There are many issues to consider before fixing a broken sewer pipe. For a typical homeowner the situation can be confusing and simply trusting a sewer contractor can lead to an uneasy situation. There are some very important points to consider before you decide on the scope of work and if you are receiving a fair price. The chief decision usually involves deciding whether to repair a broken sewer pipe or a replace the entire line. The following information should provide valuable guidance.
What type of sewer problem are you having?
This is a key question to answer before any work is commenced. Typically through expert analysis or a sewer video a good idea of the sewer problem can be gained. There are only a few circumstances when a broken sewer pipe should be repaired and not completely or partially replaced. The following is a list of conditions that lend themselves to just replacing the broken sewer pipe itself, or doing a spot repair on a small section of the run.
Broken sewer pipe at the beginning of the run
These types of breaks can typically make sense to repair because the location of the broken sewer pipe and the type of defect can be determined. But also because they are not indicative of a failure of the entire house sewer system. Many times an old house sewer changes over from cast iron to clay pipe 5′ or so after the foundation wall. The joint where the type of pipe changes from cast iron to clay pipe was usually made using some concrete and oakum that may have worn away over the years.
Roots could have grown in or sewer water seeping out could have caused the pipe to settle. In this case replacing only 5′ or 10′ of pipe just outside the foundation wall can make sense. Nowadays there are specialty fittings that make water-tight joints when joining cast iron pipe to clay pipe. These fittings make a spot repair on a broken sewer pipe just outside the foundation wall a long-lasting repair.
Broken sewer pipe at the connection to the city sewer
Likewise if you have a broken sewer pipe at the connection to the city sewer a repair may make sense. Just like in the above case settlement or one poor pipe joint may have caused the problem. However unlike in the above case the point of the connection may be hard to determine. House sewers frequently do not run in a straight line. It is very important to get sewer records before starting a sewer line repair in the roadway. Is it important to note that in NYC the property owner is even responsible for where their house sewer connects to the city sewer. Many people are not aware of this fact.
If a contractor or an event disturbs your house sewer line
Other instances where a repair of a broken sewer pipe can be done with confidence is if a specific event occurs that breaks the pipe in a localized area. Some examples of this are if a utility contractor breaks your sewer line inside their trench, if a tree planting company over-digs and hits the sewer line, if foundation work is being done and the house sewer is encountered. Sometimes an event such as a tree toppling over can break a sewer line in a specific area. Events such as these firmly establish the point of the broken sewer pipe and the cause of the break. Spot sewer repairs in these cases can be done with complete confidence.
Most sewer line problems do not lend themselves to just be repaired in just one area. If a house sewer line is root infested, is back-pitched, is rotten or has multiple separated joints a spot repair makes no sense. In addition if the direction that the line runs in is not certain an attempt at a sewer repair can result in wasted time and money. This is because excavations can be made without ever locating the defect or the house sewer itself. Obviously becoming knowledgeable in different types of sewer problems, and your particular problem, is advisable. For a quick primer and to learn more about sewer problems read this post:
Know the repair and replacement cost ahead of time
Understanding if repairing or replacing a broken sewer pipe is the correct choice is very important. But knowing the total repair cost and replacement cost differential ahead of time is absolutely vital. Attempting to repair a house sewer when it is not advisable goes hand in hand with being fully aware of the price difference between a repair or a series of repairs and a full sewer replacement. Typically a spot repair on a broken sewer pipe will cost around 50% of a total replacement. But if a series of sewer repairs are needed, or additional work is added to a repair, it can soon exceed the cost of a total sewer line replacement.
That is why getting a written quote on what a complete sewer line replacement would cost, even if you do not intend to have this work done, is very important. There are contractors who ‘get their foot in the door’ by quoting a repair job, only to add on to the scope of work and eventually exceed the price of a complete sewer replacement. Having a written quote for all scenarios before sewer repair work starts can avoid disputes with a sewer contractor and job delays once work is started.
Some information about sewer line repair work
Sewer line repair work actually needs more research and information before proceeding than a complete sewer replacement. Sewer repair work requires pinpointing the problem and exactly where the house sewer runs. This is as opposed to a sewer replacement where the starting point of the house sewer is clearly evident.
Putting what amounts to a band aid of a defective house sewer only prolongs the inevitable replacement. In addition a spot repair also often results in funds being spent of video cameras and drain cleaning contractors instead of the required repair work itself.