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Sewer backup a common result of flooding

Posted On Thu, May 30, 2013

While much of the news lately has revolved around twisters and the start of hurricane season, flooding is currently a major issue for parts of the Midwest. According to multiple reports, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas and Arkansas have all experienced high water levels in recent weeks, brought on by substantial rainfall in a short period of time.

With flooding causing billions of dollars in damage each year, much of the cost stems from sewer backup problems. When water levels are high, sewer systems can become overloaded, causing serious damage to business owners, homeowners and anyone who reviews insurance quotes so that they can protect their property investments.

But what many people often fail to realize when they're reviewing insurance quotes is that sewer backup is traditionally not covered by most standard homeowner's insurance policies, according to Loretta Worters, vice president and consumers spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. 

"Those types of coverage must be purchased either as a separate product or as an endorsement to a homeowners policy," said Worters.

Most sewer lines in U.S. need to be replaced due to age
According to a study conducted by Civil Engineering Research Foundation, sewer backups are an ongoing problem. In fact, they occur more frequently with each year, rising 3 percent on an annual basis. This may be because sewer lines in the U.S. average about 33 years old, far older than what's considered to be ideal.

In addition to aging sewer systems and flooding, natural components of the earth also contribute to backups. As noted by the III, trees and shrubs will often latch onto sewer line cracks in an effort to soak up more moisture. The problem is that this can cause these lines to back up because of blockages that form, preventing free flow.

In short, if a sewer backup hasn't happened to a homeowner at some point, there's a good chance one will occur eventually due to the variety of scenarios that can create one.

Before filing an insurance claim if a sewer backup causes damage to one's property, there are a few things that the III recommends doing first. For example, in order to document what's been affected, it's a good idea to take a picture of the damage. Ideally, policyholders will have a picture of what it looked like in its original state so before and after comparisons can be made. If a backup caused damage to something that required fixing immediately, be certain to keep all receipts related to the repair so that compensation can be provided.

Though there may be many ways in which a sewer backup can take place, there are a variety of strategies that can diminish this risk. For example, some homeowners may flush paper and other disposable items that ought not to be, such as diapers, paper towels or baby wipes that aren't biodegradable. Not only can doing this heighten the chance of the toilet clogging, but it can put a strain on the sewer system. Only flush toiletries that deteriorate quickly.

After frying food, homeowners and restaurant workers may opt to dump grease down the drain. This, too, can cause clogging, which is why cooking oils should be poured into a heat-resistant container and then disposed of properly once it cools off.

The III also advises installing a backwater prevention valve. Sewer backups can occur through no fault of the homeowner if the system is shared by other homeowners. But a backwater prevention valve can prevent sewage from seeping into the home, so long as it's properly installed and maintained. Homeowners should consider consulting with a qualified plumber, who can instruct them on how to put one in place.

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