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Do You Really Need a Sewer Line Inspection?

Contractor installing house sewer pipe in the ground trench
Contractor installing house sewer pipe in the ground trench

Most home buyers today wouldn’t consider closing their purchase without getting a general house inspection. That’s particularly so with older homes, but many elect to have new buildings examined by an independent third party. Inspections are excellent insurance for discovering existing and potential problems. Unfortunately, most home inspectors fail to explore the sewer lines, which can turn out to be a critical and costly mistake.

Home inspectors generally report on current home system conditions. They also estimate the life expectancy of major components. Types of home inspections include the overall framing or structure, roof, building envelope, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems. Inspection reports identify issues that often establish repair or replacement price adjustments during negotiations. However, while a home inspector may note a dripping faucet, they rarely catch the underlying cause of the problem.

Why Inspectors Overlook Sewer Systems

Inspectors might overlook the sewer system for two reasons. One is that the vast majority of a sewer system is underground. It’s out of sight and out of mind. The second reason is that most home inspectors don’t have the specialized equipment or knowledge necessary to do a proper sewer line inspection.

This isn’t a slam against house inspectors. Far from it. Many inspectors are extremely competent and have a vast amount of general building knowledge. It’s tough to be an overall expert when you consider just how many pieces there are in a home’s systems. Just the plumbing system alone is extensive, and good inspectors know what plumbing features to check before buying a home.

Unfortunately, some inspectors fail to consider the sewer lines as an extension of the plumbing system. That’s when problems begin to back up, so to speak. A serious plumbing backup could happen right after you move into your newly purchased home. Someone has to pay for it, and this is when the finger-pointing starts. However, it could have been totally prevented if only someone thought to have an inexpensive sewer line inspection done.

Sewer Repairs Can Be Extremely Expensive

You might wonder, “Do I need a sewer line inspection before buying a house?” The answer is yes. A sewer inspection should be a mandatory part of your house inspection checklist. Do not overlook the sewer line when considering what inspections to get when buying a house. In fact, getting a sewer inspection is one of the most important home inspection tips for first-time buyers. Sewer line inspections are cheap, but sewer repairs can be extremely expensive. Why spend the money on a repair when you could have avoided it with a simple inspection?

There’s no such thing as a typical cost for repairing your sewer lines. It can start at a few hundred dollars to snake out a blockage. Or, it could be tens of thousands of dollars to excavate your yard and replace the pipes. The repair bills depend on the sewer line condition, the problem’s location and the root cause.

No pun intended, but speaking of roots, tree roots are the primary cause of blocked sewer lines. Fortunately, roots are easy to find with a closed-circuit television inspection. Unfortunately, they can be very expensive to dig up and clear out. Having the sewer line scoped should be on your house-buying inspection checklist. In fact, you can’t afford not to inspect the sewer line before closing your house purchase deal.

Sewer Line Repair Options

This worst-case scenario is preventable. It’s hard to say how a court would view repair cost responsibility. There’s a “buyer-beware” and due diligence responsibility on you as a potential purchaser. And there’s no responsibility for a home seller to arrange for a sewer line inspection. Their only responsibility is to disclose potential or existing problems, but they may have had no clue about the trouble brewing under their yard.

But if a problem appears on the sewer line inspection report, you’re free to exercise your options. This depends on the severity of what your inspection turns up. You’ve paid for the inspection, so it’s your information to use. Let’s look at what options you now have.

  1. Estimate repair costs: Not every blocked sewer line is a worst-case scenario. Your inspector might quickly isolate a potential blockage they can easily remove with internal action, rather than digging up the yard. You have time to weigh your options, rather than making a knee-jerk reaction.
  2. Take time to assess: Time is your friend when negotiating a house purchase. Look at the big picture, and assess how extensive the problems might be. Take a step back, calmly plan your next step, and don’t get caught unaware.
  3. Determine responsibility: Having a sewer line inspection lets you determine responsibility for fixing problems. Your inspector will determine the line’s overall condition, and whether potential repairs fall within the home’s property line or in the civic jurisdiction. This is time to get the authorities involved before the deal goes further.
  4. Negotiate repair costs: You have an option to negotiate repair costs with your seller. It’s important to bring parties together and discuss the scope of repairs and who will incur costs. Depending on the situation, your inspection might find a looming threat, but not outright danger. Circumstances will determine if you’re willing to move forward, or if you can now negotiate repair costs as part of your purchase deal.
  5. Abandon your deal: If your sewer pipe inspection finds a severe problem, you have the option to abandon your deal and walk away. This might be a tough decision when everything else about the property appears perfect. But it’s a matter of future costs, and you simply can’t afford to take the risk.