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Sewer Line Repair and Replacement

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Author Image Written by Brenda Woods + 1 other Reviewer Icon Reviewed by: Mark Howey Updated 03/22/2024

Your sewer line directs wastewater from your home’s plumbing to the municipal sewer system or a septic tank. As a homeowner, you’re responsible for keeping this line functioning properly. Sewer line repair or replacement may be necessary if you have slow or clogged drains or smell foul odors around your plumbing pipes. However, it can be difficult for homeowners to pinpoint whether these issues are a result of sewer line damage or a different plumbing problem. To help you out, we’ll identify some signs and causes of sewer line damage and explain why you should contact a professional for repairs.

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Signs of Sewer Line Damage

If your home experiences these signs of a damaged sewer line, you should immediately contact an experienced service technician.
Draining difficulties: A blockage in the main sewage line is the likely culprit if multiple draining areas in your home are clogged. There may be severe blockages in the sewer line if strange gurgling sounds emanate from toilets when air gets pushed back up the line.
Flooded and foul-smelling yard: A flooded yard can signify a broken sewer pipe. Sewer lines are typically located 2–6 feet below the ground, but colder climates require deeper pipes. A broken pipe will quickly pool water that seeps through the grass and becomes visible on the surface. You may be able to smell the sewage gas before any liquid surfaces.
Water damage: The majority of your home’s sewer line is located beneath your yard, but part of it is in and beneath the house itself. Water damage can occur if a drain line leaks or breaks in your home. One of the first signs is mold spreading on the floors or walls.

Causes of Sewer Line Damage

Sewer lines can be damaged from within by clogs and corrosion or from the outside by tree roots and frost.

  • Clogged pipes: Your home’s sewage lines are only designed to handle human waste and toilet paper. Avoid flushing wrappers, paper towels, and flushable wipes because they don’t disintegrate properly. In a sewer line, they’re likely to cause blockages that most methods to clear a clogged drain won’t fix. Cooking oil and grease can also clog pipes if poured into the kitchen sink. Pour these liquids into a container, let them cool, and then dispose of them in a trash can.
  • Corroded pipes: Although galvanized steel and cast iron pipes resist rust, these pipes are at a high risk of eroding from calcium and magnesium buildup. If corrosion is left untreated, it can leave the pipe susceptible to leaks and cracks.
  • Extreme temperatures: Frozen pipes can burst during extreme temperatures when the water inside expands as it freezes.
  • Tree roots: A tree’s roots follow sources of water as they grow. Roots are naturally attracted to sewer lines since they carry liquid waste—particularly when there is already a small leak in the piping. Once in contact with a sewer pipe, tree roots begin to wrap around and break into pipes, clogging, weakening, and even breaking the structure. Clay sewer pipes, typically found in older homes, are the most susceptible to damage from tree roots.

If you suspect your home’s sewer line is damaged, the first step is to request a professional inspection. A technician will thread a digital camera into the pipe to check for clogs, leaks, and cracks. Owners of older homes should have their main sewer line inspected this way at least once every 10 years.

If the technician finds damage, the line will need to be repaired or replaced. You have two repair options if your sewer line is leaking or broken: the traditional method of digging a trench around the sewer pipe or using trenchless pipe repair machinery.

Learn more about the different types of sewer line repair in the dropdown sections below:

For certain types of damage, like tree root penetration and severe breaks, the area around the line will need to be excavated. Sewer repair technicians will use heavy machinery to dig a trench and access the broken pipe. If it can’t be patched, the damaged section will be removed and new pipe will be laid. Here’s how that process normally happens.

  1. The plumbing company surveys the area and marks underground utilities. The technicians put traffic control devices in place if needed.
  2. Next, they excavate trenches along the sewer line path using backhoes or excavators. Technicians should shore up walls for safety when digging deeper than 4 feet.
  3. The plumbers disconnect and lift old pipe sections using clamping devices and chains.
  4. The new sewer pipe is laid in sections and sloped for proper drainage. The sections are fused or sealed together.
  5. Then, plumbers reconnect the lateral pipes from your home to the new sewer main using flexible couplings. They install any required maintenance holes at this time.
  6. The trenches are backfilled with gravel and compacted. Plumbers patch or repave the surface to match the surroundings.
  7. Final video inspections check for proper installation and drainage flow before activating the new system.

Because this method requires excavation and backfill, it is time-consuming, disruptive to landscaping, and expensive. However, the results will last as long as the new pipe material lasts, and proper planning can minimize the disruption to your yard.

Not all sewer line damage requires excavating a trench. Trenchless sewer repair is time- and cost-efficient and requires little to no digging.

Trained professionals use special machinery during trenchless line repair to burst or re-line the old pipe from aboveground. This causes minimal ground disturbance compared to traditional open-trench replacement. Trenchless repair also doesn’t require closing any parts of your street or sidewalk, so it’s well-suited for urban areas. Two common forms of trenchless repair are pipe bursting and pipe lining.

Pipe bursting involves sending a cone-shaped bursting head through the existing pipe. The head fractures the old pipe and displaces the fragments into the surrounding soil. At the same time, a new pipe, usually made of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic, is attached to the bursting head and pulled into place behind it.

This way, the new pipe replaces the old pipe from within. Repairs can often be completed in a single day. There are a few key steps in a typical pipe-bursting repair:

  1. First, the plumbing technician digs pits at entry and exit points along the pipe path. They lower the bursting equipment into the entry pit.
  2. The new HDPE pipe is attached behind the bursting head.
  3. The bursting head is launched into the old pipe and breaks it apart. Hydraulic power pushes the head forward as it pulls the new line behind.
  4. Once the head reaches the exit pit, the old pipe has been replaced end-to-end with the new HDPE pipe.
  5. Plumbers connect the new pipe to the plumbing system, fill in the entry and exit pits, and restore the surface.

For minor cracks and leaks in pipes that are otherwise structurally sound, pipe lining repairs involve installing a new pipe liner inside the old, failing pipe. This repair doesn’t require any excavation or pipe replacement. The most common type of lining is called Cured-in-Place Pipe (CIPP). CIPP liners can extend the life of aging sewer, water, gas and industrial pipes by 50 years or more. The liner restores flow capacity, prevents infiltration, and protects against further corrosion.

Here are the typical steps involved in a pipe lining repair:

  1. A plumbing technician inspects the old pipe and cleans it using hydraulically-powered devices with hydro-jetting. They then saturate a liner tube of absorbent felt fabric with a thermosetting resin.
  2. The technician inserts the liner tube into the old pipe through an access point like a manhole. An inflatable bladder pushes and holds the liner against the inner walls. Circulation hoses inject hot water or steam to cure and harden the resin into a smooth, jointless pipe liner.
  3. After curing is complete, the technician reopens the lateral connection points using robotic cutting devices that bore through the liner and reconnect service lines from your home. They then seal the ends of the liner and restore the access points.

Sewer Line Repair Cost

The national average cost for sewer line replacement is around $5,000.* This figure translates to $50–$250 per linear foot of sewer line. However, the pipe material used and difficulty accessing the existing pipe can affect your price. Excavation, backfill, and landscaping may also add extra expenses to your project.

You might only have 25–60 feet of sewer lines in a city or dense suburban area, and you might have lines of 75 feet or more on larger rural properties. Below is a breakdown of what you might pay for different lengths of sewer line repair and replacement. Note that digging a trench will cost an extra $30 to $70 per cubic foot.

  • 25’–35’: $1,250–$8,750
  • 35’–45’: $1,750–$11,250
  • 45’–55’: $2,250–$13,750
  • 55’–65’: $2,750–$16,250
  • 65’–75’: $3,250–$18,750
  • 75’–100’: $3,750–$25,000
  • 100’–125’: $5,000–$31,250

*Cost figures are based on 2023 reports from multiple sources, including Angi and HomeGuide.

DIY vs. Professional Sewer Line Repair

Fixing a sewer line isn’t as simple as unclogging a pipe. We don’t recommend attempting a DIY sewer line repair or replacement. All residential plumbing repair should be completed by a licensed plumber to maintain the value of your home and the integrity of your plumbing.

To even attempt a DIY sewer line repair, you’d first need to find the problem with a digital camera in the line. Then, you’d need to rent excavation equipment, since trenchless repair machinery is only available to trained professionals. Even if you could access the damaged pipe, you’d risk illness from contact with raw sewage as well as compromising your home’s plumbing system. This isn’t worth attempting to save a few bucks.

Licensed plumbers, on the other hand, have years of technical training and experience in diagnosing and fixing sewer and drain problems. They have the proper equipment, such as sewer cameras, to correctly identify issues. Professionals can also access advanced tools and repair materials, such as trenchless or no-dig technologies. This can minimize property damage. A professional repair is more likely to be done properly the first time, avoiding recurring issues or half-measure fixes.

Additionally, many plumbers offer warranties or guarantees on their work. Attempting a complex sewer repair without expertise risks worsening a bad situation through further damage or health hazards from sewage backup. Hiring a professional plumber is the safest way for most homeowners to permanently fix a sewer line problem.

Our Conclusion

Having a broken sewer line repaired quickly is vital to avoiding health risks, home damage, and unpleasant odors. We advise you to hire a professional to handle the repairs and help you understand what caused the damage in the first place. Licensed plumbers have the expertise to diagnose the problem and identify the best method for fixing it.

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FAQ About Sewer Line Repair

How long will a sewer line last?

The life of your sewer line depends on your pipe’s material. Cast iron pipes last 75–100 years, clay and cement pipes last up to 100 years, Orangeburg pipes last around 50 years, and PVC pipes last over 100 years.

How do plumbing services determine the appropriate sewer repair method?

Plumbing services use video camera inspections to identify the cause and location of the problem. They may recommend trenchless sewer repair for minor issues or traditional excavation and replacement if they discover that the issue is more severe.

Does homeowners insurance cover sewer line damage?

It’s unlikely that homeowners insurance will cover the repair costs unless another party or a natural disaster damaged your sewer line. Fortunately, there are many home warranty companies that protect sewer lines through plumbing system coverage.

What is hydro-jetting?

Hydro-jetting is a method of cleaning sewer lines using high-pressure water streams. This technique can remove stubborn clogs and buildup and restore proper flow to the sewer line.

How long does trenchless sewer line repair last?

Trenchless sewer repairs, such as pipe bursting and lining, are minimally invasive sewer pipe repairs known for their longevity. The life span of the repair depends on your pipe’s material and the method used, but most trenchless sewer line repairs last up to 50 years.

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