Check valve

We had another record-breaking rain in Chicago. Close to 7 inches, and the majority fell within a few hours Saturday morning, starting around 2:00 a.m. The city’s combine sewer system was overwhelmed, leading to widespread basement flooding.

That included our basement! Yep, we had about two inches of water, maybe three, all despite our flood prevention measures. So, how did this happen?

Well, I was slacking with my maintenance tasks.

We did install a check valve, that protects the garden unit against flooding, basically preventing water from an overwhelmed city sewer to push into the basement. But the valve didn’t close. It got stuck in the open position, and we had the water pouring into the garden apartment through all of the floor drains.

I was warned that a check valve is not a fail-safe protection against flooding, because it requires regular maintenance – at least once a year. I thought I had taken care of that maintenance.

When we moved in at the end of February, I opened up the valve for inspection. Everything looked sparking clean and like new. Of course it did, because we had not yet used the sewer system!

Fast forward five months, and the hinge of the valve flapper is covered with crud and debris, preventing it from opening and closing with ease. That is why it got stuck in the open position.

Now, after we got flooded, I thought it was about time for proper maintenance. I dissembled the hinge, removed it and the flapper, brushed all the crud off, cleaned everything, greased everything, reinstalled the flapper and hinge, and greased some more. That flapper is now moving really smoothly on that hinge!

How bad was the damage to our garden unit? We are glad to say that is was very, very minimal.

Cathy was on a mission the moment the water began to push out the floor drains. Within two minutes everything critical was off the floor. That included our nice throw-down rugs.

Because there is always a risk of flooding in a garden unit apartment, we took extra precautions beyond the check valve. Those included keeping everything electrical off the ground, using cedar for the bottom plates in the interior walls and installing cement board, not drywall, at the wall bottom.

This all meant that once the water receded, we just had to mop and disinfect the floor, set up and turn on the dehumidifier, and then let everything dry out. That’s it.

I never was really that happy with the transition from the cement board to the drywall on the interior walls. Even after the taping, mudding and painting, you still can detect the slight change in texture between the two materials. We also ended up with a fine line or fissure where the two materials interface.

Believe me, after this flooding experience, I discovered a distinct beauty in the little fissures and the texture change.

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.

6 thoughts on “Check valve

  1. I don’t know yet Ginnie. What I do know is that we will have two rental units in the building and as such will have one day a month where I have “house tasks” to do – like reading the meters, checking that the dryer vent is free of lint, etc… That same day, I will take a couple of minutes to open up the check valve and inspect it. It may be that greasing it once or twice a year will do the job. But I still think it will be wise to give it a visual inspection once a month.

  2. Very smart. I think you’re going to be a wonderful landlord. Every tenant should be so lucky to have someone so conscientious!

  3. I think you make it sound way more altruistic than it really is. If one wants to protect his/her property (building), good and regular maintenance is just part of the deal. If not, one has simply to flip larger repair bills later down the road…

  4. Hi Marcus,

    I thought of this post given the deluge that fell on Chicagoland early this morning. How are the flood-prevention measures holding up this time? Has the increased check-valve maintenance helped?


  5. Knowing that we would get a lot of rain, I went ahead and physically blocked the check valve gate shut. This way I knew that no water could come in. No water goes out either, which is OK if we don’t flush the toilet a hundred times or take super long showers.

    Despite all the rain, it looks that the city system never backed up enough to get up the the check valve. But as I like to say: Better safe than sorry…

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