Unfortunately, most of us don’t think about our plumbing system unless there is a problem. Your sewer line for instance. You are happy you have one but would rather not think about it.
Whether your think about it or not, your sewer line will fail at some point and you will have to fix or replace it. This is especially the case if you live in a house with old clay or cast iron sewer lines.
PVC sewer pipes (which are the best sewer lines in my opinion) can last for a really long time since they don’t corrode or penetrated by tree roots. They are also cheaper to buy and fast to install.
So, what are the signs of a broken sewer line? Or rather how do you know your sewer line needs to be replaced?
The signs of a broken sewer line are sewer odors around the house, slow drains, frequent clogs/backups, lush spots in the yard, soggy lawn, infestation by insects and rodents, foundation cracks, mold and pooling of septic waste. If you see these signs you will need to fix or replace your sewer line.
Usually, sewer lines fail due to old age. For instance, cast iron sewer lines have a life expectancy of 75 to 100 years while clay sewer lines will last for about 100 years. If you have these pipes and they are more than 100 year old you should start planning to have them replaced.
Shifting ground or soil, tree roots penetration and heavy movement above the sewer lines can cause them to crack. Also, if the sewer line was not installed properly it will break at a faster rate.
The easiest way to tell if a sewer line is leaking is when you have unusually green patches of grass in your yard or there is a sewer odor outside your house. Infestation by rats and insects is also a good sign.
It costs between $50 and $250 per foot to replace a sewer line. The cost is higher if the project involves digging trenches under concrete slabs. Sewer line replacement cost will also depend on the length of the sewer line, depth and the type of plumbing used. Expect to pay between $4000 and $25000 for sewer line replacements.
I should also remind you that the homeowner is responsible for the sewer line repairs and maintenance between the street and the house. Your city on the other hand is responsible for the public sewer lines installed along the street.
Signs of a Broken Sewer Line.
The following are the telltale signs that your sewer line is broken:
1. Sewer Odor around your House
You cannot ignore a sewage smell. What is important is to investigate if the smell is inside the house or outside the house.
Usually, when you have a sewage smell in the house (especially in the bathroom), it is caused by a clogged plumbing vent. Since the vent should remove the sewer gases, the gases are forced out through the drains.
It is however a different scenario if you have a sewage smell outside the house. This is caused by a broken sewer line which forces raw sewage to leak out and after soaking up the soil it starts to smell really badly especially when it is hot outdoors.
2. Slow Drains
Slow drains can be caused by several things so you should not rush to conclude that your sewer line is broken by just having slow draining fixtures. A combination of slow drains and other signs may however be a clear sign of the same.
To start with, slow drains can be caused by clogged plumbing vent. You see, apart from removing sewer gases from the drainage system. a vent allows air into the system for faster drainage and strong flushing toilets.
All your water fixtures have different drainpipes (branches) which are then connected to the main drain stack. The drain stack is then connected to the horizontal sewer line carrying waste from your house to the public sewer lines or septic tank.
A partial clog in the drain stack can also result in slow draining fixtures. The partial clog could also be somewhere in the sewer line caused by tree roots or other forms of waste.
When your sewer line is broken, waste will not flow swiftly to the public sewer line or septic tank which will result in slow drains.
3. Sewer Backups
A sewer backup happens when waste flows back to the drains instead of flowing out into the city sewer lines or septic tank. It is caused by blocked or broken sewer lines forcing the waste to accumulate inside the drainpipe until it starts to flow out from drains on the lowest floor levels.
If you see waste water backing up from the tub or shower drain when you flush the toilet, drain a sink or run a washing machine, you have a problem with your sewer line.
It is usually a bad idea to try to open a sewer cleanout when you have sewer backing up from your drains. If you do that, all the sewage in the drain stack will gush out via the cleanout out and your property will be covered in raw sewage.
Sewer backing up from drains is a plumbing emergency. Shut off water to your fixtures and contact a licensed plumber immediately. Not only will you be unable to use the fixtures, your family health will be at risk.
4. Lush and Green Patch in your Yard
Most of the waste present in your wastewater (especially toilet waste) is simply organic fertilizer. If you sewer line has an underground leak, the sewage will seep through the earth and be a source of nutrients for the grass in your yard.
If there is a spot in your yard whose grass looks greener and healthier than other places, you most likely have a leaking sewer line. These sorts of leaks usually start off as slow leaks but are likely to become bigger if not fixed.
If you know where the sewer line exits the house and where it is connected to the public sewer lines on the street, check if you can see unusually lash and green patches of grass along that path. The same also applies if you have a septic tank.
5. Soggy Lawn
Apart from the sewage smell and unusually green patches in your lawn a leaking sewer line can cause the lawn to be soggy and even develop a sinkhole.
A soggy lawn is caused by a big crack in your sewer line. It means that wastewater has saturated the soil above it and will need to be fixed as soon as possible.
A soggy lawn will soon start to smell horribly and the smell will be noticeable to passersby and neighbors and soon complains will start coming in.
Sometimes instead if a sinkhole, a leaking sewer line will cause an indentation in your lawn, as the soil saturates with water. If you see such just know that you have leaking sewer line.
6. Foundation Cracks
Foundations crack for different reasons but if the main sewer line running under your foundation starts to leak and the problem is not detected and fixed in good time, a void may develop underneath it.
The void may cause your foundation to crack and as well as other serious problems like the house settling or even creation of a sinkhole. As I had mentioned before, fixing sewer leaks under concrete slabs is usually very expensive but you should have it fixed immediately you notice it.
If you suspect that you have a leaking sewer line, have a plumber run a camera down the sewer line via the sewer cleanout and see what they find.
7. Rodents and Insects Infestation
If your home is suddenly infested by rats and drain flies, you most likely have a problem with your sewer/drainage systems. Rats and drain flies thrive in sewer lines since they get nourishment from the waste.
Drain flies and rats can be a source of menace since they multiply very fast and no amount of drain fly or rodent killer will eliminate them. As long as sewage keeps leaking from your sewer line, they will always be lurking around in your property.
Although there are some many insects and rodents that will be attracted to waste leaking from your sewer line, rats, drain flies and cockroaches are the most common.
One rather obvious sign of broken sewer line is pooling sewage in your yard. Again, that is a plumbing emergency and you will need to call a plumber immediately.
Sometime these can also be caused by sewage backing up from the city’s sewer line. When that happens, the sewage backs up through your sewer cleanout. Contact your city sewer department if you notice that.
If the drainpipe carrying waste from your house to the main sewer line breaks, the walls will be saturated with water and it is only a matter of time before mold and mildew starts to grow.
How to Fix a Cracked Sewer Pipe
If you have a cracked sewer line, you will need to enlist the services of a licensed plumber to fix the problem. This is not something you can DIY the way you can snake a clogged toilet.
The plumber will give you 2 options when they come. They will advise you to either dig a trench around the sewer line and replace the broken pipe, or do a trenchless sewer line repair.
A trenchless sewer line repair is fast, less expensive and involves no digging. I would however only recommend it for relatively newer pipes. Old sewer lines should be replaced.
A plumber will start by running a sewer camera through the sewer line and they will then advise on the best solution based on their findings.