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Problems flood in after heavy rain; The recent downpurs have set house doctor Peter Fall thinking of drains and foul smells.

Byline: Pete r Fall

FRIENDS frequently pull my leg saying that I've done so many articles I simply recycle them. It is inevitable that, with more 600 articles over 13 years, I do cover the same ground more than once. This is particularly so when the articles reflect recent weather. Today's topic is typical of this.

The almost daily downpours are showing up weaknesses in our buildings. One area is the drainage of surface water away from our roofs and paved areas and into the main drainage systems.

Looking back through old articles I found that in July 2010, I was writing about the summer monsoon! That downpour was following a period of warm, dry weather. No such luck this year! But back to our buildings ...

Except for older properties, our drains should be split into two pipework systems, one to take rainwater - surface water - and one to take wastes from bathrooms, toilets and kitchens - foul water. This way we don't overload treatment plants at times of heavy rain and so dilute the process. Also, we can discharge cleaner surface water directly into rivers without needing to treat it first.

Unfortunately, some homeowners, in fitting a washing machine or even a toilet, connect the foul water wastes into the surface water systems, contaminating the drainage. Some owners connect their new extension's roof drainage into the nearby foul water manhole. To the individual owner these may be minor offences, but if 10% of homes get it wrong then we could have a problem.

Let's take the recent rains. The design of the drainage system allows for a certain amount of surface water at times of heavy rainfall. Once it is more than the design amount, it backs up and starts to come out of gullies or manholes - not nice, particularly if the overflowing water also contains foul water that should have been in the other drains.

Similarly our foul water drains are designed to accommodate the waste water from the bathrooms and kitchens of a certain number of houses. As more houses are added to the system, so the drain pipe increases in diameter. What the design didn't include was the addition of surface water, particularly when we have monsoons. The result is many people complained of gurgling water and a nasty smell in the downstairs toilet. These people are not necessarily the ones who connected their drains incorrectly, it was probably a neighbour further up the system, but the owner downstream has the problem.

What can you do? If you are the one suffering the foul water overflowing on to your patio, or smelly water gurgling in the loo, then very little. If you are the one with the drains discharging into the wrong system, you might like to think about putting it right. The difficulty will be that the decision to discharge the foul water into the surface water drain or vice versa was taken because it was the cheapest solution. To correct it may mean creating a new underground drainage run and gully to take the water to the appropriate manhole. Not cheap but it corrects a wrong that a building surveyor will spot when you come to sell. Those in older houses with a drainage system that combines the foul and surface water may smugly think they don't need to do anything. But the downside is that they will probably suffer the backing-up drain problem more frequently than newer houses.

? Peter Fall, a chartered building surveyor, is a former president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, tel: 0191 284 3467 or go to
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 14, 2012
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