Broken Sewer Line

D. Vautier

I had a backup on my sewer line about 8 months ago.  It was just outside the house.  I cleared it and assumed that it was just bad luck.  The same thing occurred last week so I cleared it and snaked my camera down the outside cleanout pipe to discover a a big clump of root growing just beyond the connection of the 4 inch ABS from the house to the 4 inch concrete pipe lateral.

We had an addition made to our house several years ago and I carefully inspected the plumbing (so did the city guys).  There was a rubber boot that connected the new installed drain to the house lateral.  I believe that the weight of the cement may have forced the new plumbing to move placing strain on the old concrete lateral pipe.  Or the pipe crack may have always been there and they just didn't see it.  Now it was cracked allowing roots to grow.  We have no trees in the vicinity but a leaking nutritious sewer can attack roots from far and wide like sharks to blood.  A general rule is that a tree can spread roots as wide as the tree is tall and our oak tree is 30 feet away and at least 40 feet tall by now.

Dominic vautier next to his jackhammer busting rockThere were two gigantic boulders just over the lateral sewer pipe so I did some research and found that the going cost for 4 foot boulder removal was $1800 each.  I got out my wife’s jackhammer ( she has her own personal jackhammer) and I began work.  The rocks were soft sedimentary so I had a much easier time busting them up.

After we removed the rocks and excavated the area the crack was easily identified. Now came the hard part, finding an honest plumber.  Since this was not a critical project we had time to do a lot of research.  Here are some observations:

1)  Do not get a bid that costs.  Any reputable plumber can give a bid without charging.  If they charge forget it.

2)  Do whatever work you can yourself, like rock removal and excavation.

3)  Don't always rely on yelp or other reviews.

4)  Make sure the bid is not subject to change.

5)  Look for a sewer guy, not just a plumber.

6)  The guy who bids should be the same guy who does the job.

7)  Remember he is interviewing for a job.  You have to be impressed.

As expected, we got bids all over the place, from $315 to $2200.  We took the $315 bid not because it was the lowest but because the guy was really sharp and knew exactly what he was going to do.





exposed house sewer lateral showing crackThe Crack

I excavated down to the crack and then down to the end of the first pipe lateral segment.  There were many roots growing around the area of the crack.











length of PVC connecting house lateral to house plumbingThe Fix

The plumber cut off the pipe half way down without disturbing the lower fitting in the lateral and inserted a length of 4 inch PVC connected with two joints.  He then covered up the connection with 1/4th inch gravel and gave us some advice on how to fill the hole.





tree roots in section of removed house latteralThe Root

I was somewhat astonished at how much root had managed to grow into such a small crack.  Now we will have many years of happy flushing.