Do You Have a Sewer Line Break or Sewer Pipe Back Up?
April 23, 2013

city sewer and houseA broken sewer line can be stressful, hazardous to your family and a confusing problem.  There are many variables associated when determining if the sewer line is broken or clogged, what caused the problem and how to fix the broken or clogged sewer line.

Signs of a broken or clogged sewer line

1. A foul odor may become apparent starting in your basement.  This is a strong sign that  the sewage from your house is not reaching the city sewer line, which is usually located in the roadway.

2. You may hear a bubbling noise when flushing your toilet or using your sink; in this case you most likely have a blockage as the air is having trouble when trying to escape your sewer system. 

3. Your Sewage is starting to backup into your home caused by an obstruction in-between your house trap and the city sewer.

The most common factors causing issues with your sewer line

1. The average life span of a sewer line is 40-60 years in NYC, it is very common for old clay sewer pipes to crack or separate after many years of usage.

2. The sewer line may have been invaded by roots from a tree located near your home

Roots in clay sewer pipe
Roots in clay sewer pipe

Broken clay pipe
Broken clay pipe

3. The sewer line has not been maintained for many years, a periodic cleaning should be performed as a preventative step to avoid any major sewer main problems.

4. Utility companies have performed work in the roadway causing additional stress to you sewer system.

How to determine if the pipe is clogged or broken

A professional sewer cleaner should be called to perform a detailed analysis on the sewer pipe which will most likely start with “snaking” the sewer line to clear it of any obstructions.   The sewer cleaner may encounter an obstruction where the snake cannot pass; this is usually a strong sign of a cracked or broken sewer pipe.  At this point you may want to have a camera put in the sewer pipe to assess all details of the obstruction, a camera will be of no help if the sewer line is not running and there is sewage sitting still in the pipe.  You may also want to consider a Hydrojet cleaning method of the sewer line however; this may serve as a temporary fix to a larger issue which can result in a complete failure of your sewer line leaving you without any usage of sinks, toilets, showers etc.  The Hydrojet method may also cause additional stress to what may be a fragile sewer line resulting in more damage the the pipe.

**The average price to have a sewer line cleared out with a snake may range from $150-$400.   A camera installation may cost anywhere from $200-$500.

Facts to consider when fixing a broken or cracked sewer line

By this point you should have an idea of what is causing the sewer line to malfunction; these details should be provided to a Licensed Master Plumber who will provide options on how to resolve your issue.  If it has been determined that the pipe is broken, cracked or separated, you should consider whether:

1. The existing pipe is a clay pipe, repairing a clay pipe is very risky as the remaining sections of clay pipe are expected to break at some point in the near future.  The cost of replacing a sewer line at different points in time can be 3x as expensive than if you were to replace the entire line from the house to the street at one time.

2. Have you already had repairs completed on your sewer line?  Did the previous repairs include connecting to old pipe?

3. Is your pipe properly flowing on gravity or is your pipe back pitched?  Can a repair on your sewer line resolve the pitch problem or is a full sewer line replacement the only way to resolve your problem the right way?

4. Is the broken pipe near the foundation wall or the city connection in the roadway?  If yes, it may make more sense to repair the pipe pending the age and material of the existing pipe.

5. Are tree roots causing your sewer problems?  Once roots invade your sewer line there is no turning back, it is an extreme risk  to repair a section of pipe as the roots have already entered your pipe and will continue to grow even after they have been cleared out.

How to find a reputable sewer and water main contractor?

1. Check with the BBB.  All Better Business Bureau accredited businesses experience a detailed background check before being approved.

2. Online reviews are a great way to obtain feedback from people in your area on their experience with a similar problem.

3. Get referral sources from the company – A reputable company should be able to provide you with contacts of neighbors or other businesses in your area.

4. How long has the contractor been in business? 

5. Confirm the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured? You can check to see if a contractor is licensed on the DOB website.

Do not wait for a complete failure of your sewer line

It is very common and understandable that a property owner may not want to deal with potential sewer line issues as it can be stressful, costly and timely however, when dealing with sewer lines the problem will always get worst over time.  It is best to follow the above steps when experiencing any sign of a problem with your sewer as it is very possible that you can prevent a major problem when taking precautionary measures.