By Dan Buttery   Published Apr 02, 2006 at 5:10 AM

Five years ago, the City of Milwaukee revised residential and commercial plumbing code in order to address the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewer District's (MMSD) need to dump raw sewage into Lake Michigan during periods of peak drain water runoff. These changes were implemented to encourage residents and business owners into helping reduce the city's need to purge such overflow.

Homeowners often ask what they can do with their own property in order to be part of the greater solution and not the problem. One way in which property owners can help is by strategically diverting rainwater from the City's combined sewer system. The premise is to reduce the amount of downspout directed rainwater from pouring into the sewer system, helping prevent overflows into Lake Michigan.

With only weeks before the start of this year's winter melt, Nicholas Curic, plan examiner for Milwaukee's plumbing code office provided clear guidance on this matter. The following guidelines established by Milwaukee plumbing code are designed to help reduce rainwater runoff:

  1. Disconnected downspout cannot discharge less than two feet from the building. Any system that does is considered illegal. Green perforated roll out hoses or flip-up systems that do not automatically lower during a rainstorm do not meet code requirements.

  2. The downspout discharge point must be a minimum of five feet from any property line.

  3. In addition, the discharge point cannot cross into any street, alley or public way.

  4. The downspout must be parallel to or away from the nearest property line.

  5. A one-inch concrete cap is required to seal the spout connection point to the city's sewer system. Other seals can be used with approval from the DNS plumbing inspection.

The correct way to lead water away from the building is with a minimum two-foot gutter. Additional extensions may be used so long as the water is not directed to the property line.

Any uncapped disconnection is illegal. A one-inch concrete cap or other approved seal is required. Care should be taken to properly re-seal in the event you are required to reconnect to the system.

Automatic release systems are allowed. Flip down extensions are not permitted unless they can operate automatically. If a manual system is used, an unattended spout could over-fill and leak next to the foundation wall. A hard downspout extending two feet or more has to be connected prior to the flip down extension to be legal.

Any device that releases water less than two feet from the wall is illegal. Perforated roll out tubes typically have holes starting in less than two feet. A hard gutter extension two feet long needs to be connected before this device can be used.

Simply cutting off the connection and letting the water run out will ruin a foundation wall. An elbow extending a minimum of two feet from the wall or foundation is required.

How can your downspouts be disconnected?

If you are in a target area set up by Milwaukee's Department of Public Works (DPW) Environmental Engineering section, you may qualify for additional assistance in disconnecting your downspouts. Contact them at (414) 286-8162 to determine if you are in a target area. Milwaukee's DPW will hire a contractor to properly disconnect the eligible downspout. It will be properly sealed and then monitored for future problems such as icing.

Do I have to disconnect downspout?

Not at this time. This program is completely voluntary. There are many important benefits to disconnecting such as better water quality and improved flood control.

Do I have to disconnect the sump pump?

No. If you are required to connect to the sewer, then the sump system must remain connected as well.

What if I have a broken or damaged storm lateral?

If a property owner has a broken lateral there may be some options to disconnect. Such options are handled on a case-by-case basis. Contact Milwaukee's DPW office for your specific request as regions in the city vary per the area.

Remember, improper drainage around your home can result in damage to your foundation and soil erosion. Always consult a professional when making these changes to your home.

Dan Buttery is a professional home inspector and owner of Argus Inspections in Milwaukee.