Flood Protection in Toronto : When Licensed Plumber is Needed
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The Toronto City is continually updating and maintaining Toronto’s complex underground pipes, sewers and catch basins. Homeowners can also take steps to help prevent their basements from flooding.
Every Toronto home is at risk of basement flooding, even if there has never been a flooding incident. Water in your basement is most likely to occur when there’s been a heavy rainfall, snow is melting or we’re experiencing a spring thaw. The good news is that you can prevent or at least reduce the chance of this happening.
- A crack or leak in your home’s foundation, basement walls, or basement windows or door.
- Poor lot grading or drainage.
- Failure of the weeping tile system (foundation drains).
- Overflowing eavestroughs.
- Leaking or plugged downspouts.
- A blocked connection between your home and the main sewer in the street.
- A back-up of wastewater in the sewer system (or a combination of wastewater and rainwater from the sanitary or combined sewer system).
- Failure of a sump pump (in some homes) used to pump weeping tile water.
There are three types of sewers in Toronto:
- Sanitary sewer: The sanitary sewer, which carries wastewater (sewage), is connected to a home’s plumbing (toilets, sinks, laundry, floor drain etc.)and leads to a wastewater treatment
- Storm sewer: The storm sewer collects stormwater from catchbasins (street drains), connected downspouts, weeping tiles (in many areas of the city) and carries these flows into nearby watercourses, and ultimately into Lake Ontario.
- Combined sewer: In older parts of the city, stormwater and sewage are collected in the same pipe known as a combined sewer. During normal weather conditions, all the wastewater in the combined sewer is treated at the wastewater treatment plant.
Here are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of basement flooding.
What you can do outside the house
- Seal cracks or openings in walls, floors, windows and foundations, and seal all window wells.
- Clear eavestroughs and downspouts of leaves and other debris that prevent proper drainage.
- Disconnect your downspouts from the sewer system, where feasible.
- Make sure your disconnected downspouts are draining properly, ideally two metres (six and a half feet) from your foundation’s walls.
- Ensure the grading around your home slopes away from the foundation wall to help drain water away from your home (without negatively affecting neighbouring properties).
- Increase the green space around your home with native plants and shrubs and install porous pavement to help absorb rainwater and melted snow.
- Repair/replace damaged weeping tile systems.
- Clear debris from roadside catchbasins (grates) to help water enter the stormsewer. (If it is safe to do so.)
- Ensure drainage swales (shallow ditch) between properties are maintained and clear of obstructions.
What you can do inside the house
- Ensure that your plumbing is in good working condition. Homeowners are responsible for the plumbing from the property line to inside the home. The City is responsible for the public portion of the service line.
- Hire a City-licensed and qualified plumber to install a backwater valve and a properly-sized sump pump and piping. Ensure the proper and regular maintenance of basement flooding devices in your home.Sump pumps need power to operate, so consider installing a back-up power source.
- Consider installing shelves to help keep items off the floor in your basement. Also, avoid keeping valuables or important documents in the basement. If you do, keep them in a watertight/water-resistant container.
- Avoid carpet in the basement, which retains water and is harder to clean up.
- Dispose of small amounts of cooking oil and grease in your green bin, not down the drain, which can cause a drain blockage. (Make sure there is absorbent material in the bin).
- Avoid flushing objects down the toilet, such as dental floss, condoms, tampons, razor blades, non-biodegradable products, etc., which can block the sanitary pipe.
Consider hiring a City-licensed plumbing contractor to conduct a detailed plumbing investigation to help assess and recommend options to reduce flooding. It is advisable to get estimates before going ahead with any work.
The City offers a financial subsidy of up to $3,200 to homeowners of single-family, duplex or tripleplex residential homes to install flood protection in Toronto devices through the Basement Flooding Protection Subsidy Program.
A licensed plumbing contractor can assist to:
- Install a backwater valve (see diagram below) on your sanitary and/or storm sewer line to prevent water from backing up into your basement. Backwater valves need to be installed properly and regularly inspected and maintained. Find out which type of backwater valves the City’s subsidy program will cover.Important: Backwater valves are designed to close the sewer line and prevent water from entering your home. When the valve is closed you should not use any plumbing fixtures, such as toilet, sink, dishwasher, washing machine, etc., because water will not drain through the sanitary line and will backup into your home.
- Install a properly-sized sump pump, (see diagram below) to help pump out water collected by the weeping tile system to an area outside. Make sure the sump pump empties onto a permeable surface at least 2 meters from the foundation wall. Sump pumps can lose power during severe storms, so you may wish to consider a battery back-up.
- Backwater valves and sump pumps need to be inspected and maintained to ensure optimal performance.
- If you experience basement flooding, call 311 immediately (24 hours a day, seven days a week). City staff will inspect the problem, assess the flooding and attempt to determine the source(s) of the flooding.
- Call your insurance company as soon as possible and report property damage caused by the flooding:
- Take photos of damage caused by flooding for your insurance claim.
- Keep receipts from emergency repair work or clean-ups done to prevent or reduce further damage.
- If the flooding is a result of a blocked drain pipe, leaking foundation walls or poor lot drainage on your property, then you are responsible for repairs and any subsequent damage caused by flooding. Contact your insurance company to discuss coverage.
Your claim will be forwarded to the City’s insurance adjustors for evaluation. A letter of acknowledgement will be sent to you.
- Be mindful of health and safety when cleaning up your flooded basement. Exposure to contaminants carried by flood water or sewer back-ups into basements can be dangerous. Homeowners may be exposed to waterborne diseases, corrosive cleaning agents and irritants found in leftover sludge from a flooded basement. Electrical accidents may occur because of contact with water and electricity.
- Consider hiring a professional cleaning company familiar with cleaning sewage contaminated basements.
- Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
- Dress appropriately – wear overalls, gloves, protective eyeglasses, rubber boots and a mask.
- Open windows to let fresh air in.
- Stay away from electrical equipment. Have a qualified electrician assess the situation, if uncertain of potential electrical hazards.
- If you can, shut off the electrical power. (Note: would affect the operation of a sump pump or sewage ejector).
- Water could extinguish a pilot light on a gas appliance. If you detect gas, leave the house immediately and contact the gas company.
- Minor debris can be put out for regular garbage pick-up (See your Garbage and Recycling Collection Calendar for information).
- Discard all contaminated items that cannot be washed and disinfected, (such as, mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, plush toys, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and most paper products).
- Wash all surfaces with hot water and liquid detergent, rinse and thoroughly dry and ventilate the area. Use de-humidifier and fans if necessary.
- Sanitize walls and floors using a solution of household bleach (mix 1 cup bleach with 5 gallons of water). Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products. For more details, visit the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
- Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
- Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water (check manufacturer’s washing instructions) and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
- Throw out canned foods, home-prepared food in jars, meats and dairy products and any packaged foods that may have been affected by the flood waters – check for damaged packaging, leaks, and corrosion at seams and joints of cans.
- If your freezer’s power is off, move the frozen food to another freezer or throw it out if you can’t keep it frozen.
- If in doubt, throw it out. Do not consume potentially contaminated food. For more information contact Toronto Public Health by calling 311 or visit Toronto Public Health.
Avoid creating blockages in your plumbing and the City’s sanitary sewers:
- Dispose of small amounts of cooking oil and grease in your green bin (making sure there’s material to absorb it). Never pour oil or grease down the kitchen sink or into the toilet. Grease can build up and cause blockages in the City’s sanitary sewer pipes, which can cause basement flooding.
- Toilets are not for food, trash, dental floss, Q-tips, or other personal care objects. These should be disposed of in the appropriate bin.
Toronto’s sewer system is designed to handle most storms, but not severe storms. However, due to recent climate change, storms are getting more intense and frequent. As a result, the system can become overloaded, flooding streets and creating ponds in low-lying areas. The City is working continually to improve the sewer system in chronic basement flooding areas. Homeowners can also take steps to help prevent their basements from flooding:
- Ensure the ground is sloping away from your home’s foundation
- Fix leaks in your basement and around windows
- Seal window wells
- Clear eavestroughs and downspouts of debris
- Disconnect downspouts that empty into the sewer system, making sure they drain at last 18 metres/6 feet from your basement walls
- Install soft-surface landscaping (shrubs, porous paving)
- Insert sewer connection backwater valves
- Install a basement sump pump
- Avoid pouring grease into your drains
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