Why a Sewer Inspection Could Be Critical Before Buying Your Next House

Almost everyone knows that an inspection is a critical piece of the home buying puzzle. However, there is one important system that is not included in the standard home inspection and often gets overlooked by buyers: the sewer lines. But, this critical system shouldn’t be an afterthought. Here are just a few reasons why you should keep a sewer inspection top-of-mind during your next home purchase.

Why do I need a sewer inspection?

While sewer line problems can happen in any age home, Jason Murton with Accurate Inspections, LLC says a sewer inspection is especially important if the home you’re buying was built before 1970.

“Before that time a lot of homes used cast iron pipes and, although they’re made to last, these pipes typically begin to deteriorate long before their lifetime is up,” he said. “Clay tile pipes were also common before 1970, and these had small gaps at each pipe union, which created opportunities for root intrusion.”

Murton says another sign that a sewer inspection may be needed is if your potential property has a lot of well-established trees.

“Certain types of trees are more of a threat than others, but in general, tree roots can wreak havoc on sewer lines,” he said. “They’re attracted to water and will find the smallest crack in a line to force their way through. They are pretty fast-growing, so over time they can ball up and create quite an obstruction.”

Settling, ground shifting, inferior materials, and poor installation are other common issues that, if left undetected, can cause extensive — and expensive — problems down the road. Murton has also seen problems arise from unintentional damage to sewer lines from construction or gas line work.

“We saw an incident where workers unknowingly hit a homeowner's main sewer line while working on nearby gas lines,” he said. “While everything was functioning okay from inside the home, water was leaking out into the ground and the sidewalk was slowly falling down.” 

What happens during a sewer inspection?

During a standard home inspection, the inspector will, of course, run water through the fixtures. But remember, they’re only in the home for a limited amount of time. A partially blocked or damaged sewer line is a problem that doesn’t show up overnight, so the issue may not reveal itself during your home inspection. However, your inspector will likely point out any red flags and may recommend a sewer inspection if there are concerns.

A sewer inspection is a relatively simple process. The plumber or inspector attaches a camera to a snake line, which they maneuver through the sewer lines. You can typically watch everything in real time on a video monitor, and your inspector will likely explain things as he works and allow you to ask questions. Not only will this process tell you if the sewer line is clogged, but it will also reveal the overall condition of the system, including the type and quality of material used.

All sewer inspections come with a written report, and some professionals even provide a flash drive with the video footage. If a problem shows up on the inspection report, you can discuss options with your REALTOR®, whether that means negotiating repair costs or, if the problem is worrisome enough, abandoning the deal altogether.

It’s important to note that not every blocked sewer line is a big-ticket problem, and many sewer lines go through their entire service life without any issue at all. But a sewer inspection is just another tick on the responsible homebuyer checklist and, in some cases, it may be the best prevention money you spend.

“A typical sewer inspection runs about $200 to $300, but it’s really a small price to pay for peace of mind,” said Murton. “The average sewer line replacement costs about $5,000, and if the problem is more extensive, the amount will creep up from there.”

For a list of local service providers visit the Greater Lansing Association of REALTORS® website at www.lansing-realestate.com.