The out-of-sight mechanisms in a home can often be the most costly to repair. All the more reason a home inspection should be conducted once you’re under contract.
It’s important for the homebuyer to set appropriate expectations when deciding which flaws to pursue and which defects aren’t worth haggling over. Big-ticket items include the sewer line.
Scott Hayzlett of Vango Inspections of Denver has 20+ years in the building trades. He stresses that the home inspection report only provides a quick snapshot of how the home’s systems function and the overall state of the structure. And he points out that a sewer scope is highly recommended before purchasing a home.
This critical piece of a home’s operation is a system that one often takes for granted until it starts acting up. And then it becomes a nightmare … and a big deal.
“It’s extremely important to have the sewer line examined as part of the home inspection process,” Hayzlett said. “This is typically an additional cost for the homebuyer but it is well worth the peace of mind it will provide as sewer line repairs can be costly. Be aware there is a spectrum of opinions on how to deal with a sewer line that needs attention. Total replacement isn’t always necessary and homebuyers should know there are other options.”
Know the True Age of the Sewer Line
First of all, the age of the house will dictate the condition of the sewer line. It’s critical to understand that a home’s “age” is usually adjusted when there have been additions and major renovations to a home. However, the sewer line likely predates any home improvements, unless paperwork exists indicating the line has been updated or repaired. Sewer lines can last anywhere from 50-100 years, depending upon the type of piping used.
Even if the sewer line passes the scoping test, it’s always prudent to have a scope done every year or two to make sure there aren’t any leaks or problems.
Not all Sewer Problems are Major
If you’re starting to see backups occurring in showers and drains, pooling of water on your lawn, or are smelling foul odors in the house or outside, it’s time to call a professional and have the system evaluated. It may be something as simple as needing a Roto-Rooter machine to remove the blockage.
Tree roots are often the reason sewer lines back up. If trees have been planted close to the line, the roots over time can clog the pipe at the joints, creating blockages. By feeding the snake cable through the sewer line (usually through a toilet), a plumber can cut away the roots and restore proper functioning. Backups can also occur from excess toilet paper, grease and oil, and other objects and substances that can clog pipes.
Following this procedure, it’s a good idea to have the sewer line scoped to make sure the blockage has been cleared. This will also document any other structural problems the sewer line might be exhibiting.
Pipe Construction May Dictate Types of Repairs
Older sewer lines are made of clay, steel or cast iron. Steel and cast iron are typically galvanized which protects against rust. However, these materials can break down over time from calcium and magnesium buildup from water and household waste products. This buildup can cause leaks and cracks in the sewer line. When this happens, you may have to invest in additional repairs, especially if you’re experiencing flooding in your yard, draining/backup problems in multiple locations and/or foul-smelling areas of your home.
Thankfully, there are alternatives to a total sewer line replacement. Because of the cost involved, make sure to get three estimates, and be leery of contractors who do both scopes and repairs since there is definitely a conflict of interest. Repairs can be as little as a few thousand dollars or upwards of $20k, depending upon the severity of the situation.
Various Sewer Line Repair Methods Now Exist
First off, the malfunctioning section of the sewer line will need to be identified. Depending upon the scope of the problem, many times trenchless approaches can be implemented. These include drilling a few holes where the problem is and making the repair. Or, a pipelining can be installed. This inflatable tube is covered in epoxy and is inserted in the sewer line. It presses against the inside of the pipe and the epoxy outside of the tube cures and hardens, repairing the leak. The tube is then deflated and removed from the line.
If there are multiple points of damage to a sewer line, a more invasive trenchless repair may be necessary. Technicians feed a cone-shaped bit through the existing line and destroy the pipe while immediately replacing it with a new one. This process is more expensive and less time-effective, but it doesn’t require extensive yard excavation.
If your sewer line is damaged beyond repair, you may have to resort to traditional sewer line replacement methods. Unfortunately, this means bringing in equipment to trench the yard and replace the broken or damaged sections. It goes without saying this is costly, and all the more reason to know the status of the sewer line before buying a house.