How To Detect And Repair A Sewer Leak On Your Drain System

Sewer Service
September 19, 2017

by David Balkan

sewer leak

Any leak on your plumbing system can be hard to detect, and equally as hard to diagnose. Sewer leaks can often be mistaken for a leak on a water supply line or rainwater. A sewer leak on your drain line, or main sewer line, can easily cause damage to your property.

There are definite signs of a sewer leak. Standing or ponding water in your yard can be a sign of a leak from your home sewer. Stagnate and ponding water from leaking sewer pipes is also a health hazard to you and your entire family, and frequently goes misdiagnosed. Leaking drain pipes can also undermine your drain system and cause pipe sags and separations.

Sometimes a ponding condition in your yard (standing stagnant water) is not from a sewer line leak or other plumbing issue but from rainwater. In those cases, some adjustments to your landscaping may solve the standing water issue.

Testing for a sewer leak: A sewer dye test

Because leaking water can be hard to diagnose, a dye test is often recommended to pinpoint the source. Many times pipes or water service lines are replaced, only to discover they were not the source of a leak. Contrary to what most people think, sewer water is not always dirty or discolored. Hence, it often gets mistaken for a water supply line leak.

Another way to make sure of the source of standing water is to do a water test. Sewer water, drinking water, and rainwater all have different properties that can be revealed via a water test. There are many types of water testing kits available online, local water testing companies and your local DEP may be able to test the water for you as well.

A sewer leak causing ponding in a yard area.
Standing water in your yard can be from a leaking sewer pipe

A sewer dye test is not hard to do, and food or clothing dye can be used. Specialty dye made specifically for plumbing dye tests can also be purchased for a test. Whatever dye you use, it should be brightly colored yellow, orange, or any unmistakable color.

If a water leak is evident above a finished floor, simply add some dye into one fixture at a time then run some water. In the case of a toilet, add the dye then flush the toilet once or twice. Depending on the location of the leak and your plumbing fixture, the dye may take minutes or hours to appear. Needless to say, if dye appears you have a leak from one of your sewer pipes or a pipe joint.

Testing for a Sewer Leak on your Main House Sewer

If your main house sewer exits your house above the floor, leaking sewer water can also get mistaken for a water service line leak. For instance, seeing water on your basement floor, below your sewer and water service lines, does not automatically mean you have a water main leak. 

To test if it is leaking sewer water, simply open your house trap and introduce some dye into it. Flush a toilet once or twice, and wait awhile. Depending on the severity of the sewer leak, it can appear in minutes or may take hours. This simple sewer dye test can prevent you from replacing your water service line for no good reason. A dye test can also determine if standing water (a ponding condition) in your yard is from leaking sewer water.

sewer leak
A sewer leak can be mistaken for a water line leak

What Damage Can a Sewer Leak Cause?

A sewer leak inside your home can damage Sheetrock, floors, carpentry, and other valuable objects such as cabinets. Left unattended leaking sewer water can lead to mold, and more serious structural damage.  A leaking sewer water on your main house drain or house sewer can also cause extensive damage if ignored.

An Underground Sewer Can Cause Sewer Pipe Settlement

Sewer water leaking from a pipe joint or broken pipe washes away the soil supporting the drain system. Eventually, the leak will undermine your drain pipes and cause sags or separations. Leaking sewer water can also lead to a ponding condition in your yard, which is unsanitary.

Repairing a Sewer Leak on a Home Sewer & Drain System

Repairing a sewer leak inside your home is easier if the pipes are above the ground floor or basement floor. It frequently means removing some Sheetrock and exposing the leaking pipes. This is a relatively easy job. Usually, pipes leak from a lack of support. So, any repair should include adding pipe supports in the form of pipe hangers to avoid another issue down the road. In most cases, it is wise to trust these repairs to a local licensed plumber.

broken house drain
Under slab sewer leak and ground settlement cause pipes to disconnect

Repairing an Underground Sewer Line Leak

A sewer leak below ground is more difficult to repair. Having to break a concrete basement floor requires heavier tools, sometimes a jackhammer is needed. It is also harder to pinpoint the location of an underground leak. Underground leaks should be handled by licensed plumbers. The skill set is well above that of a maintenance person or a homeowner.

Underground leaks form drain pipes on the main house sewer require an even higher skill set. Relatively deep excavations typically have to be made. Safety in following proper excavation procedures is a mandatory skill set. In addition, in almost all jurisdictions permits are required, and a licensed plumber must perform the work.

sewer water
Specialty equipment is used for underground sewer repairs

Who to Call For a Sewer Leak Outside of Your Home

When excavation work is required to repair an outside sewer line leak, you should only consider a licensed sewer contractor. Not only is installing house sewer pipe more complicated but the excavation must be done by a highly trained crew of workers. Excavations made by unskilled or inexperienced workers are typically unsafe. Improper excavation can result in injury or death. And on an annual basis, fatalities do occur.

Another key point is that house sewer pipes must be connected by knowledgeable plumbers. As about 90% of sewer repair is comprised of the excavation and backfill, connecting the new pipe properly is vital. To access it again for corrective work would be most time-consuming.

In NYC, and most municipalities, a sewer contractor must be bonded, licensed, and insured. In addition, permits must be secured, and DEP inspections arranged in almost all cases. Your assurance of a job well done is making sure all the above components are in place before making a hiring decision.

A Little Bit About Balkan Sewer And Water Main Service

Balkan Sewer And Water Main Service has been in continuous operation for over 70 years. Balkan is also the largest water main and sewer contractor in NYC. If you suspect you have a sewer leak or any other subsurface plumbing issue, contact Team Balkan today. Balkan is your assurance of a job both diagnosed and done correctly the first time.

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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.

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