Internachi certified professional inspector
I am always looking for ways to further advance my goal of providing the best value in town and accordingly recently added another service to our repertoire. After months of training and testing I launched our sewer scope services in October of this year.
What motivated me to finally launch this service? I was driving down a street just off the Halifax Peninsula and saw a home’s front yard being torn up, after noticing how the street beyone the yard had more patches than actual pavement from recent sewer work. I have also seen the results of sewage backup in a commercial building and thank my lucky stars I have never experienced it at home. I also remember that, as a high school student in the 90s, I lived in a neighbourhood that had issues with sewer pipes, it was a running joke about trying to predict how long until the next lawn was going to get dug up as it seemed literally every week (often during the winter) the excavators would be out in full force. Of course, sewer backups don’t wait until a convenient time to appear, and you won’t have time to carefully vet contractors or price shop for the best deals.
There is a common misconception that a sewer failure will be paid for by insurance or by the local utility (in our case Halifax Water). Unfortunately, standard home insurance usually does NOT cover sewage system failures. Of course, contact a licensed broker since we are home inspectors not insurance representatives for information specific to your home.
It has also been claimed that only older homes need a sewer inspection. While it is certainly less likely to see problems in more recent homes, I have known from other home inspectors that even brand-new homes can have sewer problems such as poor installation (in one case the sewer line just randomly ended before reaching the street!) and tree root infiltration. While I always suggest a sewer scope just for peace of mind alone, if you have any of the following:
it is HIGHLY recommended by professional home inspectors that a sewer scope be performed both at the time of inspection AND at regular intervals. While sewer failures seem sudden, they almost always develop slowly over a long period of time and can usually be detected with a quick sewer scan. Here are a few samples of what a sewer line looks like: don't worry about being grossed out: the lump is just a hairball, and the yellow streak is simply ABS cement that holds two pieces of waste pipe together: the installer likely used a little too much and it dripped down, but this is not a defect or an issue whatsoever.
One of the biggest concerns I see from potential new homeowners is the cost of dealing with sewer problems. While it can be very expensive to repair a sewer line, the biggest concern is having sewage backing up into the home and being unable to use water until repairs are completed. In many cases I recommend getting the main sewer line scoped to check for clogs or damage before a home is purchased.
While it is always a good idea to get a sewer inspection done, I generally tailor my advice based on the individual property being inspected. As a rule of thumb, every home over 20 years old should have the sewer lines checked but it is especially critical to get an inspection done for the following two scenarios:
The Property has Large Trees
It goes without saying that large trees have large roots, roughly equivalent to the span of the branches. The biggest concern is that roots can pierce and slowly destroy the sewer lines, leading to sewer backup or a sewage leak on the property.
The Home is Older, Especially a Home Built in the Mid 70s or Earlier
There are several common-sense reasons older homes are more likely to have sewer failures, but the main concern I have is no-corrode piping, otherwise known as orangeburg. Contrary to the name, these pipes are black, not orange and are named after Orangeburg, New York where they were originally manufactured. They were generally used residentially from the early 1940s to 1974 and are made of compressed wood fibres and tar. Not only are they at the end of the expected 50-year lifespan but this type of pipe tends to collapse and cause complete sewer blockage and is a cheaply made, poor quality material overall.
It is never my intention to alarm or scare homeowners or home buyers, but the simple fact is that no-corrode piping needs to be replaced if discovered: if it hasn’t failed already the chances of failure in the coming years is very high and it is a miracle there are still functioning orangeburg systems in 2021. The only way to determine if you have it is to have the sewer system scoped. This is a service that I am looking to add to our company in the near future but in the meantime, there are several plumbing contractors that can perform a sewer inspection.
Here are a few warning signs that it may be time for an inspection:
Finding a problem early before it escalates to a complete blockage or sewer pipe collapse will allow to time to plan a repair on your schedule while avoiding the nightmare that is sewage backup into a home. I have seen the results of sewage going where it shouldn't, and I promise you it isn’t something you ever want to see or smell.