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Education and Outreach
All homes and businesses connected to sanitary sewer systems have a
lateral. It's the pipe that transports water used inside your home out
to your city's sanitary sewer system in the street (see the pipe
highlighted in the picture below).
Just like roofs and driveways, maintaining a lateral is the
homeowners responsibility. Some communities require homeowners to repair
and maintain laterals from the house out to around the sidewalk or tree
lawn, what's known as the right of way. In other communities,
homeowners own the lateral from the house all the way to where it
connects to the city's sewer system in the street. Check with your city
to find out.
Laterals are only supposed to carry water you use in your house out to the city's sanitary sewer pipe. Cracks and leaks in laterals end up allowing too much excess ground water into city owned pipes, which can overwhelm the overall sewer system and cause stormwater and wastewater to backup in the sewer system and into people's basements.
(Above) Crews install a lateral (blue pipe at bottom of
the picture) in gravel at the bottom of a trench and a water supply line
(copper tubing) at a construction site in the city of Milwaukee.
If you have ever had to call a plumber to unclog your lateral, you
most likely have a leaky lateral. Tree roots are always seeking water
and end up growing through cracks in laterals. The roots end up
accumulating things that are flushed or poured down the drains in your
home, leading to a clogged pipe. You can tell when your lateral is
clogged when water backs up into your basement during dry weather. It's
the water you used in the home that cannot get out the lateral to the
city's sanitary sewer in the street.
You can also check for leaks and cracks by having a plumbing company
run a television camera through your lateral. You will be able to see
any major problems right away. Identifying smaller cracks may require
soaking your front lawn with water and an environmentally friendly green
dye. When the camera views green water in the lateral, you know there
are leaks in the pipe.
(Watch this video to see how it's done). Make
sure to get a copy of the video from your inspection. You may want to
get a second opinion on any problems that are diagnosed and potential solutions.
You should have your lateral inspected every five to
ten years, depending on the age of your home. Newer laterals are made
out of PVC, a high-strength plastic that is slightly flexible. PVC pipes
for home laterals come in 10 foot lengths and have long lasting,
water-tight joints if installed properly. Plumbers started installing
PVC laterals in Wisconsin in the 1970's.
Older laterals may be made out of clay pipes that were
typically installed in two foot sections. Joints and cracks on clay
pipes tend to fail over time, allowing large gaps to permit excess water
into the sanitary sewer system.
(Below) A broken clay lateral.
If it's not raining and you get water backing up into your basement
through the floor drain, there's a good chance you have a clogged
lateral. The water that you used inside your home cannot get through the
lateral and empty into the city's sewer out in the street.
Even if it is raining and you have water coming through the floor
drain, you could still have a clogged lateral that needs to be cleaned
out. When basement backups occur because of capacity issues in the
sanitary sewer system, they usually impact more than one home on the
block. Contact your city or village department of public works right
away so they can check to see if there are any problems with the public
sewer out in the street.
There are many newer repair techniques that do not
require digging a large trench in your front yard. However, laterals in
substantial disrepair may require digging a trench to install a new pipe
from the street to the foundation of your home.
Open trench excavation
Crews dig a trench down, 6 feet to 16 feet, to your
existing pipe, take out the old pipe and lay a new one from your house
out to the city's sewer in the street.
Lateral lining method (below) Crews prepare to install a liner, which is the white fabric at the end of the hose.
Lateral Lining - This technique involves pulling
special fabric through your existing lateral that is applied with a
resin. Think of it as a big sock that's turned inside out when they pull
it into the pipe so the resin is on the outside of the sock. They then
fill the inside of the sock with hot water or steam and allow the resin
to cure or harden. The finished product becomes a hard, fiberglass type
material that should last for decades.
Pipe bursting method
Workers dig a hole next to your home and another hole in
the street near the city's sanitary sewer. They attach a device to the
new sewer pipe and pull the new pipe out to the road. The device busts
out the old sewer line while clearing a path for the new line.
Flood Grouting method
Flood Grouting - A two step process involving chemicals that are poured through the sewer line and seal any cracks in your lateral.
- Depending upon the size of your existing lateral and local
ordinances, in some cases a smaller diameter pipe can be simply pulled
through your existing lateral and connected to your home and the
sanitary sewer in the street.
Grout Packing - This type of fix uses a
machine that is pulled through the existing lateral and pumps grout, a
sealer, into any cracks or bad joints along the way.
Links to Similar Programs
East Bay, California
San Francisco, California
Castro Valley, California