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Do You Live in an Older Home? Why You Need a Sewer Line Inspection

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Sewer inspections are a must for anyone buying a home. When purchasing an older home, a thorough sewer line inspection is even more critical.

Sewer lines in older homes may be riddled with actual or potential problems. To prevent a future headache or emergency, inspections should be done before the purchase, not after.

If you’re considering buying an older home, this inspection should be at the top of your list. To learn more about why a sewer inspection is a must before buying, read on.

What is Considered an Older Home?

If you’re buying a house that’s more than twenty years old, it’s considered an older home. There are several factors that can cause older sewer lines to fail. Some of these are external, while some involve the structure and integrity of the construction materials of the sewer line itself.

Over time, issues affecting the sewer line can accumulate and add up to failure. Replacement and repair are costly, so you’ll need to know exactly what you’re getting into should you decide to move forward with your home purchase.

The sewer lines of older homes may not affect line performance at the time of purchase. However, cracks, holes, pipe separation, and tree root intrusions will almost certainly result in future backups and leakage when unaddressed.

The only way to protect yourself in a buying situation is to have a sewer lateral inspection. This inspection thoroughly investigates the entire length of your line, known as the lateral, from the home all the way to the city main connection.

What issues might cause sewer line trouble? There are many factors that can play a role in sewer line failure in older homes.

Tree Roots

Trees are slow-growing but extremely destructive when it comes to sewer lines. This is especially so in older homes where trees have been growing for many years. This allows time for root growth and expansion.

Tree roots work their way into small openings or compromised areas of sewer lines and expand over time. A sewer line is usually tree root-friendly inside, offering moisture and plenty of waste products for nutrients.

The root expansion makes tiny openings into larger ones. This leads to leaking, pipe separation, and potential future sewer line collapse. The root may also grow large enough to collect debris and block the line entirely.

Many older homes have sewer line parts that were constructed from concrete or clay. These materials are especially susceptible to cracking, allowing easy access for tree roots.

Sewer line damage caused by tree roots requires expensive excavation to clear away roots and repair or replace problematic areas.

Locating Roots with a Sewer Line Inspection

Problematic tree roots generally can’t be found by an above-ground visual inspection. Plumbers perform a sewer scope inspection to go inside the line and find areas of concern.

These inspections take about an hour to complete. During the inspection, a small video camera is inserted into the sewer line through the sewer cleanout. This cleanout may be located outside, in the crawlspace, or in the basement of the home.

Scoping is done from the location of your cleanout all the way to the main line. This sewer camera can easily find hidden blockages from tree roots. The camera operator will be able to spot the exact location of the damaged area and can then mark it at the surface.

Root intrusion only worsens over the course of many years. A pre-purchase inspection alerts you to current or potential tree root issues with the home’s sewer line.


If the home you’re interested in buying is very old, it may have been built before the city’s sewers were put in place. These homes originally had their plumbing directed to a cesspool. Cesspools are concrete, cement, or brick-lined pits that serve as underground storage containers for sewer waste.

Some older homes that previously relied on these have sewer lines that remain connected to the cesspools even though they’re also connected to the main city line. These cesspools may collect solids over time and will need to be addressed.

You’ll want to know before you purchase if there’s connected cesspool on the property that will need to be decommissioned. A sewer camera inspection can easily find connection points to old cesspools.

Sewer Line Construction Materials

The materials used in the construction of older sewer lines frequently causes line failure after years of use. In addition to clay and concrete lines that are prone to cracking, other older sewer line types can cause big problems.

Some sewer lines are made using Orangeburg pipes. These pipes are composed of wood pulp and coal tar that has been pressed into a pipe shape. They’re essentially very thick tar paper.

Tar paper sewer pipes had been used since the 1800s. Their popularity surged around World War II due to cast iron shortages resulting from the war. It remained popular until the 1970s because of its low cost.

Homes built before the seventies should always have a sewer line inspection done before purchase to rule out Orangeburg pipes. Even preventative measures and regular maintenance won’t save tar paper pipes. They eventually break down and collapse after years of use.

If an inspection reveals Orangeburg pipes, you’ll be able to negotiate with the seller for sewer line replacement costs or avoid the purchase entirely.

Inspections Reveal Poor or Incomplete Repairs

Even if the home’s seller has supposedly fixed or replaced the sewer line recently, a sewer camera inspection should still be performed. Never rely on claims or even paperwork showing that work has been done.

Sometimes sewer line fixes are not done properly. Some lines may also be only partially replaced. You won’t be able to tell without a professional inspection done with a sewer scope.

Sewer Line Inspection Essential for Homebuyers

Older homes can be attractive for their charm and affordability, but there are special considerations to make when buying one. It’s important to protect yourself when considering this purchase by having a sewer line inspection performed.

Have you found the older home of your dreams? If so, let us help you be prepared and protected before you make your purchase. Contact us for more information today!

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