Home Buyers: This Critical Inspection Is Often Overlooked But Could Cost You Thousands

Home inspections are non-negotiable. In many states and that’s literal – you can’t purchase a home without first having it inspected thoroughly by a professional. Even in states without home inspection requirements, you’ll have a tough time finding a mortgage lender willing to work with you if you’re opposed to a home inspection. Buyers, sellers, realtors, and mortgage brokers may disagree on a lot, but the value of a home inspection is universally appealing.

Unfortunately, though, many home buyers overlook inspection options when hiring for the job. Standard inspections are just that – standard. While you might catch some of the most glaring issues with a standard inspection, oversights are possible. Sewer systems, for instance, aren’t covered in your standard home inspection. The only way to know about the health and condition of a home’s sewer system is to hire a professional to perform a sewer camera inspection.

The Perils of Skipping Sewer Inspections 

Very few home buyers ever consider a property’s sewer system before signing on the dotted line. Even after moving in, most homeowners don’t give their sewer lines a second thought – until something goes awry. When something does go wrong, repairs can be incredibly expensive. Tree roots can grow through tiny cracks in pipes, spread out creating a net that traps debris and causes hundreds of dollars to remove. Old sewer pipes built decades ago can suffer structural problems underground that prevent drainage and cause sewage to back up into your home. Flooded basements and torn up yards are just a few of the worst-case scenarios possible when sewer issues arise.

Sewer inspections, by comparison, are reasonably affordable. While the job may cost you a few hundred dollars upfront, the cost savings can be invaluable. Discovering sewer system issues early in the due diligence process can save homeowners a lot of stress, expense, and heartache in the long term.

Older Homes, Older Sewer Systems 

Older homes are especially at risk of developing sewer line issues. If a house is more than 20 years old, odds are that it will need a thorough sewer system inspection. Older homes with decades of consistent sewer line use are simply more prone to issues than new properties. Homes with wooded lots are especially likely to suffer from tree root sewer line interferences.

Fifty years ago, builders didn’t have a PVC pipe to turn to when constructing sewer systems. Instead, they laid cast iron, clay tile, or Orangeburg piping. While certainly the best option at the time, these materials haven’t stood the test of time. Cast iron rusts, clay tile sections separate at the joints, and Orangeburg (which is made from bituminized fibers) can disintegrate or collapse. Each of these sewer materials options can lead to serious plumbing problems. If you consider buying an older home, it’s especially important not to skip a sewer inspection.

How Sewer Inspections Can Help

While most home inspections are performed with the naked eye, sewer inspections are done via camera. Inspectors push a special video camera snake into the clean-out. Then, the snake is maneuvered carefully through the length of the underground sewer. The camera has a cluster of bright LED lights that will completely illuminate the inside of the pipe. The resulting footage can be fascinating – and incredibly revealing. Inspectors can use the video to determine how clean or clogged a sewer system is while also looking for the overall condition of the pipe sections.

By learning which materials were used in the construction of the sewer system, you can make smart choices about your home buying experience. If a sewer inspection reveals clay, Orangeburg, or cast-iron pipes, you may want to do some research before agreeing to buy the home. If the inspection shows that the pipes are in good condition, you may go years before experiencing any issues. On the other hand, factoring these materials into your decision is a smart way to plan for future maintenance costs.

Replacing Versus Repairing

Depending on how your inspection goes, you may want to ask the seller to repair or replace sewer systems entirely. This is typically quite expensive. Many sellers may balk at the request. Remember that asking for money off the purchase price of the home is also an option. Discuss your best course of action with your realtor before making an informed decision.

Should you decide to move forward with purchasing the home, it’s good to know what your options are for replacing or repairing aging or clogged sewer systems. In many cases, it’s more affordable to replace the pipes than to repair them. Pipes made from outdated materials are often more susceptible to leaks and cracks than modern pipes made from sealed PVC. The ensuing damage done from a backed-up sewer can cost more in the long run than the replacement job itself. Your inspector can help explain your options and recommend the best course of action for your budget.

Never a Bad Time for a Sewer Inspection

If you recently purchased a home and didn’t have your sewer system inspected, it’s not too late. While you might not be able to leverage the inspection results in your negotiations with the seller, the process can still save you valuable time and money. By understanding the health of your entire home – sewers and all – you’ll be more prepared to face maintenance issues should they occur.

Paul Abrams, plumbing expert at Roto-Rooter, the leading plumbing and water cleanup service in the nation.