Having a home inspection continues to be essential for anyone who is buying a home in the Vienna real estate market.
Since Virginia is a “caveat emptor” state, home buyers will often learn more during a three hour inspection than they would in three years of living in the house. Home inspections are important and continue to get more thorough.
You want inside plumbing?
Just a few years ago, if you wanted to evaluate the sewer lateral during a home inspection, then you would need to find a special plumbing engineer who would charge at least $850 for a sewer scope.
And that is only if you could find one of these specialists. Today, essentially all of the inspectors I suggest can add a sewer lateral inspection at a reasonable cost.
Using expensive sewer cameras, made in Europe and costing $7,500, the inspector uses the specially designed device which is forced into the sewer lines. The system includes a high definition video camera with a bright LED light guided by the inspector while recording the trip on a laptop.
Most inspectors have invested in these cameras only in the past few years simply because they are so expensive to buy. If the camera gets stuck on a root, gets damaged, or the camera breaks then it is another big investment.
Competition now requires this investment and training to meet customer demand. When a potential issue is discovered, home inspectors will still insist that customers contact a licensed plumber to determine the extent of the issue for evaluation.
As you can see, these photos capture a variety of issues that can be solved either by descaling cleaning, repairing a damaged section, or a full lateral replacement before there is a sewage back up inside the house.
Over the years, my primary concern regarding sewer lines have been tree roots. Especially prevalent here in Northern Virginia since developers in the 1960s and 1970s systematically planted Red Maple trees in front yards. All too often, these fast growers sent roots around these underground sewer pipes eventually finding a way to penetrate inside the pipe.
Once inside, these Red Maple roots will grow eventually blocking 100% of the sewer pipe.
Not as clean as you hoped
Typically, sewer scopes show an open run all the way to the street.
But as times go by and toilets get flushed, the signs of usage are hard to miss. Now, these can be descaled with a professional power flush system which also may prolong the life of the sewer lateral.
A power flush will descale the line allowing waste water to flow without getting stuck on build up or rust.
Sometimes events can happen when the pipe breaks or dips. In the pipe photo and the video, you can see where the pipe dips and the camera goes into a pool of water before emerging on the other side.
In one case, a pipe was broken and needed repair. The other pipe simply needed to be properly leveled. Each scenario involved digging to expose the pipe.
Sewer scopes have a distance and detection system so that a plumber can determine where the location of the probe is when an issue is discovered.
New plumbing repair technology
When a client called to say that sewage had backed up into his basement bathroom and a plumber with a camera explained that he had a sewer lateral made of Orangeburg pipe, I knew he had an immediate project on his hands.
This Orangeburg pipe was old and made after World War II of tar and wood pulp. Solid at the time, but now it was seventy years old and had collapsed in on itself.
To make things worse, this pipe ran underneath the garage and the driveway so digging it up was going to be a huge project. In fact, estimates ranged from $12,000 to $50,000.
I was impressed by the solution he found using a unique hydraulic winch that pulled a new pipe through the existing pipe. Check out this video.
After seeing this get done, I have mentioned it to numerous inspectors who are all very impressed… and seemed to have not seen it done before.
Best of all, it was the least costly method, was done in a day, and did not dig up the yard except where the new pipe connected to the Town of Vienna sewer connection.
This technique can be used to replaced water supply lines too if they burst in the front yard between the water meter and inside shut off valve.
This is fixable
Understanding that this is a fixable problem, home inspections that discover sewer lateral issues need to determine the extent of the damage. Using an estimate from a professional plumber or two, I recommend negotiating a closing cost credit allowing the buyer to have the repair completed by a contractor they have selected.