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Basement Sewage Information

Having sewage back up into the home is an unpleasant and potentially unhealthy experience. The information contained here can help protect you from the hazards of raw sewage in your basement and give you practical methods for proper sanitation of your building should a back-up occur.

Sewers can back-up into your basement from several paths during storms and it is the property owner’s responsibility to protect the building. Open floor drains are the major culprit, as are basement plumbing fixtures (toilets, sinks, shower drains, etc.). If you live in the City of Rochester, where storm and sanitary sewers are combined, the Rochester Pure Waters District recommends that all potential avenues for sewage to back-up into your basement be eliminated. Floor drains are intended to allow water (from a broken water pipe, groundwater, etc.) out of your basement on (what should be) rare occasions. Otherwise, floor drains should always be capped off—a plumber can help you. If you must have plumbing fixtures in your basement, a licensed plumber can install devices that may protect you from backups (check valves, etc.). Open floor drains and basement plumbing fixtures put you and your property at risk during storms.

Roots growing inside the lateral and blocking the pipe is the most common reason for sewer back-up not related to storms—this, and any internal plumbing problem, is the responsibility of the property owner—a private plumbing contractor should be called.

In rare cases, the main sewer line can break, become blocked or be overwhelmed with stormwater resulting in area-wide backups. Monroe County Pure Waters continually maintains and repairs the City of Rochester’s public sewer system and the sanitary sewer system in the towns of Gates, Chili and Ogden—reducing the potential for backups.

If your property has not been protected and you experience a sewer backup, a quick response will go a long way toward limiting the possibility of long term health effects and property damage. This page includes helpful phone numbers where you can receive additional information and advice. Keep it in a handy place for quick reference if you have a sewer problem.

First Steps

If you have a backup, call a plumber. The plumber should be able to troubleshoot and fix almost all causes of a sewer backup. The county cannot recommend any plumber—check your Yellow Pages. You may want to get more than one estimate and check references. If the plumber believes that there is a malfunction with the main sewer or in your lateral on the street-side of a LLCO, Pure Waters can be called at 753-7600 (Option #1)—in Rochester, Gates, Chili and Ogden ONLY. A Pure Waters maintenance crew will be dispatched. Main sewer issues in other geographic areas in the county are handled by the local town/village.

Cleaning Up After Floods/Sewer Backups

Proper responses to sewer backups can greatly minimize negative health effects and property damage, destruction of your valuables and the risk of electrocution. Prompt cleanup of affected property can help minimize the inconvenience and damage. Most homeowner-type insurance policies DO NOT cover sewer backup damage. Ask your insurance agent for details on an inexpensive policy rider that can save you considerable expense and effort.

Health and Safety Issues

Please be aware of the risk of potential health and safety problems when addressing the cleanup of your home. Sewage and floodwaters can contain bacteria, fecal material, viruses and other hazardous microorganisms which can cause disease. These “germs” can be transmitted by touching contaminated items or by tracking them into uncontaminated areas on shoes. Children can be especially vulnerable.
Odors from sewage backups are unpleasant but not harmful. The speedy removal and cleanup of sewer water is very important and necessary.

To protect yourself and your family during cleanup, please follow these guidelines:

  • To reduce the danger of electrocution, do not enter your basement if it is flooded—call the fire department. The fire department will call your utility company if necessary.
  • Avoid skin contact with sewer water—especially open cuts and sores. If you should suffer a cut while working in flood or sewer water, contact your physician.
  • Do not allow children to play in areas contaminated by sewage backup.
  • Do not eat or drink anything exposed to sewer water.
  • Keep contaminated objects, water, and hands away from face (mucous membranes).
  • Wash hands frequently, especially after bathroom use, before eating, and immediately following contact with sewer water or contaminated objects/surfaces.

If you chose to cleanup your property yourself:

These companies will sell/rent you the cleaning materials you will need if you live in Monroe County and you have had a sanitary or storm sewer backup into your basement.

Rochester Janitor Supplies
1143 Lexington Ave.
Rochester, NY 14606
Phone: 454-1378
Highland Maintenance Inc.
2748 E. Henrietta Rd.
Rochester, NY 14623
Phone: 334-8660
Keller Sales
225 Mushroom Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14623
Phone: 467-3100 or 266-8121
Goodman Janitorial Supply Inc.
355 North St.
Rochester, NY 14605
Phone: 546-6993

Many private companies can handle the cleanup for you:

These companies will service you (for a fee) if you live in Monroe County and you have had a sanitary or storm sewer backup into your basement.

Servpro of Monroe County
Phone: 247-9090
Phone: 461-2660
Phone: 723-1990
Phone: 482-9390
AAA Environmental Inc.
640 Trolley Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14606
Phone: 426-6060

ASAP Total Restoration
900 Jefferson Road
Rochester, NY 14623
Phone: 272-7669
ALLPRO Cleaning & Restoration Inc.
895 West Ave. - Bldg. 9C
Rochester, NY 14611
Phone: 334-5540

Here are some important things you can do to reduce basement flooding and its risks:

  • Never dump anything into street sewers. Leaves, grass clippings, motor oil and other items keep sewers from flowing and pose a hazard to people working in the sewers.
  • Make sure that the catch basins on your street are not covered by trash, leaves, paper, or other items. Blocked catch basins can cause street flooding.
  • Clean your private drain system regularly. Also have them inspected annually.
  • Disconnect sump pumps/downspouts from sanitary sewers.
  • Consider having an appropriate basement flood prevention device installed on your property. These may include:
    • A simple hand operated gate valve
    • An automatic check valve
    • A standpipe
    • A metal or plastic plug for the floor drain.

Most of these devices require the use of a licensed, professional plumbing contractor. Before having any work done on your plumbing system, get at least two estimates from different contractors.

Sewer Terminology


Very few people understand the terminology associated with the sewer system. This sidebar gives you a quick guide to sewer vocabulary that will help you understand sewer back-ups.

Sanitary Sewer – the pipes that handle wastewater from toilets, sinks, showers, etc. – this waste eventually ends up at a wastewater treatment plant where it is cleaned before being discharged into the environment.

Storm Sewer – the pipes that handle stormwater (usually from catch basins in the street) which run to streams, ponds, rivers, lakes, etc. without being cleaned.

Combined Sewer – in older cities (like Rochester) storm and sanitary sewers are “combined” and all the water is cleaned at a wastewater treatment facility. Because stormwater can overload the sewers, this is not the best way to treat wastewater. It would, however, cost taxpayers billions of dollars to dig up city sewers and separate them.

Main Sewer – the sewer pipe in the street, generally a municipal responsibility.

Building Lateral – the pipe that carries sewage to the main sewer in the street. This entire pipe (along with all the plumbing within the building) is the responsibility of the building owner.

Lot Line Cleanout (LLCO) – some properties have an access pipe installed down to the building lateral (generally located on the property side of the sidewalk) that allows the municipality to maintain/repair the building lateral out to the main sewer (the actual LLCO pipe—and locating it for municipal service—is the building owner’s responsibility).