The Difference Between Sewer Line Repair and Replacement

Harris Water Main and Sewer employee assessing a sewer line break

It’s fairly common for a homeowner to confuse a sewer line repair for a replacement. Sewer cleaners are quick to tell a homeowner that they must repair their sewer line when they actually require a full line replacement—and vice versa.

The confusion occurs when a plumber is scheduled for an estimate to fix a broken sewer line, and the first question the plumber inquiries about is if they need a repair or a full line replacement. These details are extremely important as there is a major price difference between the two options.

When a contractor performs a sewer line repair in NYC it’s important to consider a few variables to assist in making the right decision on repairing vs. replacing your pipe.

  1. Where is the pipe broken, and is this the only break in the pipe?

If you have more than one break in the pipe you should consider replacing the entire sewer line to avoid any additional issues in the future.

  1. What is the material make-up of the existing sewer line?

If you have a clay sewer line, it’s always suggested to replace it with cast iron. Even if you only have one section of the pipe that is broken and the remaining 75% of the clay pipe is in good condition, we recommend upgrading the entire service line in one-go.

  1. Where is the location of your broken pipe?

If the pipe is broken within 10’ of the foundation wall you can replace the entire sewer line from the house to the property line together, and worry about replacing the remainder of the pipe as time goes on. In this case, it’s suggested to get an estimate for replacing the entire pipe along with repairs to the damaged section on your property. This will give you a good understanding of the pricing variance. You should also ask what the cost would be if you replace the two sections at different stages. For some contractors, there may be a larger mobilization fee for two separate dates.

  1. How much of a concern is price?

The cost for a sewer line repair in NYC continues to rise on an annual basis. Meaning, the longer you wait, the more expensive a secondary repair will cost if you do not replace the entire service at one time.

  1. Are you prepared for the possible need for multiple repairs?

If you repair a section of the pipe, you are still susceptible to experiencing backups in the future. This means that the sewer line can backup in 5 days or 5 years, in some cases there is no way to tell until the initial repair is completed. In many cases the homeowner does not want to assume the risk and deal with the potential health hazard so they replace the entire sewer line. In other cases the homeowner is managing their funds and feels it’s in their best interest to assume the risk for the present time.

  1. What is the nature of the repair?

There’s a possibility that your sewer line is suffering from a back pitch, which the plumber may not be able to resolve from a repair. In many cases, the plumber must correct the pitch by lowering the pipe in the street and raising it on the property.

  1. Is the damaged caused by invasive tree roots?

Tree roots will not go away unless the entire pipe is replaced. Repairing a section of the pipe may alleviate the root intrusion for a period, but roots will always find their way back inside the pipe through older sections.

The final decision on if a sewer line repair or replacement may differ depending on several variables specific to your property. It’s suggested to consult with a licensed professional who specializes in sub surface water main and sewer repairs to understand the pros and cons for each option. The property owner should ask as many questions as possible before gaining a true understanding of what works best for their property and personal needs.

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