Inspecting a home before your purchase is a critical piece of due diligence that you should do as a home buyer. One home system that is often overlooked is the sewer line. Normal home inspectors don’t examine it, since it is buried in the ground and it requires special camera equipment to inspect. The prudent home buyer will always have the sewer line inspected, regardless of the age of a home.
sewer lineA sewer backup is a potentially nasty and expensive event when you own a home. Sewer line repair can also be extremely expensive, as it requires a lot of excavation and potentially street/sidewalk repairs. A cheap sewer line repair can cost $5000, and once you get in to the street, it can quickly reach a $10,000-$25,000 repair, making it one of the single most expensive repairs you could face during home ownership.
The sewer line is the pipe that exits the home and joins up with the city sewer main, usually in the middle of the street. In North and Central New Jersey, the oldest homes have sewer pipes that are made of clay. Sometime around the middle of the 20th century, this changed to concrete. Then came cast iron piping which became recognized by the sewerage and soil pipe industry for residential homes. In the late 70’s-early 80’s, builders began using plastic pipes (PVC or ABS). Clay, concrete and cast iron pipes are susceptible to cracks and tree root infiltration at the joints between section of pipes. Plastic pipes are glued together and impervious to roots. However, there can be issues with new plastic pipes as well. Cracks, pipe shifting, low spots and roots can all cause the sewer to backup into your home.
We have plenty of examples of sewer problems that we discovered in both old and new homes. The lesson here is to not necessarily trust what you are told about a sewer line, unless you have video from a recent sewer scope verifying its condition.
The bottom line is that sewer lines of all ages can have potential issues. Personally I would never buy a house without scoping the sewer line. If you suspect the home has clay, concrete, and cast iron lines, a sewer scope is a must. Even with plastic lines, we’ve found plenty of issues that need to be addressed. The couple hundred bucks you spend on a sewer scope inspection is well worth it to avoid costly and messy repairs in the future.