How to Spot and Stop Sewer Line Problems

Don't let a faulty sewer line wreak havoc on your home maintenance budget. Be proactive about your plumbing and avoid a costly curveball by knowing the signs of sewer line distress.

Your home's plumbing may not be as pretty as new paint or as comfy as new carpet, but it's just as important. Plumbing is a vital feature in your home that keeps it clean and safe for your family to enjoy. One of the most important parts of your plumbing is the sewer line, which connects your home's plumbing to your city's plumbing line. But all too often, the sewer line is out of sight and out of mind until it becomes a costly problem that sends homeowners into an emergency situation.

Instead of making quick decisions that may not be best for your wallet, it's best to understand your options for sewer line repair and replacement and how much these potential options cost. Even better, learn how to spot signs of impending problems before they become a hazardous and expensive headache.

Signs of Sewer Line Problems

To avoid serious sewer problems, it's important to know how to spot initial warning signs. Whether a simple clog is blocking your sewer line or a damaged main is on the horizon, it's important to know what to look for when identifying potential problems.

Clogged Sewer Line

A clog isn't the biggest issue your sewer line may face, but to prevent further problems it's still an important issue to address. One of the first signs of a clog you may notice is slow-flowing drains, like a slow-draining sink or tub. If your drains are taking longer than usual to drain, have a plumber check for blockage. Another indicator of a clog is bubbling or gurgling coming from your drains, signaling that the water isn't moving as well as it should. It's important to take these signs seriously because they could indicate a clog deeper in your sewer line, not just a simple clog in your sink or tub drain.

Broken or Damaged Sewer Line

One of the telltale signs that your sewer line is broken or damaged is a backup of sewage or standing water in your drains or basement. This signals that the water is not flowing through the line or is coming back up, often caused by a collapsed pipe or large obstruction somewhere along the sewer line. Another common indicator of sewer problems is water and sewer bills that are suddenly higher. This could mean that there is a leak somewhere in the sewer line, allowing excess water to escape. If you notice these signs and suspect that your sewer line is damaged or broken, it's important to have a plumber inspect the area ASAP to avoid an emergency sewer situation.

Diagnosing an Outdated Sewer Line

If you know the age of your home, you may be able identify potential problems that your particular type of sewer line may face.

Homes that were built before the mid-1950s often have clay pipes for their sewer lines. These pipes become very brittle over time and are prone to blockage and collapse caused by tree roots. As a tree's roots grow down, they are attracted to the water in the sewer line and may even grow into the line. You may be able to extend the time until replacement by routinely getting the roots cleaned out, but a replacement is usually best before a collapse happens.

Homes that were built from the mid-1950s through the 1960s have pipes made from a material called Orangeburg, consisting of rolled wood pipe and tar. The material was thought to be better than clay at the time of construction, but these pipes actually become very weak over time and are prone to deforming.

Homes built from the 1970s to current day typically have cast-iron sewer line pipes. Cast iron has fewer joints than other materials and is extremely strong. The main problem these sewer lines face is buildup of pipe scale that will catch solids and cause blockage. Replacement usually isn't necessary for these pipes, but they can benefit from yearly cleanings to clear out any blockages.

Sewer Line Replacement Cost

The cost of sewer line repair and replacement heavily depends on the condition of the sewer line problem and the method of repair. Most likely, you'll find that the best repair option is a partial or full replacement of the sewer line. As a general guideline, homeowners can expect to pay between $1,000 and $3,900 for sewer line replacement. It's important to note that this figure is just for the replacement itself. Homeowners may face other costs related to hazardous cleanup or installation.

If excavation is required for sewer line installation, homeowners may face a large increase in costs. Depending on the path of the sewer line, you may also incur expenses related to landscaping, pouring of concrete for destroyed driveways and pathways, and even replacement of structures like fencing, patios, decks, and garages.

Skip Sewer Line Problems

Sewer Line Replacement Options

In times of crisis, many homeowners immediately resort to the traditional method of sewer line replacement: trenching. In the trenching process, a large trench is dug through the yard to gain access to the sewer line pipe, usually leaving a line of destruction in its path. In some situations this is the best choice, but it shouldn't always be the only option homeowners consider. Instead, homeowners should look into both trenching and trenchless methods. The costs of the two methods look comparable on paper, but trenching can end up costing significantly more if the sewer line goes underneath landscaping, concrete, or structures. Because of this, it's important to consider the path of a sewer line before making a choice for sewer line replacement.  

Trenchless Sewer Line Replacement

Trenchless sewer line replacements are becoming increasingly popular because they require minimal excavation compared to the traditional method. Trenchless replacements typically only need two small holes to complete the installation. While they aren't the answer to every sewer line issue, trenchless sewer line replacements can help lower the cost in some situations.

There are two types of trenchless sewer line replacement: pipe-lining and pipe-breaking. Pipe-lining, also known as cured-in-place piping, uses an epoxy-saturated liner to create a new pipe inside of the existing pipe. The lining is pulled through the existing pipe and inflated. The epoxy then hardens, forming the new pipe. In the pipe-breaking method, a hydraulic head pulls a new, flexible pipe through while simultaneously breaking the old pipe.

Switch to a New Sewer Line

Importance of Sewer Line Cleaning

Routine sewer line cleaning is the best strategy to avoid problems that could damage your home or the sewer line. It is recommended to have your sewer line cleaned every one and a half to two years.  This will help clear out any blockages, lowering the chance of waste backup into your home. Sewer line cleaning is also important for identifying sewer line issues before they become an emergency. Plumbers can usually provide an inspection along with your sewer line cleaning to assure that it is in proper working order. You'll find that paying for routine sewer line cleanings is much more cost-efficient than the cost to replace a sewer line.  


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