The sewer lines in your home carry all of the wastewater from your toilets, tubs, showers and sinks away from the house and into the city sewer or septic system. Your sewer line is one of the most important infrastructure systems in your home, and it needs to work properly for your health, safety and comfort. At Earl’s Plumbing, we can help you get your Frisco area home plumbing working and flowing as it should.
The three most common reasons that a sewer line would need to be repaired or replaced are for breaks, bellies, and age. Keep reading to learn about each:
A sewer line break is a broad term that could be referring to multiple issues including:
A break in the sewer line that goes undiagnosed or not repaired 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 it’s the foundation that causes the break and not the other way around. It’s 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”.
The best way to describe a “belly” is that the pipe (usually PVC) has developed a low spot, a bend, a sag. A sewer line must maintain continuous fall (downward slope) from every fixture to the city sewer tap or septic system. When a section of sewer pipe develops a belly, it loses this proper fall, causing things to have to move uphill and the heavy solids end up creating a stoppage.
A sewer pipe should never have standing water in it. We identify these problem areas using a sewer camera and line locator. 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 wipes, no feminine hygiene products, etc.). But if the camera shows standing water or worse, it goes underwater, then this would indicate a significant issue that will continue to be a problem until the line is replaced.
Homes built before 1980 will very likely have a cast iron pipe sewer system. Between 1980 and 1985, it’s hit or miss with cast iron or PVC pipe. In some cases, we see both being used at the same house, especially in a partial repair. Cast iron pipe is no longer being used for underground sewer systems for a variety of reasons but primarily because of cost and longevity.
We see a lot of older cast iron sewer systems in Plano, particularly in the south and eastern parts of the city. 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.
The expected longevity of a cast iron sewer system is between 30-45 years, so if you bought a house OR are considering buying a house that was built in 1980 or before, and it has a cast iron sewer line system, then you need to plan to invest in a total sewer pipe replacement.
In summary, we strongly advise that you let Earl’s Plumbing complete a hydrostatic pressure test and possibly a sewer camera inspection of the mainline all the way to the street for any home built before 1990.
In the areas that Earl’s Plumbing serves, most of the homes have PVC pipe with a much smaller percentage being cast iron. Obviously, the type of material used is the biggest variable in regard to possible problems, but below is a brief overview of the most common issues that we see:
The first signs of a potential issue usually presents itself as a stoppage or clog. However, you shouldn’t be overly alarmed if your toilets clog — especially if they’re the original builder-grade toilets. If you continue to have toilet stoppages, it could be multiple much more simple repairs than a sewer line problem.
It’s possible that just one fixture (a toilet) is the issue, but usually a significant and worsening problem will affect multiple fixtures in a room and appear as a combination of a toilet stoppage or gurgling, water backing up and appearing in the tub/shower and the sinks stopping up or draining very slow.
In the case of a “mainline” issue, the entire first floor of the home may experience these issues starting in the front of the house and making their way to the back bathrooms or kitchen.
However, sometimes a break may go unnoticed for months or even years with minimal impact to the home because it’s higher in the slab at a fitting for a vent junction. Vents are part of the sewer line system and allow air to flow through the lines to prevent a gulping effect. We see these types of breaks a lot of times after foundation repairs. So, it’s 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 significant damage would be caused.
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 the top of the slab. But technically, the sewer system goes much farther than just below the slab. Some of these lines are dry by design and act as vents to allow air into 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 wasn’t used.
The primary test for a sewer line system is called a “hydrostatic test.” This is where we place a rubber test balloon in the line, creating a known stoppage point usually through the front cleanouts. From there, the system under the home gets filled with water and subjected to pressure. We mark a specific point, either in the cleanout or tub/shower, and then wait for 20 minutes. The water should maintain that set level. Failure to hold and maintain that same level would require the test to be repeated to validate accuracy.
If this test is being done for post foundation repair warranty purposes, a letter will be written acknowledging our findings for your records and warranty purposes.
If the test fails, then we typically follow that up with a video inspection using a sewer camera. This would allow us to look for obvious signs of failures such as root infiltration, mud, bad fittings, bellies, etc. However, it is somewhat limited in that the camera doesn’t have a steering wheel to turn left and right into the various branch arms of the plumbing system, so we are relegated to inspecting just the mainline.
The next steps for a problem under the house 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 more complicated or even possible without starting the repair process.
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), then this would typically be inspected via video sewer camera only. The problem spot is identified using the camera’s head and a locator. This will give us the location and depth and allow us to provide a price to make that repair.
Another test used to identify failures or a break 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 (foul smell) is being emitted from.
There are many dynamics that affect the repair options of a sewer line break. The most important are:
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’s required are always the biggest factors when building a quote. Unknowns such as digging conditions, concrete beam removal, or a second or even third repair need to be taken into consideration as factors that could affect the total price.
Sometimes these large repair jobs are partially paid by your homeowner’s insurance, but it’s very important that you check with your provider to make sure that you have the extra slab and foundation “coverage endorsement” that covers slab leaks, sewer line breaks and foundation work BEFORE the need arises which will be too late. This extra endorsement to your policy is very affordable and far too often not offered or even mentioned when purchasing your policy.
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 goes as smoothly as possible while making sure that we maximize your covered work.
Lastly, unlike many of our competitors, Earl’s Plumbing Plumbers and Technicians do NOT work on sales commission. They have no personal stake in finding a problem that doesn’t exist and no reason to inflate your invoice. In fact, we have gone in for multiple second opinions and/or price estimates only to find that a problem that was diagnosed was exaggerated or does not even exist. 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. We have that at 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!