immediately as they cannot be salvaged after sewage contamination. The soft materials are too porous and the viruses, germs, and bacteria will infiltrate the materials so completely that they cannot be thoroughly cleaned. Hard surfaces like wood, tile, and metal, can be disinfected and restored. Clothing, bedding, and other washable fabrics can also be saved as long as they are immediately washed in hot water and detergent. In all, a sewage leak can lead to extensive repairs and costly replacements.
A backed-up sewage leak can cause damage to the home or business’s electrical system, too. If the water and waste mixture covers electrical cords or is high enough to reach electrical outlets, there is the potential for it to short out and possibly cause a fire to start. Water and electricity are a deadly combination. If the liquid has come in contact with anything electrical, there may be a risk of electrocution. The building should be evacuated immediately and the power to the home or business should be shut off. A professional electrician should be brought in to access the situation, repair the damage, and make the electrical system safe again.
Cleaning up after a sewage leak is not a fun or easy job. In fact, it is better left to the professionals, not only because it saves us from doing the dirty and disgusting task, but because a professional sewage cleaning specialist is more knowledgeable and better equipped to tackle the job than the average homeowner. If the sewage has damaged parts of the structure and covers a wide area, hiring a clean-up specialist is the best way to make sure that the job it done correctly and thoroughly and quickly.
When looking for a clean-up professional to handle a sewage clean-up, there are several questions you should ask. You should find out if the company is experienced in sewage clean-up. Are they certified and insured? Do they have the proper tools and equipment to get the job done quickly and thoroughly? Are all their employees trained in the safe handling of raw sewage material? It is also important to find out, up front, if the clean-up company can get the job done right away. With a sewage leak, it is of the utmost importance to get the mess cleaned up as quickly as possible before even more damage is done to the structure or more threats to human health.
To find a professional cleaning service, you should ask your friends, neighbors, and family for recommendations. Perhaps they have used a good, reputable cleaning company in the past that they would be happy to refer to you. Or, perhaps they had a negative experience with a professional service company and you should be aware of that so you can steer clear of them. Find out from the clean-up service if they work closely with other professionals, such as plumbers, septic specialists, carpenters, and electricians. Before the clean-up work can start, they will need to stop the sewage leak and ensure that more waste material cannot continue to invade the space. They will need to work with the plumbers to repair the sewage leak, electricians to make sure that the wiring in the home or business is safe and up to code, and carpenters to replace soiled drywall and carpeting.
A professional clean-up service will decontaminate the surfaces, including the carpeting, if it can be salvaged. In most cases because of the terrible fecal matter that exists in sewage, typically it is best to trash the carpeting, that is, get rid of it. All hard surfaces will be disinfected, even out-of-sight areas. They will use a commercial-quality dehumidifier to remove moisture and air scrubbers to remove contaminants from air. In hardwood flooring sometimes it might be fortuitous to rip out the flooring down to the sub-floor as sewage deposits can get lodged in below and cause health issues as well as future damage to the foundation area. Recently, there was a project that we encountered that had nice Pergo flooring. Because of the extent of the damage and the degree of the sewage sludge, the flooring had to be ripped out and discarded. Obviously, in hardwood situations, wood is porous and can absorb the horrible sewage and water.
If the sewage clean-up is tiny, it might be possible for the home or business owner to clean up the mess themselves. Although it is recommended that an experienced professional do the work, an individual could scoop up any solid waste and dispose of it in plastic bags and soak up the liquids with disposable rags or paper towels. You should open all the windows, if possible, and set up fans to ventilate the area. Remove all the soft material and dispose of anything that cannot to thoroughly cleaned. Using a wet/dry vac, remove any liquid that doesn’t come up with rags. Completely scrub the hard surfaces with a solution that is half bleach and half water. Using the beach solution, also mop the floors. When doing the sewage clean-up yourself, wear an air mask and other protective gear, such as rubber gloves, safety eye glasses, and boots. Take every precaution to avoid contact with the raw sewage.
Preventing future sewage leaks will save money and time and will protect the home or business from damage. Properly maintaining the septic system is one step. Another is to be aware of tree or shrub roots that are near to sewage or septic lines. The roots could penetrate the pipes and create blockages. Lastly, people in the home or business should be mindful of the materials that they put down the sink drains. Grease is a big cause of blockages that could lead to sewage back-ups. There are so many different reasons and ways that sewage could end up on your floor and covering your property.
There is the nasty mess of toilet overflows or back-ups. This can be one of the worst things to have to deal with. It pumps or gushes out fecal matter in all directions. We had one assignment where the sewage was belched all over the walls, windows, floors, everywhere. This is a completely hazardous environment and should only be handled by professionals. Needless to say it’s dangerous.
It can get especially challenging when you add the other deadly foe. We are talking about mold. Yes, mold from the moisture and toxic waste. Have we seen environments like that? Yes! Not only is it a deadly mix of toxic waste, but just about everything has to be gutted out to properly get rid of two of the most toxic mixes of combinations to come together in a damage restoration project. The property damaged area must be meticulously covered with a fine tooth comb. Every single nook and cranny must be addressed to properly get rid of the nasty sludge.
This would entail removing all drywall, baseboards, trim, doors, and insulation. Everything that can be removed down to the studs and sub-floor. In this way proper treatment can take place and the professional restoration equipment can do its job. This is a must if the rebuild of the area is to take place according to industry standards. There can be no cutting corners here!
As you can see, sewage back-up is a deadly toxic time bomb. But, with the right help and the professional know-how of a Chicago damage restoration company, the job can be done like it never happened!