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Modify a Floor Drain to Prevent Flooding

Updated: Dec. 15, 2022

This 15 minute fix can prevent an expensive mess

FH05JUN_MODDRA_01-2Family Handyman
An inexpensive backwater valve installed in a basement floor drain can prevent major flooding problems caused by a blocked or overloaded sewage pipe. Installation is usually easy.

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Thread in the valve

Photo 1: Prepare the opening

Unscrew the cover and clean the drain’s threads with a plastic brush. Lubricate the threads on the insert with pipe thread sealant.

Photo 2: Screw in the insert

Drop the ball into the drain and screw in the insert. A 2-in. or larger washer lets you turn the insert with pliers.

Floor drain backwater valve

When the sewage level rises, the floating ball seats tightly against the insert and keeps sewage from flowing out onto the floor.

A clogged drain line can cause a sewage flood. A big pipe carries waste from your house to the main sewer line under the street. If either of them becomes plugged or overloaded, sewage backs up and flows out of the lowest available drain. That’s usually a floor drain. You can prevent a sewage-filled basement or lower level by taking 15 minutes to install a “backwater” valve.

Before you buy a backwater valve, remove your floor drain cover to see if there’s already one in place. A call to your city building inspection department is a good idea too. You may learn that sewage backups are unlikely in your neighborhood and that installing a backwater device isn’t worth the effort. On the other hand, a backwater valve may be required by your local building code. Some home centers and hardware stores carry backwater valves. Otherwise, call a plumbing supplier or go online. For easier installation, also buy pipe thread sealant that’s formulated for plastic.

Installing a valve in a plastic drain is usually a quick, hassle-free job. But cast iron drains can be frustrating if the threads inside are corroded. If you can’t screw in the insert after cleaning with a steel brush, try this: Screw in and then remove a 6-in. long section of 2-in. threaded steel pipe (sold at home centers). The tapered threads on the steel pipe help to clean and straighten the drain threads. If that doesn’t work, you can call a plumber to repair the threads with a tap, or you can seal the drain with a 2-in. “test plug” (sold at home centers). A plug will stop rising sewage, but you’ll have to remove it every time you want to use the drain.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Locking pliers
  • Wire brush