Finding out what’s “down under”…

plmb2 Home inspections are a regular and necessary part of buying a home. A home inspector will assess a variety of aspects of a home. They’ll make sure that all major systems and appliances are functioning, will visually inspect the structure, and will make sure that there is no evidence of leaks, slippage or settling or anything else that may be a headache for you as the future homeowner. They will also give you idea of how much useful life remains for the systems in the home.

One system that is excluded from a normal inspection is the side sewer. The side sewer is the sewer drain pipe that connects your house to the main sewer line in the street. Sewer pipes are not routinely inspected by most buyers, but based on our experience, this inspection provides cheap insurance that you won’t have an expensive repair on your hands in the future. Sewer pipes may have problems like low spots, incorrect slope, broken pipes, or offset joints that can cause slow draining or sewer backups. For homes built prior to the 1980’s, it is likely that the pipes are made of clay tile or possibly concrete. Both materials sometimes allow penetration by tree roots, which is a very common reason for sewer backups. Modern sewer pipes are made of PVC plastic, which is impervious to roots when the joints are sealed properly. Fixing a sewer line frequently involves lots of excavation, often including removal and repair of sections of your sidewalk and street. An extensive sewer repair can easily cost $15,000-$20,000, so spending ~$200 on an inspection seems to be a cheap way to buy yourself some peace of mind.

When you order a sewer inspection, the inspector will snake a portable camera system into your sewer pipe and be able to see the pipe interior on his LCD monitor as it travels all the way to the sewer main. Most inspectors will be able to record this “journey down under” on a CD or video tape so that you can refer to it later. Probably the slickest part of the process is that if a problem is found, they use another piece of equipment above ground called a transponder which will pinpoint the underground location of the camera and the problem. They will mark the ground with spray paint to make it easy for a sewer contractor to locate and repair the issue.

While we strongly recommend sewer inspections for many home purchases, we also caution you about using a drain/plumbing company to perform the inspection. Most drain companies pay their employees large commissions (could be as high as 25-40%) for any new work that they source. Guess what, if your inspector thinks he can make a commission, he may exaggerate the issues he finds and lead you to believe that you need to pay for unnecessary work. If possible, we recommend using a third-party inspection service who is not paid for any repairs after the inspection. An experienced real estate agent should be able to help you find a qualified inspector.