Thursday, January 5, 2012

Toilets and sewer backups - yuck

After my post the other day about hardware I got to thinking about the toilets in my house.  We have two.  We also have one in the trailer and have a rather crude outhouse in the yard.  Plus I tell boy to pee in the garden.  OK back to toilets.  I have some items to repair the toilets.  I have wax seals, rubber flappers, etc.  About six months ago I replaced the entire innards of my tank with some new fangled type of system.  It's a push button with a post that floats up and down for the water level.  You push the little button and only a little water flows through. You push the big button and it's a regular flush.  Supposed to save lots of water.  The only problem is it's already China junk.  I threw away the old innards.  After all, they were as old as the toilet...1974.  This means I need to replace everything. The ball cock, the handle, everything.  And get backups for it all.

I was visiting GI Jim yesterday and he gave me some other ideas.  After all, if TSHTF am I going to have the same ease of receiving water?  Am I going to be hand pumping, getting it from a solar powered pump, or will we still be on the grid?  Let's assume no grid.  If IT is today then no solar powered pump.  This means hand pumping for water.  Do I really want to pump enough to flush away 50 or so gallons each day?  NO.  If it's cold weather boy is not going to want to go outside.  How about setting the bathrooms up a bit differently?  We have a five gallon bucket and a little seat to attach to it.  That works fine for the short term.  You do realize that five gallon plastic buckets will degrade with use.  Over the years we've had dozens break apart.  Now these are the buckets we use for food storage that pretty much just sit on a shelf.  These buckets are used to haul stuff, wash the cars, etc.  But nevertheless they don't last forever.  I wouldn't expect the bucket toilet to last forever, nor would I want to sit on it forever! 

A homemade urinal?  And instead of the urinal emptying into the septic a hose (tube) could be attached with a hole through the wall to the outside.  It could either be dispersed instantly or collected in storage buckets or barrels and then used to fertilize the garden.  That's a good idea.  The toilet could be used for solids and the urinal (even make something that works for the girls) for liquids. 

The other thing GI Jim and I talked about was sewage.  I'm on a septic.  It backed up once.  Into the bathtub and shower.  Disgusting.  It was the week before Christmas.  Did I mention that there were 16 people in the house then?  The repair guy came and pumped the tank.  On Christmas Eve it backed up again into the tub and shower.  I called and left a message on his machine to let him know that any time after the holidays we'd be happy to have him come over and pump it again and fix the leach lines.  Christmas morning he was over with his son digging up our front yard.  Millions of blessings to him and his family!!!  Other than that, no problems with our septic system. 

What about people who are on city sewer?  Most people plan on bugging in not bugging out.  If the power goes out the cities will put their sewage treatment plants onto their generator back ups.  Most sewage treatment plants were upgraded due to Y2K preparations.  But generators won't be able to power the plants for very long.  Then what?  The sewage will be backing up. 

Let's hope that your house is on a bit of a rise.  Let's also assume that one of the first preps you city folks do is install a Backflow Valve.  The backflow valve is installed in your sewer lateral (the pipe coming from your house that connects with the main sewer pipe), close to where it leaves your house.  It allows sewage to flow in one direction only (out of the house) and shuts automatically if flow is detected in the opposite direction (coming from the sewer into your house).  The valve will reopen when normal flow is restored. 

That's great if you've installed the backflow valve.  If you haven't make that the next thing on your to do list!  But what happens to the sewage?  It starts backing up into the street as well as into other people's homes.  In one of the local cities near me they pump the sewage uphill to the treatment facility.  That's not a good sign if the power is out and doesn't support the pumps, now is it? 

From what I’ve read, over one million Americans become ill each year just from backed up sewer incidents.  Most of this is from the sewage coming into basements.  Raw sewage contains E coli, viruses, intestinal worms and parasites.  Most of those affected suffer stomach cramps and diarrhea, but untreated sewage can also spread cholera and hepatitis.  Gastroenteritis and cryptosporidiosis are other parasites contained in sewage. These can kill people.

The survival of the viruses, worms, parasites, etc. depends on a number of things: location (indoors vs. outdoors), season, type of surface contaminated, whether disinfectants are used, and also on environmental conditions such as humidity, temperature, and sunlight. Sunlight (UV radiation) reduces the survival rate of pathogens with numbers decreasing rapidly with increasing exposure to UV radiation. Mild temperatures and higher humidity result in longer survival times.

If you have been affected by a sewage backup and you need to clean up the mess you need to take proper precautions: Wear protective gloves, eyewear, boots, and rain gear.  If you get any cuts or scrapes you better stop what you are doing and wash and disinfect the wound immediately.  Your life may depend on it! 

The following steps need to be taken when cleaning up the mess in your home:  Remove excess water.  Use a dehumidifier and keep windows open (not going to be a pretty scene if there’s still raw sewage running down the road).  All solid waste should be collected and disposed (sure, just put it into the weekly trash pickup…).  Throw away all upholstered furniture and mattresses.  Pull out the carpets and pads.  Throw away the stuffed animals and toys.  Don’t even think about trying to clean them.  All areas of the house need to be washed with a detergent then disinfected and allowed to dry. 

Now it’s time to clean up the outside.  This is assuming that the sewage isn’t still flowing down the road.  If it is, you need to seriously consider bugging out.  If it stops, and it’s summer time, then the microbial population from the sewage flooding onto the lawns and paved areas will be inactivated after a few days due to the UV radiation from the sun.  During the spring and fall the bacterial numbers will be reduced to safe levels after two to three weeks.  But remember, if TSHTF the sewage will not be going away any time soon. 


  1. One more suggestion that I did not think of yesterday. This was taught to me by a prepper friend that I will call Mrs. Prepared. When using a 5 gallon bucket,put a trash compacter bag inside. These are extremely strong and do not (or almost never) leak. In addition visit the feed store or pet store and buy some bundles of shavings. Cedar shavings work best. After every B.M. put a scoop full of shavings into the bucket. This will not only help with smell but absorbs liquids. Basically it makes a much easier disposal method. A hole can be dug and the bag emptied in the hole.

    G.I. JIM

  2. I stock up on trash bags for situations like this, should they occur. I know very few people who like to go camping, so I can only image what it would be like if they had to crap in the front yard in a hole.

  3. I'm a civil engineer, a prepper, and a local town's water and wastewater operator. You are dead on when it comes to backups and grid down failures of lift stations. I am starting to write the town's disaster management plan and it is a nightmare. It will take about 15 minutes after a power failure for sewage to start flowing from the treatment plant. However, I did test the system, and 7 of the 9 lift stations can go down and "naturally" overflow inside the manhole, and still operate. Sewer lines would fill and the toilet may be a little slow to flush, but the system would run. This is based off of the fact that the town is flat as a board, no one has a basement, and the lift station at the plant can be constructed to overflow into a detention pond.

    Now, I'm just trying to figure out how to maintain water.

    I've already told them if and when the SHTF, I'll be at home, and I shoot first, ask later.

  4. The book
    The Humanure Handbook A Guide To Composting Human Manure by Joseph Jenkins,
    Published by Jenkins Publishing
    PO Box 607
    Grove City, PA 16127
    ISBN 0-9644258-9-0
    Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 99-94237

    is an interesting read on the subject of dealing with human waste.

  5. This is something we have been looking into. The Humanure Handbook, is some of what we've been reading, or at least the website. We tried a urine and water fertilizer this summer with our tomatoes and it worked as best as we could see. 30 parts water to 1 part urine was the ratio. A university study was our source for that.

  6. To avoid situation like this from happening then it is better to have your water/drainage systems have a backflow testing.

  7. I’m kind of new to the concept of prepping, but I’m sorely interested. This made me realize the importance of an efficient house sewage system, especially if I’m actually faced with THAT event. Although repairing and fine-tuning the indoor plumbing yourself is okay, an ordinary person who wants to do some prepping but doesn’t know a thing about plumbing may subsequently face the dangers of backflow in an emergency situation. I believe the best way for these kind of people would be to hire professionals

    Carmen @