Three pictures side by side showing the progression of a sewer camera through a pipe with a belly. The first image shows a pipe with water in the bottom. In the second photo, the camera is totally submersed in green water. The third photo shows a bend in the pipe with water in the bottom

A Second Opinion Sewer Inspection Saves a Driveway

A local Baltimore area homeowner called us to verify a sewer diagnosis provided by another plumber. This previous plumber told them their sewer line had problems under their driveway and would require $1,000s of demolition and restoration work to get to the problem. Obviously, our customer wanted more information before they committed to tearing up their beautiful concrete driveway.

Our Sewer Inspection

We began our camera inspection from a basement cleanout. As we pushed our equipment through the pipe, we located our camera head every few feet to trace the path of the sewer line carefully. We discovered that not only did the sewer line not travel under the driveway at all. Rather, part of the problem causing their sewer backup was actually under their basement floor. There was a slight dip, or belly, in the pipe that would tend to trap toilet paper, kitchen grease, etc., and lead to a backup. We would continue our investigation and re-examine this spot as we pulled our equipment out of the pipe.

Inspection revealed pipe transitions and materials

As we continued pushing our camera head towards the street, we also discovered that our customer’s sewer line was cast iron across their entire property. Finding cast iron was good news for our customer. This pipe is durable and has many decades of useful service life. Continuing with our inspection, we did find a spot of root intrusion immediately at the edge of their property, where the cast iron pipe transitioned to terra-cotta clay piping under the County street. This is a common spot for root intrusion since older generations of plumbing did not have good methods of joining different piping materials.

Look at all the roots entering this pipe! No wonder there was a backup!

Access points for County sewer maintenance  

We could push past this spot of root intrusion and into Baltimore county’s side of the sewer lateral under the street. Unfortunately, at this spot, we discovered that our customer’s sewer was not draining and was holding water. We could not push our camera past this point to get to the sewer main. As we carefully pulled our camera back into the house, we spotted the exterior cleanout. This exterior cleanout was in the front yard near the front edge of the property.

It was upstream of the issue under the street and the root intrusion at the edge of the property, so Baltimore County could use this cleanout to maintain its section of the sewer lateral under the road. The root intrusion could be cleaned from this cleanout access, thus negating any need for a dig-up outside.

A dip in the pipe beneath the basement floor

After we pulled the camera back into the house, we carefully analyzed the dip in the pipe, which was the first issue we noticed in our customer’s sewer. We put down several marks on the basement floor with painter’s tape to show the exact location of the pipe dip. The problem began immediately downstream of where the basement bathroom tied into the sewer. It ended where the sewer line turned and started heading towards the street.

Our Second Opinion Resulted in a New Plan for Their Sewer Repair

After carefully inspecting each section of pipe, we advised a thorough sewer jetting of the line before digging up and replacing the sewer line. This jetting would scour enough scale and debris out of the dip and give out customer some time before another backup.  

We arrived at this conclusion because, before this most recent crop of problems, they had not had a backup in over a decade. From our inspection, their current situation appears to result from problems in the county portion of the sewer lateral backing up into our customer’s sewer line and adding more debris into the dip than their normal usage could flush through.

Second Opinions On Sewer Repairs

If a plumber advises you to break up your driveway to fix your sewer line, you may have a similar misdiagnosis at your home. You should be confident that any demolition or property destruction is necessary for your plumbing repair. Please call if you want a second opinion on your sewer issue. We are here to help.

Key Take-A-Ways

Do sewer lines ever run under driveways?

It is not unusual for sewer lines to run under driveways. This is especially true in certain parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, such as Hamilton and Catonsville. In these neighborhoods, it is common for sewer lines to exit at the side of the home. Suppose your sewer line runs under your driveway. What do you do if you start having sewer problems? In that case, there are options to repair, replace, or even maintain your sewer line that either minimize or completely prevent any damage to your driveway.  

Would my sewer line leave the back or side of my house if the main sewer connection is in front of my property?

Yes, your sewer line can leave the back or side of your home and make a big loop to the front of your property. This situation is most common in older parts of the Baltimore area that used to be on individual septic systems but are now connected to a municipal sewer main. Because it is often difficult and expensive to repipe all of the drains in a home, the plumber just connected to where the pipe already left the building when rerouting the sewer line from the septic system to the sewer main.

This results in the sewer line traveling in a big loop from the back of the house to the front yard. The sewer line now goes a much longer distance. In this case, it is common to see dips or flat portions of the sewer line. A long run of the sewer line prevents sufficient “fall” in the pipe between the house and the sewer main for optimal drainage.

What is a dip, or belly, in a sewer line?

A dip, or belly as they are also called, is a slight depression in a sewer line. In other words, the pipe briefly goes uphill for a section of piping, impeding normal drainage and flow. The sewer does not drain as it should in this spot. Things you send down your drain – such as kitchen grease, toilet paper, etc. – do not drain off as they should. They start to build up. Over time, this build-up acts as a dam and prevents water from draining, leading to a backup.

This progression of photos shows a dip in the sewer pipe. Notice how the camera is completely submerged in water in the middle photo at 19′, between the photos at 14′ and 20′.

Do sewer line dips need to be dug up and repaired?   

Dips are not great for effective drainage. However, not all situations are easily or cost-effectively improved by digging up and replacing the sewer line. We have seen sewer lines where the house is lower than the sewer main. This situation must be fixed by digging up and replacing the outside sewer with extensive and expensive repiping inside the home. This is too much of a project for many homeowners.  

However, we have found that a thorough sewer jetting of dips and bellies is an excellent interim step before the complete repair or replacement of the sewer line. A sewer jetting flushes and cleans the debris build-up to get as much flow out of the sewer line as possible. We can thus get our customer’s sewers draining again while they decide whether to budget for a more intensive replacement option.

Have questions about your home’s sewer, or think you could benefit from getting a second opinion before beginning an expensive repair? Reach out to us:

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