The Importance of Sewer Scopes

If you’ve ever had to dig up your yard and replace a sewer line, you know how expensive it can be. The national average cost to replace a sewer main was $8,000 just a few years ago – and we all know parts and labor have been going up through Covid, so I expect that number is even higher now. Depending on how far your house is set back from the city main or septic tank, that price may go up or down. Other factors are known to double the cost: such as whether the pipe runs underneath sidewalks, driveways, or other structures. Even if your lines don’t need to be replaced, the cost to repair or properly remove tree roots is still a significant investment. When you are buying a new home, the last thing you want is to be surprised with huge repair bills.

We have your back! Our team is trained and certified to inspect sewer lines with a sewer scope that includes photos and videos – so you know exactly what is found in your next home’s pipes. Your home inspection includes a visual examination of the exterior portion of visible drain pipes at each sink – but that’s just a few inches. A sewer scope inspects the inside of the lateral sewer main line from the cleanout (typically near the foundation) to the street or septic tank. It looks for what type of pipe was used – because every pipe material has a limited life expectancy. Most of the materials used prior to ABS and PVC are already beyond their life expectancy. It looks for breaks in the line, clogs, bellies, tree root infiltration, delamination, and other defects in the line.  Any one of those problems needs to be fixed, and the seller is responsible to inform you of any problems they know of. But here's where the problem comes in:

The seller may not know of any problems that will dramatically affect you in the future. For instance – a single person living in a house will not put much demand on a sewer line. But a family of four will take four times as many showers, and probably far more baths. They will run the dishwasher four times more, they will wash four times as many clothes, drain four times as much down the sinks and toilets. That water really adds up. When a partial clog exists, the drain pipes can buffer water and allow it to slowly drain. But when a family of four multiplies the demand on a sewer line, there is no room for buffering. That waste water which can no longer slowly drain out will back up into the lowest drain – your basement, tub, or dishwasher. Water damage is expensive to repair, and even more expensive when human waste products are involved. So, we always recommend a sewer scope with home purchases, as well as for those who want to prevent catastrophic backups into their home.

I have heard people say they do not need a sewer scope for a variety of reasons, and that is their choice. But I would like to dispel some myths so that you can make the best decision for your family.

  • Myth 1: I don’t need a sewer scope because this is a new house. Sadly, even new construction suffers from damaged pipes. One of the more common problems is actually associated with newer homes over older homes: offset pipes. To run a new sewer line, plumbers must excavate packed soil, place the line, and then replace the soil. Have you ever dug a hole in your yard, then filled it in only to have excess soil? The reason is that the soil takes a long time, or very detailed work, to pack it back in to the same density. If not done correctly, the pipes will move as soil compacts back down over time. Pipes only have so much movement before they break. So new homes can suffer from some of the worst breaks due to poor soil compaction.
  • Myth 2: I don’t need a sewer scope because I have a septic tank. Absolutely, septic tanks are a little different from public sewer lines – however the pipes that connect our homes to septic tanks are no different. They are prone to the same clogs, breaks, root infiltration, and other damages that any sewer line can have.
  • Myth 3: I don’t need a sewer scope because the septic tank was just pumped. Wonderful, that should save you a few months from having your tank pumped again! Did the pumping company run a sewer camera back up the lateral pipes and inspect the pipes themselves? It’s not standard, and I doubt they did it – so you may be given a false sense of security.
  • Myth 4: The seller just had a sewer scope performed, so I will use that one. Very thoughtful of them! Ask for the sewer scope video, which should include (as part of the same continuous video) evidence of which house was inspected and which cleanout they used. If they cannot produce this and document which house’s pipes were inspected – are you 100% positive? The inside of one pipe looks just like the inside of another pipe. Even if you know the video is legitimate, when was it taken? Occupancy and usage patterns may change a small clog into a bigger one. When a sewer pipe suddenly has no water flushed down it, such as when a house goes vacant for sale, buildup on the inside of the pipe can dry out and break apart. The next flush may gather those deposits into one big clog.
  • Myth 5: The seller had a rotor rooter done preventatively. My question would be: why did they have it done preventatively? This service is often prompted by problems. This typically means that tree roots have blocked the pipes. A common reason is that a joint in the pipes has failed, and roots are drawn to even tiny amounts of moisture. Rooter fixes are temporary, and roots will find their way back to moisture in no time, and will clog the pipes again.

The only way to know for sure what condition your pipes are in is to have a sewer scope performed for you, by your independent inspector. Make sure problems are corrected before you are the one footing the bill.

Too Long, Didn't Read Version: Sewer pipes are an essential part of everyday life in a home, so you need to know if yours is on the verge of failing. We offer a video sewer scope with a discounted price when bundled with your home inspection to save you time and money, and so you don’t have to wait on a plumber’s schedule.

-Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP

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Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP
Author: Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP
Top Notch Inspection Services llc
Serving Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho