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Sewer Line Breaks & Repairs

Sewer Line Repairs for Breaks in Frisco Homes

Broken sewer lines are among homeowners’ biggest fears when it comes to plumbing problems. Most homeowners haven’t been through an issue like this before, and aren’t sure what to do or who to turn to. When multiple slow-draining fixtures, frequently recurring clogs, or sewer smells are disrupting your daily life, you deserve permanent solutions from honest, straightforward, and deeply skilled experts.

At Earl’s Plumbing, we strive to be there for homeowners during stressful plumbing situations. We have the latest tools and techniques to accurately diagnose the issue and skillfully repair your sewer line. We’ll do everything in our power to minimize disruption and long-term costs for your home. Contact us today to schedule an inspection and ask us any questions you have!

Schedule Your Plumbing Service Today!

If you live in Frisco, McKinney, Plano, or any of the surrounding communities, give us a call today.

Why Earl’s Plumbing is Frisco’s Trusted Sewer Line Plumber

Unlike many of our competitors, Earl’s Plumbing’s employees do not work on sales commissions. They have no personal stake in finding a problem that does not really exist and have no reason to inflate your invoice. In fact, we have gone in for multiple second opinions and/or price estimates only to discover that a diagnosis was exaggerated or does not even exist at all.

In some cases, we have saved individual customers in excess of $25,000 in unnecessary expenses due to improper or dishonest diagnostics. This type of work is not an exact science. It takes skill, experience, and good equipment but it also takes ethics, honesty, and integrity. At Earl’s Plumbing, we prioritize these values in everything we do.

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Get Peace of Mind With Answers to Your Sewer Line Questions

Our goal is always to provide our customers with a thorough understanding of their issue so they can make informed decisions. If you don’t see what you need here, please reach out to us today.

We often refer to this as the domestic water supply. The other is the sewer system, a combination of all of the various waste and air vent pipes in the home.

All of the various pipes have different names, definitions, functions, and codes. When properly designed, installed, and free of defects, the entire system works in harmony. As a whole, these pipes of the sewer system carry all of the waste and wastewater from your toilets, tubs, showers, and sinks away from the house and into the city sewer or septic system.

Sewer Line Breaks
A sewer line break is a broad description that can refer to multiple issues, including a complete separation, a broken pipe, a cracked fitting at a pipe junction, a bad glue joint, a root infiltration issue, pipe bursting, or any other type of sewer line damage that would prevent a standard hydrostatic pressure test to hold and pass.

A break in the sewer line that goes undiagnosed and/or unrepaired can lead to significant long-term damage. When these breaks are located under the home or driveway, they can lead to structural or foundation damage.

However, sometimes the foundation causes the break and not the other way around. It is impossible to build a concrete slab home without some of the PVC pipe & fittings being encased in the concrete. We usually see this along the perimeter of the home in the concrete area that we refer to as the “footer,” but it is also common to see these pipes pass through the various concrete support beams that are strategically engineered throughout the foundation but hidden from view.

Sewer Line Bellies
The best way to describe a “belly” is that the pipe (usually PVC) has developed a low spot, a bend, or a sag. A sewer line must maintain continuous downward sloping fall from every fixture all the way to the city sewer tap or septic system. When a section of sewer pipe develops a belly, the pipe loses this proper fall causing wastewater to have to move uphill.

Sometimes this is not a problem—at least not initially. However, it creates an area where heavy solids end up creating a stoppage. We can identify bellies by using sewer cameras and line-locating equipment. A sewer pipe should, for obvious reasons, be smooth and never have any standing water inside it. Any spot in the line that has a belly will have standing water and likely some waste debris in it.

Sometimes a slight belly can be managed around with a few lifestyle changes, such as different toilet paper, no wet wipes, no feminine hygiene products, etc. But if the camera shows some standing water or worse, the camera becomes completely submerged and goes underwater, then this would indicate a significant issue that will continue until the line is replaced.

Sewer Line Age – Cast Iron Pipe
Unless it has already been replaced, homes built before 1980 will very likely have cast iron pipe as their underground sewer system. Homes built between 1980 and 1985 are hit or miss, with some being cast iron and some the preferred PVC pipe. But for some, we also see both types of pipe being used in the same house.

In fact, it is pretty common to see cast iron used for all of the underground pipes and PVC used aboveground as second-story drain pipes and vent stack pipes through the roof. So, if you are buying an older home, just because you see white PVC pipe in the attic, you cannot assume you have PVC pipe and everything is good. In fact, we see home inspectors miss this all the time.

Cast iron pipe has a limited lifespan and is no longer being used for underground sewer systems for a variety of reasons, primarily because of cost and limited longevity. We see a lot of older cast iron sewer systems in the south and eastern parts of Plano. We also see cast iron in the older downtown McKinney area and in many of the older rural homes that surround our area of expertise. In these situations, replacing a sewer line is the only viable option.

The longevity of a cast iron sewer system when it was installed was expected to be about 50 years. But with our soils in the DFW area, we are generally seeing between 35–40 years with an absolute max of 45 years. So, if you bought or are considering buying a house that was built in 1980 or before with a cast iron sewer line system, you can expect to pay a sizeable expenditure on an inevitable total sewer pipe replacement.

Buyers beware of homes that are being sold by home flippers! We strongly advise you to let us complete a hydrostatic pressure test and possibly a sewer camera inspection of the main line all the way to the street for any home built before 1990.

For those of you that have been in your home for a decade or two and have been delaying the inevitable replacement, let us come out and map your system and provide a quote. We have financing options available for qualified homeowners.

Sewer cameras allow us to see problems such as:

  • Intrusion from tree roots
  • Pipe leaks
  • Complete sewer line breaks
  • Large clogs and blockages
  • Cracked fittings at pipe junctions
  • Bad glue joints and misalignment
  • Corrosion
  • Sewer bellies and collapsed pipes

We can also use camera inspection services to assess your plumbing system’s overall condition. During a home buying process or for homes older than about 30 years, a preventative camera inspection can be used to help you address problems before they become major headaches.

The type of material used is the biggest variable in regard to potential problems. Below is a brief overview of the most common issues that we see (in some cases, one or more are combined):

Age of the Home
Homes built before 1980 (some areas 1985) where cast iron pipe was commonly allowed or frequently used often run into sewer line issues. Unfortunately, in the DFW area, if the house was built before 1980 and has cast iron pipe, there is no good repair option. Despite the expense, the only truly viable option is a total replacement, and anyone that tells you otherwise is not being forthright.

Foundation Settling
If the clay soil combined with inconsistent weather conditions over the years are causing the home’s foundation to settle, then the underground plumbing pipes will likely be settling as well.  To compound this effect, the slab has 18- to 24-inch deep support beams crisscrossing the slab for additional strength.

Your plumbing pipes—both sewer and water—run through these concrete supports at various points. This movement can often cause bellies (see above) but will also cause breaks at the weakest points, usually at a glued fitting(s).  PVC is somewhat flexible but cast iron is not, further compounding foundation problem effects.

Poor Construction Standards
In all honesty, if you have ever been on a construction site in Texas, you probably know that the expertise can be a little sketchy. And just because the home passed a city inspection does not always mean the work was done correctly. With the volume of homes built, inspectors miss things. Combine the lack of expertise, planning, and proper plumbing standards that will stand the test of time, and you are bound to have issues.

Foundation Repairs
When foundation repairs are required, the jacking, raising, or leveling process can often create breaks and separations in the plumbing system. It is always best to do a hydrostatic test after foundation work is performed. Most foundation companies require it. But take our advice and do NOT use the foundation company’s recommended plumber. We have seen some very unethical practices take place in that relationship. Use a trustworthy, reputable, local plumber that knows the area and has a history of verifiable reviews.

Bad Installation 
In plumbing, there are no plans to follow. The architect tells the plumber via the printed plans where each fixture is going to be. From there, using the forms and measuring to those points, the plumber onsite determines how to layout the entire plumbing system. The cheapest bid wins the contract, and with that comes limited knowledge and experience as well as spending as little as possible.

The cheapest plumber often equals bad outcomes. But the work will still pass the code because code is the minimum standard.  Using common sense, good techniques, and quality materials are key. But the cheapest plumber is often the least knowledgeable and skilled. Fittings are required throughout the system, but each fitting creates a stress point or weakened area. Using the fewest number of fittings possible is a learned and valuable skill.

Improper Fitting Installation 
As noted above, fittings are required throughout the system to junction lines and fixtures. But because these glued joints (technically called solvent welding) are the weaker points, vulnerabilities can be compounded if not installed correctly.

Proper installation includes clean straight cuts, reaming of each cut pipe, and proper priming. Then when gluing, the plumber must ensure that the pipe bottoms out all the way inside the properly prepared fitting. And then it must be held in place by hand for a certain period of time to properly set. You probably have seen how fast houses go up in Texas! Bad planning, poor technique, low skill level, and going too fast, amongst other things, can all lead to problems for the homeowner in future years.

Tree Roots or Landscaping 
Root infiltration in combination with bad landscape planning and layout is one of the biggest issues we see. The landscape guy comes in at the very end of the construction process. Often the plumbing is in the center of the yard and the landscaper installs a huge tree directly over the main sewer line.

As the tree matures, its root ball structure grows larger and the tree becomes heavier. Trees can often cause bellies in the line as they grow. There is also usually at least one or two couplings and/or other fittings in the sewer line leading to the street. This is a weak point, and as it is stressed by the forces around the pipe, the fitting can become separated, allowing tree roots to infiltrate.

If toilets are the original builder-grade toilets, this could be a recurring problem (for more information on that topic, click here). If you continue to have toilet stoppages, the solution could be a simple repair or toilet replacement rather than a sewer line problem.

Clogs and/or Slow Drains
It is possible that just one fixture is the issue, but usually, a significant and/or worsening problem will affect multiple fixtures in a room and/or appear as a combination of multiple items. That might include a toilet stoppage or toilet gurgling, water backing up into the tub/shower through the drain, and the sinks stopping up or draining very slowly.

In the case of a main line problem, the entire first floor of the home may experience these issues. They may start in the front of the house and make their way to the back bathrooms or kitchen as water and debris fills up the pipes.

However, sometimes a break may go unnoticed for months or even years with minimal impact to the home because it is located at a higher point in the slab, such as at a fitting for a vent or waste stack junction. Vent pipes are part of the sewer system and allow air to flow through the lines to prevent a gulping effect. We often see breaks in the vents and/or waste stacks after foundation repairs.

In other words, the break may be low enough and severe enough that the home will not pass a hydrostatic test as a properly functioning sewer system, but it might not be in a location where immediate or significant damage would be caused.

Sewer Gas Smell 
Another possible symptom that could indicate a problem is a random but continual foul smell.  A typical hydrostatic test used for underground plumbing only checks to the top of the slab level. But technically, the sewer system goes much farther than just below the slab.

Some of these lines are dry by design and function as vents to allow air to pass through the system. Therefore, a break of any kind might not produce a visible or detectable water leak. A foul smell that goes unexplained could be sewer gas escaping from a pipe failure. This could be a break or something like an improperly installed fitting. We see this a lot after a remodel where a licensed plumber was not used.

Another issue we see isn’t technically a break, but it can cause thousands of dollars in damage over time—nails and screw punctures. We have seen both nails and screws penetrate sewer lines (and water lines) and cause significant damage. Sometimes this happens during the initial construction (or remodeling) process, and it takes a while for the nail or screw to rust away before the damage is noticeable.

More often, a homeowner has hung a picture, mirror, or shelf on the wall and the fastener ends up penetrating a sewer line. If it is a vent, you will get an awful smell. If it is a waste stack (two-story homes), water and sewage will enter the wall every time an upstairs fixture is used. In addition to water damage, fecal matter will be a byproduct, and over time this can cause mold inside the dark wall. Depending on where this penetration (break) is located, it can be very difficult to diagnose, locate and repair.

Hydrostatic Pressure Test
The primary and most common test to determine whether a sewer line is functional is called a hydrostatic pressure test. We place a rubber test balloon in the main line, creating a stoppage point. This is usually done through the front main cleanouts, assuming they are accessible and in good condition.

From there, the sewer lines under the home are filled with water and subjected to pressure. We then mark a specific point, either in the cleanout or preferably a tub/shower in the rear of the home. The water should then maintain that set level without dropping for a period of 20 minutes.

Failure to hold and maintain that same level would require the test to be repeated to validate accuracy. If it does not hold, then based on the rate of water loss we can start to get an idea of what we are looking for—a complete separation versus a cracked fitting.

If this test is being done for post-foundation repair warranty purposes, a letter will be written acknowledging our findings regarding your records and warranty purposes. We always prefer to perform this hydrostatic test before the backfill of the pier excavation takes place. But if that isn’t possible, we can still perform the test.

Camera Inspection
If the hydrostatic pressure test fails, we typically follow up with a video inspection using a sewer camera. This allows us to look for obvious signs of failures, such as root infiltration, mud, bad fittings, bellies, etc.

However, this technique is somewhat limited in that the camera does not have a steering wheel to turn left and right into the various branch arms of the plumbing system. So we can only inspect the main line before moving to other cleanouts (or vents) in the house. Once a break or problem area is identified, we use a locator device to mark the spot(s) in question.

If your break or issue is not under the home or business but instead in the main sewer line going to the city sewer system (or septic system), this would typically be inspected via video sewer camera only. The problem spot is identified using the camera’s head and a locator device. This will give the location and depth and allow us to provide a price to make that repair.

Sewer Line Isolation Testing
If the camera does not allow us to identify anything obvious, the next steps would be to perform isolation tests of the various branch arms until we find the one that fails to hold. At that point, sometimes we cannot test any further without excavation and/or making a repair for the first known break. There are some occasional workarounds, but things become far more complicated and sometimes not practical or even possible without starting the repair process.

Smoke Test
Another test used to identify failures is a smoke test. This is typically used for portions of the sewer system that are above the slab (usually vents) and can be useful to identify where a sewer gas smell (foul odor) is being emitted.

The entire sewer system is filled with smoke, then we watch for any hint of smoke coming from an area where it should not be coming from. It is important to note that we never want to jump straight to a smoke test. There are steps to be taken for some obvious correctable issues first. There are also many things that can give false alarm smells, such as a rodent problem.

Some of the aspects that determine our repair or replacement methods are:

Location of the Problem
If the break is under the home, we will usually have to excavate a tunnel to the area. That is always preferred if the break cannot be pinpointed so we can access the entire line. Occasionally, we may be able to penetrate the slab and make the repair. This method is never preferred because of the mess and other repairs that have to take place, but sometimes it makes more sense.

If the break is not under the home but in the line going to the city sewer (or septic) then we will excavate the area in question. Sometimes excavation requires us to tunnel under the driveway or sidewalk. Sometimes it requires a third party to remove a tree or other landscape feature.

The break’s proximity to the home’s exterior is always a deciding factor. However, pool decks, patios, mortared retaining walls, large trees, driveways & sidewalks, etc. all play a part in the repair options available. Unless your home is the rare pier & beam variety, the sewer system and lines are always going to be buried below ground. How accessible the repair location is and the amount of excavation that is required are always major factors when building a plan and quote.

How Many Fixtures Are Involved
If the repair is relatively unknown—for instance, affecting an entire bathroom or isolated to a general area (branch arm)—then usually the most viable option in the DFW area is to excavate a tunnel under the home. This allows us to expose all of the lines to all of the fixtures and replumb the entire bathroom, kitchen, or laundry area.

On occasion, as in the case of older cast iron pipe systems, sometimes the entire house has to be excavated via a tunneling process. This will expose every line, allowing us to remove the old age cast iron and replace it with new appropriate-sized PVC. PVC pipe then gets hung with industrial support hangers from the bottom of the exposed slab. This repair option will outlive the home.

How Many Linear Feet of Pipe Are Involved
We have completed tunneling jobs in excess of 150 linear feet under homes from multiple angles and entry points. We have also replaced long runs exceeding 600 linear feet of sewer pipe with pump lift stations that pressurize the wastewater and debris through the sewer line to the city sewer system.

How Much Concrete Removal Will Be Required (If Any)
Almost inevitably, some concrete will have to be cut or chipped away. Sometimes that means a concrete beam(s) that a pipe passes through. Sometimes it means a footer near the exterior of the home that ties a vent or sink drain to the system. Sometimes large sections of the driveway have to be removed. The cutting, busting, and disposal process is one of the more costly things we do. Avoiding this is preferred but almost impossible and sometimes unknown until the excavation has been completed.

Age of System and Type of Materials Used When Installed
Cast iron pipes have a limited lifespan. If your home was built in 1985 it is possible a spot repair or branch arm replacement can be done rather than the entire system. But this is only putting off the inevitable! If your home was built in 1980 or earlier and has cast iron, then an entire replacement is really the only viable option.

Pipe Relining
There is a very complicated “trenchless sewer repair” process from Europe that has made its way to the US market. There are multiple versions, but it is known as “epoxy pipe relining.” We have looked into the various processes, and at this time the equipment and materials are cost-prohibitive versus the tried and true method of a full PVC replacement.

In comparison pipe relining can be approximately double the cost of the traditional excavation and PVC re-piping option. In addition, we have concerns about the limitations and potential problems of these trenchless sewer line repairs.

Pipe relining typically reduces the already narrowed diameter of the smaller cast iron pipe. The relining method also follows the path of the existing pipe as its guide. And if that pipe has developed a belly over the years, then your new epoxy-coated relined system will also have a belly. That makes the whole process pointless because a properly functioning plumbing system must have a constant downward fall.

Limited access due to pool decks, as well as unknown variables such as digging conditions, concrete beam removal, or a second or even a third repair, may need to be taken into consideration as factors that could affect the total price.

Sometimes these large repair jobs are partially paid for by your homeowners insurance, but it is very important that you check with your provider to make sure that you have the extra slab and foundation endorsement. This is a separate policy that covers slab leaks, sewer line breaks, and foundation work.

You must make sure that your policy has this relatively inexpensive endorsement BEFORE the repair need arises because there is typically a waiting period before it kicks in. This extra endorsement to your policy is very affordable and far too often not offered or even mentioned when purchasing your traditional homeowners policy. (For more information read our blog!)

Although Earl’s Plumbing gets paid by the property owner and not the insurance company, we work closely with both parties to ensure that the itemized details, pictures, and descriptions are verbalized properly. Even with the coverage endorsement mentioned above, not every aspect of the job is covered. Knowing this, we do our part to make sure that the reimbursement processes go as smoothly as possible while making sure that we maximize your covered work.

See What Frisco is Saying About Our Drain & Sewer Services

“I highly recommend Earl’s Plumbing! Best crew and company in North Texas. They have serviced my personal residence and many of my rental homes. They have always been respectful of my time and very professional. They explain the problem and solution and allow me to make the decision prior to committing to the work. If you need a great company for your plumbing needs call Earl’s”

Todd G

“Earl’s plumbing is great! Danny came and took care of my problem efficiently and educated me on why it happened and how better to take care of it moving forward. The prices are very affordable and their quick service time is wonderful! Highly recommend them!”

Ravi Patel

“I’m typically very hesitant to call any plumbing company to inquire about services, but when I reached out to Earl’s Plumbing, the experience was extremely positive from the start. I spoke to Brant (I believe he is a manager) who was very knowledgeable, honest and was willing to have someone come out within just a couple of hours of me calling to look into the issue at my home. A few minutes before the plumber arrived, I received a text with information on the name of the plumber (with his picture) and a little info on his experience. That was a very cool touch. TJ was the plumber assigned for the job, and he was AWESOME! He was very outgoing, personable and knowledgeable. He was able to get the job done quickly and efficiently while also explaining (thoroughly) his findings. It was a great experience all around. I would definitely recommend Earl’s Plumbing to anyone and will give them a call if I ever need plumbing services in the future”

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Schedule Your Sewer Line Repair with Earl’s Plumbing

At Earl’s Plumbing, we can help you with your sewer line detection, location, and repairs. Our team is equipped and trained to handle the dirty work, so you can put your mind at ease. If you suspect sewer line problems, contact us today! We’re happy to provide a second opinion on repairs and give you an honest and transparent estimate.

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