If you have an uneasy feeling that your sewer line may be in trouble, a quick check of the pipes with a fiberoptic video camera can put your mind at rest. It can also allow you to get a jump on sewer repairs rather than waiting for an expensive emergency like a leak or a sewage backup to occur.

“You want to keep an eye on the condition of your line,” says E.J. Snyder, a licensed side sewer contractor with South West Plumbing. “The homeowner is responsible for repairs to the sewer line all the way from the house to the city main in the middle of the street.”

A video camera inspection of an entire line takes less than an hour and quite often included with drain cleaning services.

When to inspect

If your toilets are draining slowly, or you have a smell of sewage in your basement or yard, the lines should be inspected promptly for blockages or breaks.

If your home is more than 20 years old, and has never been inspected, it’s a good idea to have it checked. This is particularly true if driveways, fences, or other systems have been installed in the area of the sewer line, Snyder says. Similarly, ground can shift, causing pipes to crack or sag so they no longer form a straight line for transporting sewage.

Finally, if you own one of Seattle’s older homes, a camera inspection can help you plan for the inevitable sewer line replacement.

Snyder recommends having a camera inspection every two or three years, especially if your sewer contractor has already had to trim roots from the pipes.

How it works

A technician will come to your home with video camera equipment — a tiny waterproof camera system that looks like a hose nozzle and sits on the end of a flexible fiberoptic rod. The camera can be sent up to 300 feet along a sewer line (most residential sewer lines in Seattle are 50 to 100 feet in length).

The camera is put into your sewer line through the existing cleanout access — a short, capped pipe leading into the sewer line. In newer homes, the cleanout access is outside the house. In older homes, it may be inside, usually near the exterior wall in the basement. The technician removes the cap and feeds the camera into the sewer.

The process looks similar to snaking a drain, but because the camera line is fed in by hand, there’s no noise involved.

The inside view

As the camera moves along, the video monitor shows a detailed view of everything in the sewer line. In older concrete pipes, you might see where the concrete has worn down to aggregate from the passage of acidic sewage. You can easily see if a tree root is entering the line or where material is snagging on a break in the pipe.

If a problem is spotted, the technician stops the camera and marks the location of the problem on the ground above the pipe. This involves using a locator with radio signals that beep faster and higher as they near the camera. The technician can mark the spot on your lawn, driveway or sidewalk with spray paint.

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When the camera inspection is complete, your contractor knows the exact location of any problem areas, and where your side sewer meets the municipal sewer line (typically, but not always, in the middle of the street). And you’ll know where problems, such as tree roots, are located.

Helping new homeowners

In order to maintain municipal sewer systems, cities like Tacoma and Seattle are trying to help homeowners keep on top of side sewer repairs. These cities now require that people selling homes offer prospective buyers the opportunity to have the side sewers undergo a camera inspection. The buyer foots the cost. But if problems show up, sewer repair costs can become part of the negotiations for the sale, or the seller can complete repairs in advance of the sale.

“Sewer cameras have been available for 20 years or more, but people are becoming more aware of them and what they can do to can prevent problems,” Snyder says. “The last thing anyone wants is a sewage backup in their home.”

South West Plumbing has been serving King, Pierce and Snohomish counties for more than 35 years. We work evenings and weekends at no extra charge. We are open for business! And we will get through this time together.