Dealing with a Broken Sewer Line

Updated on November 10, 2016

Time to Replace a Broken Sewer Pipe?

Sewer lines are one of those things we don't think about until something goes wrong. You start noticing the problem when you hear gurgling noises from the toilet, or when water drains more slowly than usual, or when a smelly sinkhole appears in your yard.

So, how do you deal a broken sewer line? Who do you call? How much will it cost? We'll attempt to answer some of those questions here...

Why Do Sewer Pipes Fail?

Nothing lasts forever, and sewer lines are no exceptions. The older the pipes are, the more likely you're going to have problems with them.

Although properly installed PVC pipes are supposed to have a lifespan of well over 100 years, older pipes are usually made from clay tile, steel, or some other material that may only last 50 or 60 years. If you have an older home that was built before the late 1980s, there's a good chance you're dealing with clay pipes.

It's common for tree roots to wedge their way into pipes. Trees love the moisture! After a while the roots grow so dense and matted that they plug up the pipe completely.

Sewer pipes can also get clogged up with an accumulation of grease, muck, and other nasty stuff that gets washed down there day after day.

And sometimes sewer lines just plain break, collapse, or rot away. Tree roots have a way of hastening this process. The bad news is that every time you run a snake through your pipes to clear out the tree roots, you damage the sewer line even further.

Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Plumbing

To be honest, I don't mess with plumbing if I don't have to. I don't even like unclogging my drains--it's disgusting. But if you want to really understand the plumbing in your house and tackle some repairs yourself, you can't go wrong with Black & Decker's Plumbing Guide. Can't go wrong with any Black & Decker book, really--they're always full of photographs and excellent step-by-step instructions.

When Does a Sewer Line Need to be Repaired or Replaced?

If you start smelling sewage, if there are patches in your yard that are always wet, and/or you see a wet sinkhole, you probably need to replace your sewer line.

Unfortunately, replacing a sewer line can be very expensive. We're talking at least a few thousand dollars.

Many people who face this kind of price tag wonder if they can get away with patching their pipes. But if the sewer line is old, there are almost certainly other bad spots that will give you problems now or in the near future. A series of patch jobs isn't cheap. In the long run, it just makes more sense to replace the entire line.

The best way to find out the condition of your sewer line is to have someone run a camera through it. This may cost around $300, but it will show you what you're up against.

Sewer Problems: What to Watch for!

An informative video about sewer lines and the problems they cause. Clogged up sewer lines can be a nasty business.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Sewer Line?

What'll it cost you? That depends. It could cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. Here are some factors that can affect the price tag:

  • Trees: If someone has to chop down some trees and grind up some stumps just to dig up the sewer line, this will bump up the cost.
  • The gas line: There should be plenty of space between your gas line and sewer line. But if you're unlucky enough to have your gas line right on top of your sewer pipe like ours was, the price tag goes up A LOT.
  • The hook-up: If the city's sewer hook-up doesn't go right up to your property, you may be forced to tear up the road. This can easily ramp up the cost to $5,000 or more.

We were unlucky enough to have all three of those problems. So, we had to shell out $10,000 to get our sewer line replaced.

How to Hire Someone to Replace a Sewer Line

Many licensed plumbers can dig up and replace a sewer line for you. However, instead of hiring the first one you think of, you should get an estimate from at least three plumbers. It's best to get recommendations from friends and family if possible.

This is not just about choosing the best price. Replacing a sewer line is a big job, and you don't want to hand it over to just anyone. Interviewing each plumber will give you a feel for their knowledge and competence.

You won't get an estimate over the phone, because the plumber has to see what he's dealing with first. You'll need to schedule a time for the plumber to come over and look at your property.

It's a good idea to ask questions, such as how long his company has been in business and whether he's done this kind of work before.

When you talk to him, does he seem confident and knowledgeable? Is he alert to the kind of problems that might come up while replacing a sewer line? Does he ask questions and try to get a good feel for the situation so that he can give you the most accurate estimate possible? It's worth it to pay attention to all these details.

Tips for Preventing Clogs and Sewer Line Problems

A little prevention and maintenance can save you a ton of money and grief in the long run. Here are some things you can do to help keep your sewer line in good shape:

  • Find out where the sewer line is located. This will help you make the best decisions when it comes to landscaping, parking your vehicles, etc.
  • Don't plant trees or shrubs near your sewer line. The roots will eventually seek out the line.
  • Don't park a vehicle over your sewer line. The weight of the vehicle could weaken and crush the pipe below.
  • If you suspect that roots are invading your sewer line, flush some copper sulfate down the toilet.
  • Apart from copper sulfate and toilet cleanser, don't flush anything down the toilet that isn't toilet paper or human waste. The toilet is NOT the place for disposing of your dental floss, old nail polish remover, tampons, cigarettes, or kitty litter!
  • Don't pour any grease down the drain. Instead, pour the grease in a cup or a can and dispose of it.

So, have you ever had to deal with broken sewer pipes?

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        barbara 14 months ago

        If I moved into a house that had these problems i would sue the realtor and the owners and the inspector.

      • profile image

        Elisabeth Rutman 16 months ago

        I need help asap. We are in the City of Chicago. 60646. Anyone have a good referral?? We got one quote and want to make sure we get more than one.

        It is Dec 15th, and a whopping 5 degrees. We will be getting a huge snow storm in a couple of days so time is not on our side...

      • profile image

        John 3 years ago

        copper sulfate is a waste of money...80% of

        roots intrude from the top and act like fingers to slow the flow...

        somewhat like the car wash curtains.


      • profile image

        johnmark123 4 years ago

        A non professional plumber can't easily do this task. Thanks for these tricks.

        Brooklyn Plumbers

      • profile image

        marieliamson1 5 years ago

        Awesome lens, it really helped me on my plumbing issues back at home.

      • profile image

        amanjohn 5 years ago

        2 months ago, sewer came up in my yard. I had to have the two flow pipes replaced. Now sewer is coming up in the opposite direction, do i have another distrbution box, and more flow pipes in the other direction?

      • EcoLogik profile image

        EcoLogik 5 years ago

        Useful information, cool lens!

      • profile image

        amythomson187 5 years ago

        Great info on this lens... Thankfully i haven't had to deal with this. However in my house we did have a blocked drain....that was very unpleasant. I used to think almost anything would go down the drain or sink... But that is definitely not the case! Amy x

      • profile image

        christa1971 6 years ago

        We just closed on a home. We paid for a sewer inspection during the buying process as a precautionary measure. Two cracks were found in the clay pipes. One on the property, and one on the sewer lateral in the street. The sellers agreed to fix the repair on the property, which was completed two days before closing. The city was reparing the street issue on the day of closing. One hour after closing and taking possession, the city project manager knocked on the door, and told us we would be getting a letter from the city because we STILL had a leak on our property. At this point we are looking at $1400 -$1600 to repair yet another issue that wasn't disclosed to us during the inspection or during one of the repairs. The city plumbing inspector even passed both repair jobs. We are just sick about it. No one seems to know where the new leak is coming from...just that it wasn't there before the day or the hour before we closed.

      • profile image

        selink 6 years ago

        Having a broken sewer line is indeed troublesome because having regular water supply is important to all of us. Water being drained from our pipes needs to go to its designated sewer line (general plumbing San Diego) and if this is broken, the normal flow of our pipeline systems might get disrupted. Sewerage water is dirty and can carry disease-causing organisms and so repairs need to be done as soon as possible.

      • TrialError profile image

        TrialError 6 years ago

        Great info. Wish I'd seen it before.

      • profile image

        brianstuler99 6 years ago

        Fiber optic drain cameras are small cameras which are inserted into household drainage or sewer pipes to visually inspect the interior of the pipes. Prior to their invention, plumbers simply guessed at the cause of drainage problems were. Nowadays technology savvy plumbers are able to actually see what's going on in your pipes. This allows them to pinpoint the exact location of the problem and make the best suggestions as to how to resolve the situation.

        Poway Plumber

      • profile image

        danielhira99 6 years ago

        It can be very frustrating for a homeowner to have constant problems with backups in their home. No matter how much Drain-O, Bio-Clean, or other forms of drain cleaners they seem to use, chronic drain problems can restrict water and waste flow.

        San Jose Plumber

      • profile image

        selink 6 years ago

        This blog is very helpful! There are lots of ideas that you could be able to apply in on your own. Aside from that, you should be able to have a wise decision when choosing a company who will be fixing you water sewer line so that you are ensured that you will be having a good quality of service. You could be able to seek some help from thermowell installation for they can be able to render you this kind of service.

      • profile image

        anonymous 6 years ago

        Thank you so much. Great information.

      • profile image

        HERBMASTER 6 years ago

        I enjoyed your site. Good work. Inspiration for the good times and not so good times:

      • profile image

        victorstuler 6 years ago

        This new replacement method can be used to perform all kinds of different repairs. One of the most common problems is a collapsed pipe. It is a repair that can be performed with the trenchless method. A small access hole is dug on each side of the breakage and a snake is run through the pipe. They are able to cut out the old pipe while they run the new pipe through the hole. The tool follows down the path of the original pipe.

        Plumbing apprenticeships

      • profile image

        anonymous 6 years ago

        A professional should be able to decipher the problem with a fraction of the digging. This could be accomplished by looking at the clean out plugs. Some plumbers use tiny video cameras to pinpoint blockages. After the problem is discovered, some digging may still be required. If the break in the sewer line is serious, replacing the broken section of the line is the only way to fix the problem. Most professionals possess a type of power rodding equipment.

        Atlanta Plumber

      • profile image

        plumbermiamifl 6 years ago

        Plumbing is a complicated process so you must choose the right professionals that are reputable or known to be highly skilled. Miami Plumber.

      • profile image

        Thanhthu 6 years ago

        Wonderful post.Its very helpful.


      • profile image

        AtoZPlumbingToronto 6 years ago

        Good lens. As a plumber, I say you listed criteria of selecting the right contractor correctly.

        I would also recommend to check reviews of the plumbing company on Homestars, Yelp and Google Places before making a decision.

        I am new to Squidoo. I am finding a lot of valuable advice here. Yours is worth sharing with my customers once i figure out how to do it.

      • profile image

        anonymous 6 years ago

        Block sewer lines can also result from blockage from materials such as cloths, grease build up or other foreign bodies obstructing the free flow of waste. Corrosion from age, and broken down causing blockage. Bellied pipes, which are sunken deeper than the rest creating a valley that collects paper and other wastes. Leaking joints, root infestations etc.

        Tampa Plumber

      • profile image

        joseph77hill 6 years ago

        Finding the right plumbing contractor can be tough. They have to be efficient in all areas of plumbing. You have to make sure when they fix your problem, it is going to be fixed quickly and efficiently so it doesn't break again. You don't want to have to make a second call for them to return and have to try to fix it again. Los Angeles Plumber

      • profile image

        PlumbersColoradoSprings 6 years ago

        @PlumbersColoradoSprings: Well written and good research. The proper use of a camera is very important and be sure to obtain a copy from your plumber in order to get a 2nd opinion before allowing any excavation work to be done.

        Colorado Springs Plumbing

      • profile image

        PlumbersColoradoSprings 6 years ago

        Well written and good research. The proper use of a camera is very important and be sure to obtain a copy from your plumber in order to get a 2nd opinion before allowing any excavation work to be done.

        Colorado Springs Plumbing

      • profile image

        andreiieram 6 years ago

        Such a very common problem at home. This is really helpful.

        Rørleggere stavanger

      • profile image

        waterfulflorida 7 years ago

        If you're in Florida and you need assistance in replacing your pipes, contact plumbing tampa fl

      • profile image

        afi1040 7 years ago

        Hopefully we did ok. Went with the first people we called. ~25 feet, 2 foot deep under the house (thru the concrete), to just outside the front wall. They pulled out and replaced the laundry sink (like 200 pounds), ran new lines to the toilet and the bathroom sink a few feet from the main (moved and replaced both), and installed a new line directly for the washing machine (used to drain into sink). PVC replacing old cast iron.


      • solutionism profile image

        solutionism 7 years ago

        Helpful! thanks.

      • profile image

        GrowWear 7 years ago

        Yes, a tree root grew into our sewer line through a pipe seam. Was none too happy about it. Plumbing is just not a fun job. And certainly not fun to have to pay for, so we fixed it ourselves. :) --Angel Blessed by the Home Improvement Angel.

      • Glenn619 profile image

        Glenn619 7 years ago

        Hey nice lens.

        For those of you who are interested in other vocational fields including plumbing check out my lens which speaks about online vocational education.

      • javr profile image

        javr 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Take care of your sewer lines before they plug.

      • profile image

        Jayboy75 7 years ago

        Just for anyone who's curious as to the cost, I just had a 50 ft. sewer line replaced at my home. The original company that did my camera inspection quoted me about $7,500, but I had a second opinion and I got them down to just below $5,300 for the entire job. It was between 2ft. and 6ft. down below ground level, and no concrete needed to be dug through.

      • profile image

        anonymous 8 years ago

        I am in the process of either replacing a small break for $2k from the plumber (their snake is stuck in my drain as well..if you have similar problem, they are not sucks) Call your sewer company they have a list of contractors that can do the job cheaper than a plumber, but if the pipes are old I am thinking best to replace the whole line. Check your home owners insurance to see if they can help. Good luck!

      • profile image

        anonymous 9 years ago

        I've had one. and let me tell you seeing my brother's waste isn't the prettiest site in the world.