Sewer Line Replacement 101

Sewage water backing up into a basement, beneath crawl spaces and paved surfaces is not only a smelly nuisance that can cause major water damage, but it is also a biological hazard for your family. An initial diagnosis with a professional in-pipe camera service is an upfront expense that can save you time and money with a proper determination of the problem. When asking how much does it cost to repair a main sewer line? The homeowner should consider the cause and complexity of the project, the repair options available, and related projects caused by collateral damage.

Signs and Costs of a Potential Sewer Main Problem

The average cost to repair a sewer main is $2,427, although you could spend anywhere between $1,000 and $3,839, depending on the kind of damage. Homeowners should pay keen attention to the tell-tale signs of sewer system problems or damage. Your home has an inherent early warning detection system which makes it easier for homeowners to be proactive against further damage – if they know the signs:

Clogged Sewer Pipe Signs

  • A bubbling or gurgling sound coming from toilet occurs when entrapped air is able to travel back up through the sewer lines and finds escape through the toilet bowl. This indicates the gas venting system may be blocked with solids (plumber consultation average cost $45 to $150 per hour).
  • Slow flowing drains can be caused by the home occupants clogging the drainage system with non-biodegradable products like oil, grease, and paint; or bulky paper products, hair, skin, and soap scum (average cost $169 to $460 for a typical plumbing job).
  • The smell of rotting food (not sewage) near kitchen drains can be caused by a buildup of food, fat, and other gunk. A plumber may suggest a professional solution with an electric snake or power auger.

Signs of a Broken Sewer Main

A broken sewer main pipe can display multiple signs and have more than one cause. In addition, the above-mentioned causes of a clogged sewer line, when left unchecked can eventually lead to broken or cracked sections of drain pipes.

  • A noticeable backup of sewage in the toilet or basement or persistent clogging of drains.
  • Higher than normal water/sewer bills can indicate damaged seals at pipe joints, causing excess water to spill from the system.
  • A powerful sulfur smell (like rotten eggs) indicates a buildup of sulfide gas from long-standing and decomposing waste.
  • Excessive water or sewage in one location within the yard or around the home may indicate an excessive amount of tree roots that have penetrated the pipes.

Repair Options

With Excavation

Because sewer main lines run entirely underground, often underneath lawns, gardens, patios, or driveways, the project can become a major expense. The contractor will most likely require extra equipment such as jack hammers or a backhoe to gain access to the sewer main. Though the repair may be a replacement of a short length of pipe or the elimination of overgrown tree roots, costs can quickly escalate due to excavation and related project costs.

  • After the underground sewer main is diagnosed, the surrounding area is excavated, the old and broken sections of sewer piping are removed and replaced. (Simple dig and replace average cost $50 to $250 per foot).
  • Depending on the amount of new pipe required, the type of pipe selected (PVC or vitrified clay), whether the sewer lines run underneath a driveway or garage (or other unique property layouts), and the amount of damage from ground water and sewage spills, a complex dig-and-replacement of a sewer main can average $7,000 to $25,000)

Non-Excavation CIPP Lining

CIPP (Cured-in-place-pipe) lining may be an option for your sewer line repair. CIPP lining is a process by which a new sewer line pipe is installed inside the existing one. This helps keep the sewer line replacement cost down by reducing the amount of excavation necessary. CIPP lining is not an option for all repairs but may be worth discussing with your pro.

Trenchless Cured-in-Place Pipe Lining (CIPP)

This process involves only a minimum of landscape excavation and will simply pull an epoxy saturated pipe liner through your existing pipes. One access point to feed the pipe and one to pull the liner through is an attractive alternative to excavation, just keep in mind the new piping will be slightly smaller than the existing pipeline (average cost ranges $60 to $200 per foot).

Trenchless Pipe Bursting and Pipe Splitting

This method is similar to CIPP pipe replacement in that it does not require total excavation of the damaged sewer lines, but follows the exact alignment of existing pipes. First, a pneumatic or hydraulic head enters the sewer line to break up existing brittle clay or iron piping. At the same time, a new pipeline is drawn through the original space and most of the landscaping is left intact.

Restoration, Cleanup and Related Projects

If your yard, garden or driveway needs to be dismantled to repair your sewer main, then it stands to reason that a large cost of your repair will be replacing and rebuilding the parts of your home damaged in the process.

Project Cleanup

In the event of water and sewage flooding into the home’s basement causing a possible biological hazard for your family, check with your homeowner’s insurance policy for flood damage coverage. Undetected exposure to sewage gas and waste byproducts can cause unintentional hand-to-mouth ingestion of disease-causing organisms. Repeated inhalation of sewage gas can cause respiratory system and eye irritation, nausea, dizziness, and in extreme cases of methane exposure, can be fatal.

  • Costs for a professional restoration of a flooded basement ranges from $500 up to $10,000 depending on the amount of damage and the size of the area.

Sewer Line Camera Inspections

A camera inspection of the home’s sewer lines will serve to visually observe and identify the amount of blockage within the pipes, tree root infiltration, broken pipes or joints, and to pinpoint any other problems that otherwise would only otherwise be offered as an educated guess.

  • A camera inspection results in precise measurements of piping that will be required and a complete understanding of the sewer pipe’s condition (average cost $250 to $500).

Landscape Replacement

During excavation, sewer main replacement projects will cause at a minimum, ground holes, bare spots, and widespread lawn compaction – in addition of the ground displaced for the actual pipe replacement.

  • Additional topsoil, reseeding, replacement of flower beds or bushes (average cost $300 to $2,500)

Driveway or Sidewalk Repaving

If you are building a new home from the ground up, you may want to ask ahead of time where the sewer main is located. In the event that you may have a needed repair in the future you could opt to not put down cement driveways or costly landscaping over that area.

  • Most homeowners will spend between $2,205 and $5,760 to replace a driveway depending upon installation options and construction materials.

Replacing Structures (Patio, Sheds, or Fencing)

Of course, depending on the type of materials selected, labor cost factors, and the addition of any pathways, decks, or fencing, these type of projects can span a wide cost range.

  • Estimates and prices for fence replacement are influenced by the fence type (vinyl, aluminum, wrought iron, wood, or chain link).

Permits and Approval

If you need to replace your sewer line, then you will most likely need to obtain a permit from your city. Although increasing the sewer line replacement cost, doing so will ensure that everything is up to code. There are only a few situations where the section of the sewer that needs repair or replacement is actually on the city’s property rather than your own, like in the street. In this case, the city would be responsible for the repair and not you. You should always check with the professional to see about the permits and whether they or you should obtain them.

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