While most home and business owners aren’t thinking about the condition of their piping system on a daily basis, the truth is that they probably should be.

Of the many piping issues that can, and often do, plague modern American homes, sewer backups aren’t anything to take lightly. In fact, sewage water can be so dangerous that it can manifest symptoms of gastroenteritis, can produce flu-like complications and can even result in death. Consequently, it is important to know the facts about sewage, along with how to prevent overflow, for a safe, happy and healthy home or business.

How Do Sewer Systems Work?

Sewer systems are what keeps wastewater flowing in a sanitary and efficient way from your home, business or structure to a treatment facility. In some cases, homes may have a separate septic tank that acts independently of a municipal sewage system.

Generally speaking, when sewage is flushed down your toilet, it enters your pipes and begins to make its way to the city’s main sewage line. From there, the sewage flows through a collection of pipes before it eventually makes its way to a treatment facility.

Once there, the treatment facility will clean the wastewater, and the freshly treated water will then be dispersed back into local bodies of water for consumption and utilization.

What Causes Sewer Systems to Backup?

On occasion, the sewer systems mentioned above may malfunction. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including:

Excess Toilet Paper: As you likely already know, flushing too much toilet paper down the commode can spell bad news. However, even if you are flushing the appropriate amount of toilet paper down the toilet at a time, there still is the risk of pipes getting clogged with toilet paper over time.

Foreign Objects: Whether they be toys, foods, hygiene products or other non-flushable items, foreign items can wreak havoc on sewage systems and can quickly cause backups. This is especially true of main sewer lines, as foreign objects build up and can begin to cause sewage issues for the entire community.

Decaying Pipes: Decaying and corroded pipes can be a source of major concern when it comes to the optimal function of sewer systems. Over time, pipes eventually begin to breakdown and corrode as they perform their daily functions. As a result, these faulty pipes may begin to hinder water and waste flow, and may even work to increase the likelihood of clogs, as some items, such as toilet tissue, may begin to get caught on jagged and corroded edges.

Shifting Grounds: After a while, the ground can begin to shift, which, in turn, causes pipes to shift, leaving their functionality compromised.

Improperly Installed Pipes: Depending on the plumber or pipe-layer you hire, you may have gotten the short end of the stick and are now paying for it. Indeed, there is such a thing as having incorrectly installed pipes, and the likelihood of them causing you issues down the road is high.

Collapsed Pipes: Once pipes have corroded to a certain point, there is no return. Sadly, pipes can corrode to the point of collapsing, and sometimes even bursting, due to the insurmountable pressure of the contents within them, or outside of them. In either event, collapsed pipes can cause major issues in plumbing, including sewer backups.

Blocked Pipes: As previously mentioned, pipes can become blocked by toilet paper and foreign objects, but there is more to it than that. Limescale, debris and other elements can cause the slow death of your piping system and leave you with overflow issues even when you weren’t aware that there was a problem.

Inflow: Sometimes, it isn’t the fault of the home or business that causes sewer backups, but rather, happenstance of aging and worn sewage lines combined with the inflow of storm or groundwater. When sewage pipes are bombarded with excess water from outside sources that infiltrate the system through leaks or holes, they become overwhelmed and can easily malfunction. This is often referred to as infiltration or inflow, and is the cause of many sewage issues.

Tree Roots: Though beautiful, trees can often be a plumbing system’s worst nightmare when it comes to their roots. Because pipes are full of water, you may find thirsty tree roots trying to make their way into your pipes to lap up the moisture found there. When this happens, it can cause serious blockages within your pipes that are often difficult to remove.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Backups?

In order for property owners to prevent potential sewage backups, there are several steps that need to be taken.

Arguably the most important step is to enlist the help of a professional plumber to look over your sewer system and inspect any problems with your pipes long before they become a major issue.

Nowadays, many plumbers utilize state-of-the-art sewer cameras which flex and bend, allowing them to see in high-definition and full color exactly what is going on beneath the surface of your home or building.

Moreover, these plumbers often have the tools and equipment needed to flush build-up, objects or tree roots out of your piping system, for optimal water flow and avoidance of sewage making its way into the interior of your home or establishment.

Another great way to keep sewage issues at bay is to carefully watch what is being allowed to flow through your sinks, drains and toilets on a daily basis. As previously mentioned, everyday items, such as toilet tissue and the like, can eventually build up and clog even the best piping systems.

As such, it is important that those using drains and toilets throughout a home or structure be cognizant of what goes down them, as these particles will eventually find their way into the plumbing system.

Some items to avoid putting down sinks, drains or toilet include:

  • Coffee grounds
  • Non-flushable wipes
  • Tampons
  • Grease
  • Oils
  • Large objects

Preventing Sewage Backups Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

Though not every sewage backup is preventable, there are things you can do to make them less frequent. By involving the help of a professional plumber and by the avoidance of putting large objects, excessive toilet tissue and other potentially clog-causing items down the drain, you can save yourself, and others, the potential headache of having an unsanitary mess regurgitated into their homes, businesses and offices.

If you or someone you know does encounter a raw sewage overflow, be sure to contact your local professional remedial services to get the potentially hazardous and life-threatening situation under control.