Correctly Verifying and Locating a Sewer Break – Using Modern Tools & Expert Advice

Sewer Service
August 3, 2021

by David Balkan

Breaking up a roadway with a jackhammer.

Need help locating a sewer break? A common myth is that home sewer lines can never break. A sewer break can be both stressful and confusing as there are many factors to consider when determining if there is a break, where the break occurred, and how to locate and repair the break.

Sewer line breaks can occur because of pressure from growing tree roots, corrosion, and shifting of the ground due to natural disasters or construction. Whatever the cause behind a sewer break, locating a sewer break will require professional attention to ensure the damaged lines are replaced as swiftly as possible.

Locating A Sewer Break Can Be Difficult And Deceiving

Water always seeks its lowest level and seeks the point of the least resistance. What does this mean? This means that unless there is an obstruction, water will run downhill, according to gravity, and according to the pitch of the pipe. However, the exception applies when there is an obstruction and you’re in the process of locating a sewer break. When there is a blockage then the water seeks the path of least resistance, which is the lowest point of exit (such as a floor drain).

Locating a sewer break with a pipe locator.

Taking the above into account, where wastewater may surface is not necessarily indicative of where the sewer break is located. Yet, while water’s level-seeking may seem obvious, it can trick you. If the level of wastewater, floodwater, or sewage is higher than the drains in your home, such as the drains in your basement or lower floors, a backup can easily occur.

Common causes of sewer line failure include the following:

  • Root intrusion: The roots can invade sewer lines and cause clogs
  • Ground shifting: Sewer lines can become disjointed as a result of ground shifting, creating an entryway for debris
  • Weather: Fluctuations in temperature can cause significant stress on sewer lines

Here are a few ways to test for a drain clog or blockage:

  • Turn on your bathroom sink and watch closely for rising toilet water, or in the base of your shower or bathtub.
  • Use your washing machine and look for an overflow in your toilet, shower drain, or floor drain.
  • Flush your toilet and check for water gurgles in your shower drain or bathtub.

If you notice any overflow of water after one or more of these tests, you likely have a clog in your sewer line. The most common sign of a sewer break is when you can see water coming up in your basement from the sewer pit, floor drain, through your walls, or on your sidewalk. Sewer breaks further out than your front yard will typically not surface due to the depth of the pipe. However, leaking sewer water can cause washouts, and undermines.

If you notice water pooling in front of your home, this does not always mean the break or leak is coming from your water line. Surface water can be from a sewer break many feet away, or from a sewer line in your yard. It is not uncommon for a leak to travel up to 20 feet from the source of the leak. The bottom line is that sewer lines can indeed break. However, it is important to definitively locate the break before it can threaten your home with major damage. 

Locating A Sewer Break Can Require Proper Equipment

Proper cleaning is needed to fully attempt to clean out a blockage. If a sewer break does occur, techniques like snaking, jetting, pressurized blow bags, and CO2 can all work efficiently. However, locating the point and depth of the break required specialized equipment.

Modern tools and equipment help homeowners, businesses, and municipalities get their sewer systems repaired and running smoothly again and at the lowest cost possible. Excavating in the wrong location wastes both time and money.

Locating A Sewer Break By Using A Modern Sewer Sonde

A modern sewer sonde emits an electronic signal from the exact point where the snake gets stuck. A trained technician uses a locator above the ground to exactly pinpoint the location of the beak underground. Not only does the receiver portion of the sonde locate the break, but it also positively determines the depth of the pipe. These two vital pieces of information allow the sewer contractor to determine the labor required, and give you an accurate price.

HD Sewer Camera Inspections

The other vital diagnostic tool used before a sewer dig occurs is a high-definition sewer camera. Not only can a modern sewer camera let you see the condition of your entire drain system, but it can also pinpoint the cause of the sewer break. This is vitally important, as the camera not only determines the type of problem but the extent of the sewer problem as well. You can then determine if a spot sewer repair or a full sewer replacement is your best option.

Professionals Using The Proper Drain Cleaning Tools

Removing a break in your sewer is far more involved than clearing a clog in a fixture. If there is significant damage to the line, attempting to clean it out on your own without professional assistance will not fix the underlying problem. Therefore, we recommend the use of professional tools, including one of the most standard tools, a snake (also known as an auger).

Sewer Snaking

Snaking can help break up pipe positions that are clogged, even if the parts are clogged by roots. However, the real test is determining where the clog or break is. Sewer jetting (aka hydro jetting) uses highly pressurized water to break up clogs. Jetting a sewer line is a fast and unique way to clear out years’ worth of roots, grease, and dirt. High-pressure water jetting is extremely effective in cleaning out lines where sound and firm pipes have endured years of buildup.

Pressurized Blow Bags and Sewer Jetting

On the other hand, pressurized blow bags can be effective in situations where snakes are not. Blow bags will come in a variety of sizes, and the blow bag will be inserted into the drain pipe. When the flow of water expands the blow bag past a certain point, pressure will build up and push the valve open. A powerful stream of water will be released, and it is the stream that provides the level of force needed to clean the point of the break. A CO2 drain gun can also unclog stubborn sewer blockages. 

Your home’s plumbing system is comprised of a very complex infrastructure. While the water that travels through the supply line has a minimal amount of substances and minerals, the same cannot be stated for the flow that travels in the other direction.

Several aspects will help determine the best techniques and equipment that need to be used on your home’s infrastructure. A professional technician will determine what solution is ideal for your situation. Professional technicians can also use cameras in pipes to track the drains back to the sewer and locate the issue. Of course, if you do need a “sewer dig” locating a sewer break is vitally important.

HD Sewer Camera Inspection

A modern HD and full-color sewer camera can 100 percent verify that a physical defect exists. It will also clearly show what type of sewer break or defect exists. With high-tech cameras mounted to the end of a fiber-optic cable, the cable will be pushed into the sewer pipe. The camera will be controlled by a certified team member.

A digital recording will be made, and it will show the types of impediments that are interfering with the line. During the HD sewer camera inspection, we will be able to detect roots, buildup, etc. After locating the source of the break, work will be done to remove the obstruction, or the sewer line will be repaired without having to dig up your entire yard. 

Sewer Pipe Locating Equipment

Modern sewer pipe locating equipment can pinpoint where the break is. Furthermore, it can pinpoint the depth of the pipe. When a sewer issue occurs, locating a sewer break’s exact location is of course vital. To find the exact location, it is important to use the right sewer pipe-locating equipment. With modern equipment, you will be able to find targets within most pipe materials and trace existing lines from other services. 

Today’s equipment simplifies locating while ensuring high accuracy. Digging without knowing where you are going can be compared to running your own business without having a plan. You can overcome this by using proper and solid equipment. When you have the best equipment, you will get the best results. The equipment, along with experience and professionalism, will eliminate guesswork and wasted effort.

The Advantages of Locating a Sewer Break

Correctly verifying and locating your sewer break will eliminate digs that were not needed. When excavation is required, it will eliminate digging at an incorrect location. This will avoid unnecessary expenses and unnecessary damage to your property. Locating a sewer break can require extensive digging, and it is something that should not be delegated to anyone who is not a professional. The potential for even greater damage to the sewer is high unless a professional team steps up to handle the task.

Balkan Sewer and Water Main has over 70 years worth of experience with sewers in NYC. Our team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help with your sewer emergencies. We stand out from the competition with our level of customer service, high-tech equipment, and experience. We are ready to help meet your unique needs with our services. Balkan is The Team You Trust.

Contact us today at (718) 849-0900 or (718) 943-5720. You can also contact Balkan Sewer And Water Main to request a free estimate. 

Get A Free Quote
David Balkan

David Balkan is the CEO of Balkan Sewer And Water Main, the largest and most trusted service in New York City. David is extremely active in various NYC plumber organizations being the Chairman of the Subsurface Committee in the Master Plumbers Council, and Vice President of the Subsurface Plumbers Association. In addition David’s expertise is respected by officials of New York City agencies such as the NYC DEP, NYC DOB, and the NYC DOT. He frequently provides valuable input on a variety of industry related matters.

Ready to Get Your Sewer or Water Main Issue Fixed?

Get An Instant Quote
  • We manage every project from start to finish
  • We work quickly with instant quotes & rapid responses
  • We are licensed as a Master Plumber
  • Our GPS fleet ensures we are on time, every time
  • We are available 24/7 for emergencies
  • We back all replacements with a 10-year unconditional guarantee