Dear PoP – Backyard/Basement Water Issues

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

I live off of Warder in Parkview and am experiencing a water backup in my backyard drain and basement apartment. Anyone else out there having the same issue, perhaps related to melting snow?”

Anyone have any tips on how to keep your backyard drain clear?

17 Comment

  • snake it or flush it. If it is really old, it may need to be relined.

  • I preface this by saying I feel really bad for the OP, as I’ve been there before, and it sucks. (Even worse, this probably is a problem for many people right now, so getting the plumber and new floor people scheduled is going to be tough.)

    But to answer PoP’s question and at the risk of stating the obvious, exercising some vigilance and just keeping the backyard drain clear is among the biggest/cheapest things you can do. With attached rowhomes, especially, there typically is only one way for the water to get from one side of your house to the other (presumably to the city storm drain system), and that’s the pipe under the house. In a lot of older houses, this pipe isn’t sized adequately, probably because it’s been there since the early 1900s. The best thing you can do is preventive maintenance: routinely keep leaves and silt out of it, and once a year, hire a plumber to come clean it out. You could also add additional drains and a sump system, but this tends to be one of those “ounce or prevention” situations that people underthink. Even if you don’t own the property, if any part of your living space is below grade, you are going to have to deal with this if it becomes a problem: your floors and your stuff get all sorts of wet and you will be displaced. So it behooves you to keep the drain clear and at least ask about regular maintenance.

  • My backyard is at the bottom of a hill and I have a below grade basement. Even worse, the main back drain is plugged off, although I still have a functioning drain at the rear basement entry. My basement flooded once because the drain was covered by leaves and plastic bags. Two things. First, do everything you can to divert water from getting to the drain (making sure that it doesn’t go towards your house). Divert it to go down an alley, or to another drain if possible. Next, snake those drains frequently and keep them free of debris. If you’re having problems now, you’re going to have nightmares when the Spring rains hit. This is actually a dry January we’ve had (minus the last blizzard).

  • Two things. Last year after the big snow, we had the same thing happen and it was becasue snow covered the air vent outside (ours is in our front yard and we didn’t even know it existed). If your outside drains are clogged, you way just want to call WASA to come snake out to the main line. We live near warder too and WASA will come out and flush your line to clear it.

  • We had the same problem for years. I think the resolution can be attributed to a number of issues we had to address–regrading the back yard, repairing roof and gutter, replacing a cheap downspout–but the one that surprised me most was discovering two additional drains in the back yard that had been covered with soil or cement.

    I used to stand at the back door when it rained to watch how and where the water moved and where it pooled. There was a substantial amount overpowering the gutters and flowing off the roof but a heck of a lot also flowing from the alley. I thought it strange that the yard was basically graded in a way that pushed water toward the house but then we realized that the grading was directed at the additional drains. It may be the same for a lot of houses in this area.

  • A lot of good advice mentioned above.

    If there are no obvious surface area obstructions you could have any number of causes of blockages

    I spent $400 for rooter service to clear my house waste line all the way to the street. That price included a follow-up optical inspection of the complete line to actually view the condition of the line. It was well worth the cost for piece of mind.

    • Who did you use, and would you recommend them again? I’ve got a storm drain in the back of the house that is blocked with mud and gravel from where the previous owners let the yard overgrow the drain.

  • These old drains suck. You will likely need to get the entire system snaked to the street. It can be costly if the drains are under concrete, but it is worth it. Once they are clear – take pains to keep them clean. A lot of these old houses had years of neglect and abuse – the drains have suffered.

  • We had a semi collapsed sewer/waste trap that resulted in the same problem. I saw ‘semi collapsed’ because it makes a difference when you’re negotiating with WASA, Er DC WATER, about whether they need to dig up the alley or not. If they do the dye test on a semi collapsed trap you’ll get a pass when you’re really marginal.

    Have DC Water snake the drain (insist, they don’t want to do so). Also, make sure your downspouts are no longer draining into the buried pipes. Drain them out through new pipes off of your property.

    DC is under an EPA mandate to reduce storm water runoff, so the general direction is to no longer put rain water into the buried pipes that are also your sewage pipes.

    • Question about DCWASA snaking: will they snake all the way from the street/storm drain BACK to your rear yard drain, at no charge? I’d always assumed the homeowner had the responsibility to hire someone to snake from the back drain to the point it flowed into DCWASA storm drains.

      • They did it for free, but only after the 3rd flood in my basement and the basement still had to be ‘wet’. It’s a little legal game they play.

        They do the die test first (in the toilet, then check the sewer). That passed, but they noticed it was slow. Then they snaked and came back with a head full of mud. That’s the tell tale sign of a collapsed pipe. They told me the magic number was 3 calls to get the snake out. I think Home depot rents the snakes too, but it’s nasty business to do it yourself.

        Between that and the fact that the pipes are under sized to handle the rain load, I had a soggy basement. So fixing the street trap was necessary, but getting the roof water out of the old drains was important too.

        • The magic number is 3 to get WASA out and do their job. The guy who came to do the dye test told me so. Once you have them come out 3 times, they will then put you in tue queue to replace whatever it is that needs replacement. I was pleasantly surprised that WASA dug up my landscaping to do the job and also replaced the landscaping.

  • Customer service number is (202) 354-3600 if you need us.

    DC Water
    Office of Public Affairs

    • Thanks, I have a plumber coming to snake the line out this afternoon, but I will be in touch if there is a further issue.

  • Look also for previous mention in PoP about rain barrels and rain gardens. Both of mine actually divert a lot of water from the drains and backdoor (which was one intent). A real flood, however, and then the excess winds up heading back towards my two drains.

    • Be careful with the rain barrels. The overflow attachment is improperly sized for anything other than a 2″ downspout so a fast rain will overflow the mechanism and saturate the ground wherever the rain barrel is. I had to discontinue use of mine because it was flooding the corner of my basement.

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