You're walking down the basement stairs to feed your pets, when you detect a noxious odor. No, it's not cat litter or dog dirt, it's a smell you distinctly recognize as sewage. You trot the rest of the way down the stairs, thinking you're about to happen upon an overflowing toilet, but instead you find that your main sewer line has sprung a leak. If this situation sounds all too familiar, take a deep breath, and read on to discover how to best deal with a leaky main sewer line.
Step #1: Dress to protect yourself.
Raw sewage is laden with bacteria that you do not want to touch. Before you do anything with the pipe or go anywhere near it, suit up with gloves and waterproof boots. If you have long hair, tie it back so you don't get it wet.
Step #2: Stop using your toilets and sinks.
For the time being, make sure everyone else in the home knows not to flush the toilet or run the water in a sink. If you need to use the bathroom, go to a neighbor's house or a restaurant down the street. Flushing more water into the sewer will just make for more leakage.
Step #3: Catch the drips.
Find a bucket and place it under the leak, so no more sewage leaks out onto the floor. You can clean up the sewage on the floor with a mixture of 1 cup bleach to 2 gallons of water, if the quantity is manageable. Make sure you wear your gloves throughout this process, and discard any rags or mops you use by tying them up in a plastic bag and placing them in your outdoor trash bin.
Step #4: Take a picture or video.
When you call the plumber, having a picture or video of the leak will allow him or her to assess just how bad the leak is. Take a few pictures or the area of the pipe that is leaking from different angles, or if you can, take a video, as this will show how quickly the water is leaking.
Step #5: Contact a plumber.
Call a plumber (such as one from Aalco-The Drain Doctor) in your area immediately. This is not a problem you want to let wait, as doing so will either allow the crack or leak to become worse, or may mean that your walls and ceilings sustain damage. Repairing a leaky main sewer pipe can be a very involved and expensive job, or it may require simple re-tightening of a valve. Your plumber should be able to assess the damage and give you an estimate rather quickly.
No one likes to find a leaky sewer pipe, but especially if you live in an older home, incidents like this do happen. Act quickly to contain the mess, and call your plumber. As long as you catch the leak quickly, you can avoid damage to your home's main structure.