Myths Busted! Water and sewer lines never break

Repair water pipe

A common myth is that water and sewer lines never break. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind – because the service lines usually lie underground and buried beneath our homes, we don’t think about them. Yet, more than 850 water main breaks occur in North America every day according to www.watermainbreakclock.com!  It is only when the water or sewer line fails (clogs, leaks or breaks) that we give them any thought. Often the pipes or lines for which homeowners are responsible are generally believed to last for 40, 50 or even 60 years.  Many factors contribute to the useful lifetime of a homeowner’s water and sewer pipes or service lines, some of which include the material from which the lines are made, the weather and soil conditions.

What causes water and sewer lines to fail?
Root Intrusion
Do you often admire the saplings the former property owner planted some 40 years ago? The roots of those now full-grown trees stretch deep into the ground and could very well be permeating the small cracks in your service lines that are as old or older. The roots grow in the direction of the water source to thrive and, once a small opening in the service line is found, will begin to penetrate the line. Roots invading sewer lines could cause clogs and result in raw sewage seeping into the yard, not to mention an unpleasant odor and soil contamination.

Ground Shifting
As a result of ground movement or shifting, water and sewer line joints may become loosened or dislodged, often causing the pipes to crack, misalign or collapse. Once this happens, it becomes an easy entry point for clay and debris, which will eventually cause the line to clog.

Especially susceptible to shifting are the areas where earthquakes occurs. The shifts can be of such magnitude that damages to the public water and sewer lines could hamper the delivery of fresh, clean water to communities for several days.

Weather
We’ve experienced some extreme fluctuations in temperature, drought conditions and record amounts of rain and snowfall during the past few years. These extremes can cause water and sewer line corrosion and accelerated soil erosion, which affects the quality of the lines. A slight change of only a few degrees in air or water temperatures can cause significant stress on service lines. For example, water temperatures below 4 degrees can cause the pipes to become brittle and air temperatures at or below 0 degrees cause the ground above it to freeze, thereby increasing stress on the line.

The bottom line – water and sewer lines can and will break.

 

Average Cost of a Service Line Repair or Replacement

iStock_000000798259Large - BackhoeAs a property owner, you are responsible for maintenance of the water and sewer lines that run from the exterior of your home to the public utility connection. Should a line for which you are responsible break, spring a leak or clog, the repair can cost an average of $2,600 or more. If a sewer line breaks under the street before the tap (which is still the homeowner’s responsibility), the repair could be $10,000 or more. That’s an out-of-pocket expense that is both unanticipated and can wreak havoc on a family budget.  Usually repairs to the service lines on your property are not covered by a homeowner’s policy and the city in which you live is only responsible for public service lines. 

As a homeowner, you are responsible for the portion of line beneath your property that runs from the main connection to your home and like most repairs – if this line breaks it can be a very expensive repair. But just how expensive?

While actual costs may vary, HomeAdvisor.com shows that the national repair average of a sewer line repair is approximately $2,600 and approximately $1,030 for a water main. Keep in mind these are national averages for repairs and a variety of factors contribute to these costs such as the length of the line, depth and location of the problem.

Let’s take a look at what kind of factors contribute to a line replacement.

  • Problem Identified – Maybe you smelled raw sewage or noticed extreme damp spots in your lawn. The bottom line – you know there’s a problem and now you need a plumber.
  • Locating a Plumber – If you’ve never had the need for a plumber before and aren’t currently enrolled with a repair service, the process begins with combing through local plumbers to find an affordable and trustworthy plumber in the area. Your research might include whether they are licensed to do business in your area, whether they are knowledgeable to obtain permits to dig and verifying their accreditation status with the Better Business Bureau.”
  • Evaluation – Once you locate a plumber (or two), you’ll need to assess the situation. The plumber will come out and inspect the line and determine the problem. They’ll likely give you a quote and you may want to get a second opinion depending on the cost.
  • Factors Affecting the Cost –  There are a number of factors that contribute to the cost of a repair – such as the length of the line, location of the problem, and general plumber fees. Much like going to a mechanic or lawyer, you will have to pay people for their time and depending on how long the repair takes, the costs could add up quickly. The type of pipe you have may also affect the cost. It’s possible in some older homes you are using outdated pipe that is difficult to repair, resulting in a replacement need. The location of the problem can also cause headaches during a repair. It could be in a difficult-to-reach location, buried deeply under the earth or possibly the result of root intrusion from poorly placed landscaping.
  • After-the-fact Costs – Once the repair is made, it may not be the end of costs. If you had an unknown water leak you could be responsible for a hefty water bill if the leak went unnoticed for quite some time. Additionally, if the leak was significant enough, there may be landscape damage needing to be repaired. 

Replacing lines often requires digging, which involves a long, deep trench or trenches to remove the old pipes and install new ones at a cost of approximately $50-$250 or more per foot, depending on the length of the line, depth of the pipes, ease of access, local rates and code and permitting requirements. An average sewer replacement from the house to the public sewer system can cost upwards of $3,000; however, if the repair is complicated or the pipe is in the street it could be upwards of $7,000 to as much as $25,000 or more. CostHelper readers report paying $4,500-$13,000, or $50-$100 for per foot traditional replacement of 50′-100′ of sewer line, for an average cost of $7,493, or $106 per foot.

However, not all repairs require digging. Many plumbers offer trenchless sewer replacement, which uses a machine to push the old pipe out while installing a new pipe at the same time. Though less invasive on your yard, the cost can still run between $60 and $200 per foot, or an average of $3,500 to $20,00 per household. CostHelper readers paid an average of $232 per foot.

The bottom line – a water or sewer line replacement isn’t as simple as one phone call to a plumber on your own. There’s research, quotes, phone calls and hassles, which could be eliminated with warranty repair services.