When buying a used car unless you are a mechanic, it is a good idea to take it to a mechanic and have them take a look, “under the hood”. When it comes to buying an older home you should always be sure of what you are buying. Of course you can’t, put a home up on a car lift and take a look, but there are a lot things you can look for. Some of those things, could be lead paint, mold, meth, electrical, structural issues, roof issues, the list is large and important. An ofter forgotten or neglected inspection is of the sewer line.
If you have ever seen a sewer line replaced, it isn’t pretty. Usually, it involves digging an enormous trench across your front yard and tearing up the sidewalk and partially into the street. The costs very, but here locally it is between $13,000 – $17,000. For all of our clients who are buying homes, we recommend having a plumber “scope” or camera the sewer line prior to buying the home. The plumber will usually find a clean-out in the main sewer line in the basement, or run the camera from the main line on the roof, or remove a toilet and scope from there. The camera is inserted into the pipe and pushed through the sewer line on a cable with the goal of getting to the main sewer line in the street. The plumber has a recording device that records what he sees and usually the camera will have a distance gauge that shows up on the screen so he knows how far into the pipe the camera is.
There is nothing glamorous in sewer pipes. Usually, they are full of toilet paper and other debris. What the plumber is looking for are things like cracks in the pipe, bellies in the pipe, and places where the pipes have slipped at the connections. These are all signs of future problems. Sometimes, the debris can mask other problems or look like problems that aren’t really a problem. In those cases it is best to have the line jetted by the plumber and then camera the line again. Many times, we have had the line cleaned out and what we thought was a problem was a crack in the pipe was nothing more than some old debris.
The cost varies between plumbers, but to camera the line it is usually about $200. To jet and clean out the line can be another $200-$300 dollars. So, the process isn’t cheap, but it is worth the piece of mind knowing your sewer is alright. Most homeowner insurance companies do not cover the main sewer drain. Some 3rd party companies do. Here in Salt Lake City, we have a company that covers the cost of replacement for around $7 a month. This can be a good deal if you end up seeing the possibility of a future problem, but can’t get it fixed when first buying the home.
Here are a couple of “dirty movies” showing a before and after clean-out of the same drain. When we saw the first video, we were sure that there was a problem with the sewer, but after cleaning it out, it was actually in really good shape.