It can be extremely frustrating when your plumbing starts causing problems. Unlike most other parts of the house, the plumbing is mostly located underground, out of sight and out of reach. This arrangement makes it difficult to fix problems with it when they arise and makes it hard to know what those problems are in the first place.
Because of this setup, and because of the potential costs associated with many plumbing repairs, the best way to address any issues is to take a preventative approach. Rather than waiting for problems to get out of hand before tackling them, you should look into them as soon as the first symptoms appear.
One of the best ways to do so is to schedule a sewer pipe inspection, which will help you locate any significant issues present in your sewer line.
Why Inspect Your Sewer Line?
Sewer lines transfer waste from your home to other locations. Wastewater flows from residential sewer lines to the main sewer line beneath the street, through which it then travels to leach fields to be dumped into the ground.
In an ideal world, this process would always run smoothly, without any hiccups. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in reality.
1. Common Problems in Sewer Lines
Sewer lines are vulnerable to a host of different problems. Some of these problems can arise from the pipes themselves, while many others stem from their environment.
Keeping them in the ground is convenient for many reasons, primarily because no one wants to see waste moving from one place to another aboveground. But underground pipes can also experience plenty of expensive issues. Here are some of the most common problems to arise in sewer lines.
Tree Roots: As trees grow, their trunks thicken, and their branches lengthen and expand. But it’s their roots that grow out the farthest, usually in a wider range than the branches aboveground. These roots pose a significant threat to any pipes running near the tree. When roots come into contact with a pipe, they continue growing around it, leeching off any water that might leak out.
As the roots twist around the pipe, smaller roots can grow out of them and penetrate the pipe, blocking the flow of waste through it. The larger roots can also crush the pipe or split it apart.
Shifting Ground: The surface of the earth is in a constant state of flux. On the largest scale, this fact is evident in grand processes like tectonic plate motion, but it’s true at the local level as well. Anything from small earthquakes to a change in the water table can cause the ground to shift, which is how some houses end up with foundation problems.
Even if your house doesn’t have foundation problems, though, there may still be enough shifts in subterranean ground levels to move pipes around. Sewer lines aren’t meant to bend and twist, so this movement often results in them being broken or disconnected.
Bellies: People lay sewer lines by digging trenches in the ground and setting the pipes down in them. Sometimes, though, due to the process of digging the trenches, the ground the pipes are placed onto isn’t completely settled to start with. As the trenches are filled back in with dirt on top of the pipes, the added weight can start to push down on the unsettled earth, compacting it.
The result is that these pipes sink into the ground, forming stagnant regions known as bellies. These are problematic because of the way sewer lines work. Unlike the water brought into your home, the water leaving it isn’t forced through. The pipes don’t apply pressure to push the water forward. Instead, they rely on gravity to drain it down into the main sewer line, which requires pipes to be at a downward angle away from the house.
When part of a pipe sinks down relative to the rest, water begins to collect there, unable to go back uphill to the next section of the pipe. Eventually, enough waste collects there that the pipe becomes completely blocked off.
Faulty Installation: Sometimes, the problem with a sewer line is there right from the start, due solely to human error. While the people laying pipes are professionals who generally do a good job, they’re all susceptible to mistakes. Occasionally, a pipe will be mislaid or improperly connected. These errors can cause issues down the line in the form of breaks and blockages.
Bad Pipe Materials: When the fault isn’t with the pipes’ environment or with how they were laid, it’s probably with the pipes themselves. This issue mainly appears in older sewage systems, which used pipes made of different materials than we use now. The oldest remaining ones are made of tar paper, which deteriorates over time.
More recent pipes are made of clay or cast iron, which are also susceptible to breaking down, albeit not as easily as tar paper. For comparison, modern pipes are usually made of PVC.
2. Dealing With Sewer Line Problems
What you need to do about a sewer line problem depends on a couple of different things. First, it depends on what type of problem it is. Different issues require different solutions. But it also depends on how quickly you address it. The longer you wait, the worse the problem will become, which means it’s to your advantage to act the moment you notice symptoms.
The proper response in this scenario is to schedule a sewer line inspection to diagnose what the problem is. Finding out what it is early enough will allow you to get it fixed with minimal effort or expense. Waiting until the problem gets out of hand, though, could leave you spending much more than what you can afford.
Past a certain point, your entire sewer line may have to be ripped out and replaced, causing your whole yard to be dug up. If any tree roots are involved, the trees may have to be destroyed. All of this excavation can cost thousands of dollars, on top of being a huge pain. It’s much more preferable to get your sewer line checked early.
It’s also a good idea to schedule an inspection on a house before buying it, while it’s not yet your responsibility to pay for any problems it may reveal.
Five Signs It’s Time for a Sewer Line Inspection
We’ve established that you’ll want to schedule an inspection the moment you notice any problematic symptoms in your plumbing. But what are these symptoms? How do you recognize them?
If you keep an eye out — and sometimes even if you don’t — you’ll be sure to notice the signs of any major problems in the sewer line. Here are five of the most common symptoms to watch for.
1. Unpleasant Odors
If you notice foul smells coming from your various drains, it’s the first signal that something’s not right with your plumbing. Being able to smell sewage means it’s not going down all the way. Either it’s getting clogged partway through the pipes, or there’s a leak somewhere in the sewer line that’s letting out waste and bad odors.
2. A Higher Water Bill
There may come a time when you notice that your water bill is running unusually high. Perhaps you were even gone for a few weeks, and your bill somehow still turned out higher than the one from the month before. At this point, there’s a good chance you have a busted pipe somewhere along the line.
Since water keeps running out of the pipe where the damage is, you keep getting charged, even though you’re not running that water through any of your faucets. Keep an eye on your bills, and consider scheduling an inspection if you notice any unusual spikes in charges.
3. Slow Drains
If you run water into a sink and it takes a long time to go down the drain, you likely have an issue. The drain itself may be clogged, which you might be able tocan easily take care of on your own. However, you may have a much bigger clog somewhere in the sewer line, which is blocking the flow of water and making it progress more slowly through the pipes.
4. Water Noises and Dripping
When someone in your home run sinks, toilets or showers, you can hear the sound of water running through the pipes from other rooms. But what if you hear this sound when no one is using any water?
Like a higher water bill, this symptom often indicates that you have a busted pipe somewhere, which is why water’s running even when there’s no faucet turned on. Dripping faucets can indicate the same thing.
5. Water and Mold Damage
If you notice water stains or mold appearing your ceilings or walls, there’s a good chance you have a leaking pipe somewhere. In this case, the issue is more likely to be in the house itself than in the sewer line running beneath the yard, but it’s not a good idea to assume anything. As with each of the other symptoms, you should respond by scheduling a sewer line inspection to ensure that you accurately diagnose the problem.
What Can I Expect From a Sewer Line Inspection?
Because sewer lines are buried beneath the ground and therefore inaccessible to you, it can seem daunting to have them inspected. You might imagine that your whole yard will need to be dug up just to check them. That’s far from the case, however. Sewer inspections aren’t the least bit destructive, and they usually only take around five minutes.
However, they aren’t something you can do yourself, unless you happen to have advanced sewer inspection equipment lying around. As such, you’re likely wondering what to expect when you have a professional inspect your sewer lines. Here are each of the main steps in the typical sewer line inspection process.
1. Calling a Plumber
To schedule a sewer line inspection, you’ll need to call a plumbing service. On the phone, you’ll provide them with your address and some basic information about the reason for the inspection. You’ll then schedule a date and time for them to come to your house and perform the inspection.
2. Finding an Entry Point
When the plumber arrives at your home, they’ll have a sewer inspection camera with them. This camera normally looks like a coiled length of cord, or snake, attached to a small monitor. The plumber will take it to a place on your property that opens into your sewer line, which could be an entry point in your yard or a drain inside your home.
3. Locating the Problem
The plumber will then insert the snake, with the camera at the front end of it, into the opening. As they feed it through the pipe, they’ll watch the monitor, which will show what the camera’s seeing. Eventually, the camera will reach the point where the problem lies, revealing what it is.
You might see roots poking through the walls of the pipe, or a place where it’s broken apart. Or, if you scheduled the inspection as a precaution rather than a response to a particular symptom, you may not see any problems at all.
4. Scheduling Repairs
If the inspection does reveal a problem, you’ll then have to look into getting it fixed. Your plumber can give you an estimate on how much it will cost to make the repairs, and then schedule a time to have it done. These repairs will be more disruptive than the inspection, but they’ll still be much more straightforward than they would be without the inspection.
Locating the problem with the camera enables the plumber to see exactly where the issue lies, so they can focus the repairs only on that spot rather than digging up the whole system in search of the place that needs fixing. Some repairs may be as simple as blasting high-pressure water through the pipes to dislodge a blockage, which doesn’t require anything to be dug up at all.
Between the inspection itself and any necessary repairs, a typical sewer line inspection cost comes out to a few hundred dollars. The alternative, however, is to avoid an inspection and risk a problem getting completely out of control, which could cost thousands of dollars to fix. It’s far cheaper and more effective to deal with the symptoms the moment they appear.
Schedule Your Sewer Line Inspection Today
If you’re experiencing any problems with your plumbing, or notice any of the symptoms listed above, Dick Ray Master Plumber is here to help. We offer friendly, professional and timely service across the Kansas City area, and we provide high-quality service. If we don’t fix the problem correctly on the first attempt, we’ll come back and do it again for no additional charge.
To set up a time to have your sewer line inspected, get in touch with us or schedule an appointment online. We’ll soon get you back on track with a working sewage system again!