Smoke testing is an annual preventative maintenance program of the Public Utilities Department used to find defects in the sanitary sewer system. A contractor will pump smoke through the sewer line and look for places along the pipes where smoke leaks out. They then use this information to schedule repairs in the pipes along the right-of-way.
Smoke testing could also bring attention to defects in the sanitary sewer system on your own private property. You'll know this if smoke leaks into your home during the tests. If it does, that could point to broken pipes, loose couplings, bad wax seals on toilets, and other issues. A certified plumber can help you diagnose the problem.
The smoke is non-toxic, harmless to humans and pets, and will not damage food or material goods. It's also not a fire hazard. If smoke does enter your home, open windows and, with proper ventilation, it should clear within a few minutes. You don't have to be home during smoke testing but you might want to leave windows open a crack if you plan to be out, just in case smoke does enter the home. If you have breathing concerns and wish to block your home from this testing, call Public Utilities.
Crews will leave a notice (PDF) at your door a day or two before they conduct smoke testing on your street. 911 Dispatch is also notified, in the event they receive calls from residents who see smoke and think fire. Smoke testing is currently done by a contractor, Hydrostructures. Several neighborhood blocks are tested at one time, each set taking about 20 to 30 minutes. You can view the smoke testing schedule, which is updated bimonthly.
The City's goal is to smoke test 10% of the gravity sewer pump station service areas per year to fulfill a ten-year cycle of smoke testing all the gravity sanitary sewers in the City.
- Is the smoke harmful?
No. It may make you cough, but it is not harmful to your health and will not harm your clothing, drapes or furniture.
- What can you do to prevent smoke from entering your house?
When you receive a notice that smoke testing will take place, you should check to see that all traps under basins, washing facilities, and floor drains have water in them. Pay particular attention to sinks and drains which receive little use. Pour water in garage floor drains, spare bathrooms and mop sinks. This smoke will enter any defective seal or pipe.
- What do you do if the smoke gets into your house or business?
First, there is no cause for alarm; identify where it is coming from, such as under a sink, around a toilet or through a wall. Open windows and doors. This smoke will dissipate quickly. Then contact numbers on the flyer (PDF).
- What is the purpose of smoke testing?
To find possible leaks in the sanitary sewer system and roof drain connections. Smoke testing can help locate bad connections that home owners or occupants are not aware of.
- I will not be at home during the smoke testing and have pets in the house. What should I do?
If you must leave your pets unattended, proper ventilation should be provided in the event any smoke enters the building.
- If smoke gets into the house or business, how long does it take for the smoke to dissipate?
This will depend upon how much smoke enters the building and how much ventilation you can provide.
- Can smoke stop up the sewer?
There is no way smoke can stop up a sewer. The smoke is made up of a vaporous substance.
- What happens if you find a bad sewer or lack of traps in a building?
This information will be documented and given to appropriate City and State agencies, and it will be incumbent upon those agencies to determine what steps are necessary to remedy the problem.
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