Herald JournalHerald and Journal, Nov. 4, 2002

Valves offer protection against sewer back-ups

By Julie Yurek

This summer's rains were called the "100-year flood," but locals know that Minnesota weather is unpredictable, and that Mother Nature doesn't keep accurate count.

Normally, rains don't translate into sewer problems, however, this summer Howard Lake homes in particular suffered widespread sewer backups when the water treatment plant was overwhelmed with sudden, excessive rains, commented Howard Lake Clerk Gene Gilbert.

So, with the possibility that rains like that could happen again, homeowners may want to investigate ideas to reduce the chance of sewer backups with valves.

"There are several different ways to correct the problem of back flow in sewer lines," commented Mert Diers Plumbing and Heating of Howard Lake.

A backflow preventor (or valve) may be installed into the residents' water sewer line, usually in the homeowner's basement.

It is the responsibility of homeowners to locate their sewer lines to have valves installed, said Mary Purcell from Tim Purcell Plumbing and Heating of Winsted.

"Each residence is unique and should be handled on an individual basis," Diers said.

Many homeowners may not know where sewer lines are, however.

Purcell suggested homeowners go to their city to see what information it has in helping locate the line.

Tim Kosek, assistant operator at the wastewater treatment facility in Howard Lake, gave suggestions about this.

"It's sort of a rule of thumb in finding where the line enters the house," Kosek said.

"Usually we find the standpipe, which is where the water shut-off is to the home, and then go 10 feet to either the right or left side of it," Kosek said.

Winsted does not have that information, commented City Administrator Brent Mareck.

There are many different types of backflow preventors, Purcell said.

They all work a little bit differently and it depends on the size of the line as to which one is used, she said.

Basically there are two ways a preventor valve works, she said.

One valve has a flap that opens to allow water to flow away from the home, but is forced shut when water flows back towards the house.

Diers offers this type of valve in a "flood-gate" style automatic backwater valve, which is designed to close automatically during back flow conditions with a stainless steel knife gate completely sealing off the drainage system, Diers said.

This valve will automatically reopen once the conditions return to normal, he said.

The other is to manually work the valve.

Shirley Diers cautioned those who are interested in using manual valves.

"If you have a leak within the house, and the valve is closed, the water will not flow out of the house," she said. "You have to be there to open it."

Diers also offers a "flapper" type backwater valve that can be installed in basements (once homeowners have located their sewer location) that has a ground level access.

"We have also corrected a back flow problem for one of the neighboring villages by installing sewage ejector pumps in each residence that had the problem of sewage back-up," Diers said.

Homeowners are reminded that valves in general are only part of a solution, not an end-all answer ­ since there are so many different variables specific to each house, such as elevation, etc.

"Nothing is guaranteed," Purcell said. "A lot of times it's not water coming from there. Many homes still get water in from seepage and cracks in their foundations, or their sump pump can't keep up or goes out," Purcell said.

As much water as there has been this year, people can try to prevent all those variables, and the valves will help, but it's not a guarantee, she said.

Curiously, the summer rains didn't increase a demand for the preventors in residential homes, but the business did have requests from a few apartment buildings, she said.

Several manufacturers make different backwater valves to stop backflow surges.


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