Old Home Inspection: Plumbing And Sewer Lines

The charms of owning a historic home are many. Not so great? Figuring out how to deal with the plumbing and pipes.

By Caila Thaler

The charms of owning a historic home are many. My home, built in 1906, is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. It has all the lovely and romantic features people associate with historic homes: original hardwood floors, original light fixtures, a sweeping front porch, beautiful architecture and deep character. It also has some original features I could live without, specifically an aging sewer system that caused problems for me beyond just the obvious plumbing issues you might expect.

When I purchased the home in 2006 I did the responsible thing and had the home thoroughly inspected by a professional. Or at least I thought it was a thorough inspection. Turns out that while home inspectors check to see that all the plumbing fixtures in a home are working properly this includes: all faucets, garbage disposals, showers, bathtubs, toilets, and sinks, they do not inspect the sewer line that handles all the waste coming from those plumbing fixtures.sewer pipe line inspection camera Old Home Inspection: Plumbing And Sewer Lines

Sewer Line Inspection for Rodents?

A sewer line inspection is not a standard feature in the typical home inspection, but I learned the hard way that it is well worth the minimal price. (In fact, some plumbers, like Jim Dandy Sewer and Plumbing in Seattle often offer free video inspections to homeowners that suspect a crack or break in their sewer line.)

Shortly after I took ownership of the home, I began to hear shuffling and scratching in the walls. I have a debilitating phobia of rats and rodents so I immediately called an exterminator to locate the cause of our rodent problem.  They advised that I close some minor cracks in the foundation and they sealed up the crawl space. Problem solved right? Wrong!

In the span of 10 years, I hired seven different exterminators to come to my home and try and find the source of the rodents. Each would dutifully point out some obscure little space that may be letting them into my home; they set traps and charged me a hefty monthly fee to haul away the dead rodents.

Unfortunately, this never solved the problem. I was at the end of my rope and considering selling the home. But how can you sell a home with a rodent problem? As a last resort, an exterminator suggested I call the experts at Jim Dandy Sewer and Plumbing. He said that homes with a chronic rodent problem often have a crack in their sewer line that allows the rodents to access the crawl space or basement of a home and take over.

Steve Harris, the General Manager at Jim Dandy Sewer and Plumbing, came to my house with a sewer inspection camera designed specifically to find cracks, breaks, and the causes of clogged drains and sewer pipes. They placed the sewer line inspection camera in the sewer line clean out. The camera (seen here) is located at the end of a flexible rod and is easily inserted into your side sewer line, (also sometimes called a lateral sewer line). While the camera is inspecting every angle of your sewer pipe you can watch from a screen attached to the camera.

What to Expect When Your Sewer Line is inspected

Sure enough very near the access point and underneath the crawl space of my home, they discovered a crack. This small crack allowed the rodents to build a virtual freeway from my sewer line to the crawl space, and then into the walls of my home. Since the crack was so small I had not noticed any strange smells or odors coming from the basement and the break was not affecting my plumbing. However, since rodents can burrow in cracks and spaces as small as the diameter of a quarter the crack was large enough for them to make my home theirs.

The video camera inspection was so valuable to me as I could finally see the actual spot where the rodents were coming in. More importantly, the certified plumbers and technicians at  Jim Dandy Sewer and Plumbing could see exactly what they needed to do to repair the damaged sewer pipeline and solve my rodent problem once and for all.

I highly recommend having this service performed on your sewer line. Not only did they discover a cracked sewer pipe underneath my home, when they ran the camera line the length of my lateral sewer line to where my sewer pipe meets the city sewer system, they also discovered another broken sewer pipe on the city side of the sewer pipeline. Steve Harris helped me contact the city and set an appointment to have the crack in the city sewer line repaired too.

Fortunately, they only found one crack in my sewer line. The inspection could have also found tree roots invading my sewer line causing major plumbing back-ups and clogs in my drains. Or they could have discovered that the sewer pipeline was so damaged that it needed to be replaced entirely.

6 Great Reasons to Schedule a Sewer Line Inspection

Not everyone has a rodent problem like me, but if you live in a major city with lots of beautiful trees and stately historic homes you probably also live on an aging sewer line that will likely need to be repaired or replaced.

Here are some great reasons to get some peace of mind and schedule a sewer line inspection.

Pooling water in your yard can mean that the sewer pipeline below your grass or flowerbeds is cracked or collapsed and the sewage cannot drain so it pools in your yard.

Toilets overflowing for no particular reason? Maybe a tree line has invaded your sewer line and is blocking the sewer pipe? If the drains and toilets in your home are frequently backing up you most likely have a clog in your sewer pipe. A camera inspection can pinpoint the cause.

Is your home more than 25 years old? If so then you may want to take the time to perform a sewer line inspection. Older methods of plumbing and older quality sewer lines are prone to cracking and breaking.

Strange Unexplained Smell in the basement or yard? This could be a sign there is a blocked or clogged pipe nearby.

Buying or selling a home? Before you buy a home take the time to have your sewer line inspected. Finding a cracked, broken or clogged sewer line before you buy can save you thousands of dollars in costly repairs later on. Reputable plumbers like the team at Jim Dandy Sewer and Plumbing will provide you with a downloadable copy of your sewer line video. This video can help you negotiate with the seller. Also if you are selling a home providing the new owners with this video strengthens your credibility as a seller.

 Whose broken sewer pipe is this? The other benefit of a video inspection is that because it pinpoints the exact location of the break, you can easily solve disputes with neighbors and the city. Video evidence of the location of a cracked sewer line due to invading tree roots and it can help resolve disputes with neighbors and insurance companies.

We found the Cause of the sewer line clog or break, now what?

Just because you live on an aging sewer line doesn’t mean you have to use antique plumbing methods to fix a cracked pipe or broken sewer line.

Once the team at Jim Dandy Sewer and Plumbing located the break in my sewer line. They were able to use the most up to date plumbing and sewer technology to repair the side sewer line with minimal disruption to my yard.

There are various methods of sewer line repair and each is used for a specific purpose. Your unique circumstances will determine the sewer line repair method best for your home. Whenever possible the experts try to use trenchless sewer line repair methods because this method requires minimal excavation and is less expensive than traditional forms of sewer line repair.

Here are the most common methods of sewer line repair and links to more information about each one.

  • Pipe Bursting (Pipebursting) Pipe bursting is a trenchless method of replacing buried pipelines (such as sewer, water, or natural gas pipes) without the need for a traditional construction trench. “Launching and receiving pits” replace the trench needed by conventional pipe-laying.
  • Point Repair A flexible pipe is inserted into the existing damaged pipe.  This inserted pipe is installed by just digging one hole and therefore does not require major excavation, or the need to dig a trench. This is why it is also sometimes called point repair because it typically requires the plumber to just create one hole or access point.

I am happy to say that a sewer line inspection solved my rodent problem and I will now have my sewer line inspected regularly so I can spot small plumbing problems before they become big ones.




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