Facts About Sewer Backups

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A sewer backup is an unfortunate although common problem across the U.S. Although the City of Littleton Public Works Department makes every effort to prevent such incidents, they may still occur. The following information is offered to help property owners and residents understand why backups happen, how they can be prevented, and what steps residents should take if a sewer backup affects their property.

What causes a sewer backup?

Sewer overflows can be caused by a number of factors, such as:

  • Blockages in sewer lines.
  • Pipe breaks or cracks due to treat roots.
  • Pipe deterioration.
  • Accumulation of grease, tree roots, hair, or solid materials such as disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, or personal care wipes. 
  • Vandalism such as stuffing leaves, sticks, rocks, bricks, and trash into manholes. 

Prevent sewer backups

  • Proper grease disposal – Pour grease from pots, pans, etc. into a can or container and wipe down greasy stove tops and other surfaces with a paper towel. Place grease container and paper towel in trash can. 
  • Proper paper product disposal – The only paper product that is “flushed” is toilet paper. Place all other household waste products in the trash, such as:
    • The not so flushable “flushable” wipes – baby wipes, personal care wipes, household cleaning wipes, etc. may “flush” out of the toilet bowl but they cause blockages in the sewer system. Regardless of claims made on packaging, place ALL wipes in the trash. 
    • Paper towels
    • Diapers
    • Feminine hygiene products (tampons, wrappers, plastic applicators, etc.)
    • Toilet bowl scrub pads
  • Sewer line replacement at a home

    Replace sewer pipe on your property – The property owner is responsible for the pipe between the sewer main, usually located in the street, and the building, per Littleton City Code (7-5-24E2). This segment of pipe is defined as a service line or private sewer service line per Littleton City Code (7-5-2). The service line is owned and maintained by the property owner and includes pipe that extends into the street or public right of way. Replacing the service line with new plastic pipe will help prevent tree roots from entering the pipe, which can cause blockages. Homes built since the early 1980’s are likely to have plastic sanitary sewer service lines, but that does not guarantee that problems will not occur.  If you don’t know the age or condition of your sewer service line you should consider hiring a company to provide a video inspection of your service line.
  • Correct illegal plumbing connections – Do not connect French drains (drainage systems to prevent groundwater and surface water from penetrating building foundations), sump pumps and other flood control systems to the sewer. Debris and silt from the systems will clog sewer pipes. 

What to do when a sewer backup occurs

  • Call the Public Works Department immediately 
    • Littleton residents call:
      • Utilities division at 303-795-3969 during regular office hours;
    • The utilities division staff will ask questions regarding the backup timing, location, the property at risk, etc.
    • Reporting of vandalism associated with sewer pipes, manholes, etc. can also be reported to the utilities division.
    • Utilities division staff will check for a blockage in the municipality’s main lines and if found, it will be promptly cleared.  If the blockage is in the homeowner or resident’s service line, the utilities division staff are not allowed to clear the blockage and the homeowner or resident must contact a plumbing or sewer contractor to remove the blockage. 
  • Cleanup – In the event of a sewer backup, prompt cleanup is important to minimize damage, electrical malfunctions, destruction of valuables, and spread of disease. The Homeowner Guidance on Cleaning Up After Residential Sanitary Sewer Backups bulletin, prepared by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, provides detailed guidance to residents on cleanup of their property.  Professional services are available to aid in the cleanup. The city does not endorse any specific company, but encourages property owners to get quotes and talk to a few companies. At a minimum, cleanup should include:
    • Wet-vacuuming or removal of spillage;
    • Mopping floors and wiping walls with soap and disinfectant;
    • Flushing out and disinfecting plumbing fixtures;
    • Steam cleaning or removing wet carpets or drapes;
    • Repairing or removing damaged wallboard or wall covering;
    • Cleanup of ductwork.

Insurance Coverage

  • Ensure that homeowners insurance policy includes sewer backups – Sewer backups and sump pump overflow is not normally insured under a typical homeowner insurance policy or by flood insurance. Sewer backup coverage can typically be purchased as a separate product through your insurance company and is relatively inexpensive.  The City of Littleton encourages property owners to review their policies and contact their insurance agent about this policy provision.
  • Filing an insurance claim – Ideally property owners should review and understand the requirements of filing an insurance claim before an incident occurs.  Review the policy for filing requirements  and contact the agent with any questions.  Here are some general best practices when preparing a claim:
    • Take photos of the property and possessions on a regular basis, before an incident occurs;
    • Take photo’s during and after an incident;
    • Itemize any property loss;
    • Save all receipts related to repair, cleaning, or other damages;
    • Contact the insurance agent immediately.
  • Review the Loss of Use coverage – In the event that the home is uninhabitable due to a sewer backup, or sump pump failure, a Loss of Use coverage, as part of a homeowner insurance policy, may reimburse homeowner's lodging, food, and living expenses for the time the home is uninhabitable. Contact the  insurance agent about this policy provision.

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