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FAQ - Sanitary Sewer Smoke Testing

Sanitary Sewer Smoke Testing FAQs
Sewer System Smoke Testing
Sanitary Sewer System Smoke Testing

The City of Powell River Inflow and Infiltration Program will be performing smoke tests on the sanitary sewer system to find potential points of inflow and infiltration that could lead to high flows during periods of rainfall or snow melt events. During the smoke testing, field crews blow air and smoke into the sanitary sewer system and monitor where smoke escapes. If smoke permeates up through the ground, it indicates a break in the sewer line.
Prior to the test, the City of Powell Rivers Operational Services Division will notify the local fire department where they will be conducting sewer system smoke testing and all residences will receive a notification brochure prior to testing.
When you receive notice that smoke testing will take place, you should check to see that all drain traps under basins, washing facilities and floor drains have water in them. To do so, simply flush toilets and run water into all drains for at least 10 seconds.
The smoke is harmless and dissipates quickly; however, it can activate smoke alarms. Individuals with respiratory conditions may contact the City of Powell River at 604-485-8657 for more information.
If smoke enters your home or business during testing, you should try to monitor where it is coming from and open your windows. You can communicate directly with the crew onsite, otherwise you can contact the City at 604-485-8657. If you are unsure whether the smoke is from our testing, you should call 911.
Why is the City doing this?
The purpose of smoke testing is to find potential points of inflow and infiltration in the public portion of the sanitary sewer system that could lead to high flows during storms and snow melt events. Smoke testing can also help locate the following:
 - Points of groundwater or surface water intrusion into the sewer
 - Any cross connections between sanitary sewers and storm drains
 - Defective sewer connections that could allow sewer gases into a building
 - Buildings that have issues with downspout, cellar, yard or basement drains, and sump pumps

Sanitary sewer systems are designed to collect residential sewer flows and can be overwhelmed by storm sewer flows infiltrating the system creating problems for residents and the City Operations.

How does smoke testing work?
The City of Powell River will be hand delivering notices to all buildings within the area of testing and will inform the local fire and police departments of where they will be conducting smoke testing each day. During smoke testing, field crews blow air and smoke into the sanitary sewer system in the street and monitor where smoke escapes the system. The smoke under pressure will fill the main line as well as any connections and then follow the path of any leak to the ground surface, quickly revealing the source of the problem. For instance, if smoke permeates up through a yard, it indicates breaks in the sewer line. Only enough force to overcome atmospheric pressure is required, and smoke should escape from building roof vents. If you have any doubt as to the source of the smoke in your home or yard, phone 911 immediately.

Why is the smoke entering my house?
Because the plumbing appliances in your house or building are connected to the sanitary sewer system, some smoke may enter your home or place of business if the:
 - Vents connected to your building's sewer pipes are inadequate, defective, or improperly
 - Traps under sinks, tubs, basins, showers and other drains are dry, defective, improperly
       installed, or missing.
 - Pipes, connections and seals of the wastewater drain system in and under your buildings are damaged, defective, have plugs missing, or are improperly installed.
What should I do if smoke gets into the house?
 - Do Not Become Alarmed
 - Open windows to allow ventilation and note the location of the smoke emission; smoke will clear within a few minutes
 - Exit the building and notify smoke testing personnel in the area.

If the smoke is not harmful, why do you recommend evacuating the structure?
We recommend evacuating as a precautionary measure in case the smoke is due to a real fire rather than a test, and since smoke in your house from this test indicates other sewer gases may also be entering the building.

If the testing smoke enters my home should I investigate the matter further?
All residents are advised that if traces of this smoke or its odor enter your house or building, it is an indication that gases and odours from the sewer also may enter. These can be both unpleasant and dangerous, as well as a health risk to the occupants. The City recommends that you investigate and correct the problem to minimize any potential risks.

How is a plumbing “trap” supposed to work?
The “gooseneck” or “snake” section of your drain pipe is the “trap.” The trap allows water to fill that section of the pipe completely. Since vapor and gas cannot travel through water unless under pressure, this effectively “traps” the gas in the sewer portion of the pipe. The vent on your system—the portion of pipe protruding from the roof of the building—prevents the gas from becoming pressurized and allows it to escape outside the structure. These two systems function together to keep potentially harmful sewer gases from entering your structure. If there is no water in the trap, the trap is not functioning properly. We recommend dumping water into building drains and fixtures prior to testing.

What happens if the inspection crews find a faulty sewer or lack of water traps in a home?
If smoke is seen within a house or structure, our crews will attempt to notify the homeowners of these potential defects. Owners will be responsible for repairs to private property plumbing.

How long will the testing take?
While crews might be in your area for a few hours, each actual smoke test setup takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. Most houses will only be within the testing area for one or two tests.

What should I do to prepare for smoke testing?
When you receive notice that smoke testing will take place, you should:
 - Check to see that all drain traps under basins, washing facilities and floor drains contain water; simply flush toilets and run or pour water into all drains, including unused fixtures and drains.
 - If there is an individual in your home or business who has respiratory problems and/or mobility limitations, or if you have any additional questions, contact City of Powell River at 604-485-8657.

Do I have to be home during testing?
No. Inspection crews will not need to enter your home unless smoke is present, and you want them to help identify the defect. You are not required to allow entry to our crews.

How will I know if smoke enters my house if I am not home during testing?
The purpose of the smoke test is to identify sources of unauthorized water entering the public portion of the sewer system. While it is also beneficial to note deficient plumbing connections on private property, this is not the main intent of the smoke test. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain private plumbing connections.

Will rodents be smoked out?
No. However, the smoke may detect broken building sewers where there is a potential for rodent access.

Can the smoke testing activate the smoke alarms?
Yes, smoke alarms may be activated during smoke testing. If possible, open windows and/or doors for ventilation. If you have any doubts about the origin of the smoke, please call 911.
Can smoke plug the sewer?
There is no way smoke can plug the sewer. The smoke is made up of a vaporized substance.

Where does the smoke appear?
Smoke may be seen coming from roof vents, building foundations, manhole covers or yard cleanouts. Smoke coming from roof vents on the roof of homes is a normal occurrence and indicates to the crews that smoke has filled all sewers.

If you have any additional questions, please call the City of Powell River at 604-485-8657

Event date: 
Friday, June 29, 2018 - 8:45am


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