They say spring and summer are the peak times for real estate transactions, and for some home buyers, soon after moving into their new home is when they discover they have a sewer line issue. This past summer, we’ve had more than a few customers who’ve recently purchased homes and soon after discovered that their sewer lines were cracked, crushed, clogged with roots or other matter, or had multiple sags or “bellies” (more on that later) in the line. All of these conditions will result in slow drains at best and sewage backing up into the house at the worst.
Most home buyers, prior to settling or closing on a house, have the “usual” inspections performed recommended by real estate agents – general home inspection, roof inspection, radon test, mold test, and if applicable, septic system, private well and chimney inspections. But most buyers don’t have sewer lines or plumbing inspected by a licensed plumber believing it is the county or city’s responsibility if something goes awry. The reality is that the county or city is rarely responsible for any problem that lies on your personal property – it’s up to you to maintain the portion of the sewer line on your property.
Many home buyers also believe that the general home inspection will uncover any problems with the sewer line or the plumbing. However, most general home inspectors will only check to see that the toilets flush, drains drain, and water flows without leaking. However, houses that have been vacant for even a short period of time will often pass this type of inspection easily.
The bottom line is that sewer line trouble usually won’t show until you and your family have been living in the house for a few weeks or even just a few days.
One recent home buyer noticed within a month after moving into their new house that the drains were slow, and eventually there was a backup into the basement sink. We cleaned the drain pipe, and soon after the problem recurred. After sending a camera down for inspection, we discovered multiple bellies in the line. A “belly’ in the line is a low area of pipe that negatively effects the slope of the pipe so that as water and solids go through the pipe they lose speed and can settle in the low area eventually causing a clog. They’re caused by either improper installation of the pipe or from earth settling beneath the pipe.
These home buyers needed approximately 65 feet of new pipe installed with the correct positive slope to fix the issue. The whole project took a day and a half, involved digging up the entire pipe, adding a layer of crushed rock to prevent settling, and then replacing the pipe on the correct slope - and wasn’t exactly cheap. If the problem had been discovered in the “inspection phase” of the home buying process, the home buyers could have negotiated with the sellers to have the drainpipe fixed or possibly even decide not to buy the house at all.
Below is a video of Master Plumber Pat Scheper sending a camera down the main sewer pipe of a home buyer’s potential new house. These home buyers discovered the bellies in the pipe before they purchased the home so were able to renegotiate the price of the house with the sellers based on the cost to repair the pipe.
Another customer noticed after they moved into their new house that the only drain cleanout was inside the house - right smack in the middle of a wall in the finished basement with new carpet and drywall. There wasn’t an exterior cleanout anywhere to be found on the property.
In the event of a backup, the only access to clean the main line out would be in the finished basement. The thought of opening up that pipe in the middle of the customer’s living room – well, grossed her completely out, so we installed an outside clean out shortly after they moved in.
To sum things up, a camera inspection of the main sewer line should be included along with all the other usual inspections buyers include in a home purchase offer. The sewer line inspection can be performed on the same day as other inspections and takes about an hour or two at most.
If you’re buying a home, call us to schedule for a camera inspection of the sewer line before you reach the settlement table!