How to treat a basement sewage backup?
November 17, 2009 3:39 PM   Subscribe

What treatments, if any, are available to a homeowner whose basement has been flooded with sewage?

My parents' home in Ohio suffered from a backup in the sanitary sewage line. The basement was flooded with two inches of sewage. The damage was considerable, and apparently the smell is horrific. (I say "apparently" because one of us live in Ohio anymore. They've been renting the house out.)

My father is saying things like "the house is worthless," and that it will never again be approved in a building inspection. Can that be right? An expensive treatment would still be cheaper than writing off a whole dang house. Heck, even if the only effective treatment was pumping in three inches of concrete, that would be better than writing off an entire house.

Their insurance company says that this damage is not covered by their policy. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Clambone to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
There are companies that specialize in this sort of thing, similar to the ones that clean up after fires and dead bodies. When I worked for a sewer contractor, we would occasionally back up someone's house service. Basically what we did is this:

1. Wet vac up all the liquid.
2. Scoop up all the solids.
3. Throw away anything that was inundated that isn't valuable, like old clothes, papers, etc.
4. Cut out drywall and paneling that was soaked.
5. Pressure wash everything with a disinfectant detergent, covering things that could be damaged with plastic.
6. Rinse, vacuum up all the remaining water.
7. Set up drying fans to get all the moist air out of the basement.
posted by electroboy at 3:52 PM on November 17, 2009

posted by fixedgear at 3:52 PM on November 17, 2009

Their insurance company says that this damage is not covered by their policy.

It is possible that a lawyer, or independent adjuster, or something, could make the insurance company see things differently. If the stakes are really that high it might be worth looking into.
posted by dirtdirt at 4:01 PM on November 17, 2009

Find their policy and read it. I would be willing to bet the insurance company is trying like hell to avoid paying this, even though they most likely cover it. See if there are truly exclusions for sewer backups in their policy. If there are no specific exclusions against sewer backup, find a lawyer.
What caused the backup? Was it localized your parent's house, or was the entire neighborhood affected? If it was neighborhood wide, talk to the neighbors and band together to get answers/satisfaction from the city. Make noise at city hall as well. Go into the public works department and ask for drawings of the sewer system in their neighborhood. Even if you don't do anything with them, the act of asking for them raises flags with the city and makes them more likely to take you seriously when you ask for info or help.
After our basement flooded, our insurance company avoided us and denied denied denied. Electroboy's list looks good for what to do now, but keep inventory of items thrown away and time and money spent cleaning. You will need this info for tax purposes and to try to recoup costs from the insurance people. Also, now would be a good time to have a backflow valve installed in the sewer line.
posted by cosmicbandito at 4:04 PM on November 17, 2009

Sanitary sewer = the sewer that carries all the unsanitary things.

So you've got a lot of biohazardous material in your basement.

I'd treat the basement as a hazmat area. Seriously, it's 2 inches deep in human feces and water. Get pros to do it.

I'd be worried that using a normal wetvac on this would aerosolize some of the feces, meaning you'd catch just about anything that's transmissible contained in the sludge. Perhaps the pros use vacs or pumps with special filters? I wouldn't try this myself.
posted by zippy at 4:15 PM on November 17, 2009

Unless they carried specific coverage for sewage back-up, then they don't really have any options going after their insurance company.

Electroboy is spot on. This will be a messy job, but not impossible by any means.
posted by jazzman at 4:39 PM on November 17, 2009

Read the policy. Insurance companies often deny claims that are well within the terms of the policy.

And hire professionals, unless this is an unfinished basement and you can hose it all down, coat with a bleach solution, and rinse.
posted by palliser at 5:45 PM on November 17, 2009

Consultation with a knowledgeable lawyer is highly - very highly - recommended. They should get a copy of their insurance policy from the agent immediately.

1. The insurance company may be relying on a pollution exclusion, which often has an exception for "sudden and accidental" damage, or there may be what is known as the "absolute pollution exclusion" which may be, well, pretty much absolute.

2. Depending on state law, there may well be liability on the part of the city or municipality for this type of event. The homeowner's insurance company is not the only source of compensation.
posted by yclipse at 7:02 PM on November 17, 2009

Regarding compensation, there's a few different scenarios. If it was caused by a blockage, like built up grease or roots and it occurs on your side of the sewer (it varies by municipality, but usually either before the cleanout or before where your lateral connects to the main) it's your problem. If, however, there was work being done downstream of your house, the sewer main got blocked or collapsed, you should contact the department of public works. Also, if there was a big storm and stormwater overwhelmed the system, you may have a claim, since sanitary sewers shouldn't be carrying stormwater. In any case, contacting a lawyer is not a bad idea if you think it was a public works issue and not a defect with your service lateral.
posted by electroboy at 8:25 PM on November 17, 2009

I don't know anything about compensation, but this very thing happened to me in the first place I ever rented, a few months into it, when I was 19. (Ack.) We had a good landlord who called someone to take care of it. I don't know quite what they did but I remember seeing their truck; as electroboy mentioned, it was a company specializing in disasters. The kind of company that would be called to clean up at a murder scene, I think. We had to leave the house for a couple of days because of the smell, but the company did their thing and we moved back in and lived out the rest of our time there uneventfully. (FWIW, the basement did have a cement floor; if it had had carpet, I'm sure that would have needed to be torn out.)
posted by toomuchkatherine at 2:51 PM on November 19, 2009

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