Nail biter

We had an interesting day on Wednesday June 23rd. It started with a small earthquake shortly after lunch, followed by severe storms that quickly moved into the area. This was the first time that I heard the tornado sirens come on in Chicago.

I was working on masonry repairs in the basement when this all happened, the right place to be when the sirens go off! And the rain – it is not often that you get to see that kind of persistent downpour.

So much rain fell in fact, that I suddenly noticed a small trickle coming out of the storm sewer pipe that currently dead ends in the old grease trap.


Eventually, that storm sewer stub will be connected to the downspout overflow, but we are not there yet, nor do we have an end cap on it. So – water starts to trickle from the city system out of the storm sewer into the grease trap.

Other than this one line, everything else is flood proof due to the sewer layout and check valve.

I was doing something else for a few seconds, and the next time I turned around the grease trap was almost full and the new storm line was submerged in water.


Just by the movement of the water, I could tell that the water was now gushing from the city system into the grease trap, and the water level kept rising.

I went into emergency mode, gathered all the tools from the basement and relocated them to the 1st floor, disconnected anything electrical that was close to the basement floor, and told the dog to get ready for a swim.


All things considered, I was sort of lucky. The downpour has been going on for a while and must have washed any raw sewage out of the combined city system. The water that was gushing into the grease trap appeared to be street runoff and did not smell of sewage, nor did I have any turds floating around (thankfully).


Well, as you see I had a few seconds to take pictures of the rising water. At this point it was slowly filling up the perimeter drain and gravel base under the basement floor. That hidden storage volume assured that the water rose slowly.


It kept rising to about one and a half inches below the top of the new concrete floor. The rain started to ease, the water stopped rising, and finally the flow reversed back into the city system. Whew, what a close call!

This was quite an experience, and I have wasted no time getting the storm sewer stub temporarily connected to the downspout.


This will stop access of water from the combined city sewer into our basement and prevent this kind of nail biter for the foreseeable future.

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

2 thoughts on “Nail biter

  1. Lucky! Well, not all luck – lots of it was all your great preparation. But lucky it didn’t keep raining.

  2. I’m glad to hear that the perimeter drainage and gravel base saved the day and that you didn’t get sewage backup. Some of our neighbors did. That was a hell of a storm.

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