The Fast Way to Find and Fix a Drain Line Break

    Photo: Wonderlane/flickrDiagnosing a broken sewer pipe under the earth used to be a complicated, painstaking process. As anyone who has ever been faced with this type of plumbing emergency can tell you, it is not pretty. You will be faced with a foul-smelling odor from your drain line and perhaps the disgusting sight of sewage backing up into your house. The faster you can get the damaged line repaired or replaced, the more hygienic and pleasanter your home will be.

    Luckily, with today's advanced technology, your plumber will be able to quickly solve a drain line break using a camera to locate the source of the problem. Learn more about how this valuable new plumbing technology helps homeowners.

    Possible Reasons for a Drain Line Break

    Tree Roots. Tree root growth tends to be the commonest reason for damage to sewer pipes. As the roots grow longer and stronger beneath the ground, they can cause obstruction, leading to damage to your drain lines.

    Age. Many sewer lines are made of clay pipes. After 40 to 60 years of steady use, they will wear out, crumble, and eventually break down entirely. Older iron pipes are susceptible to another kind of damage -- corrosion.

    Ground Shifts. As the earth settles and sinks around your house, ground shifts may place excessive pressure on the sewer lines.

    Water Temperature. Water at a temperature that exceeds the rated heat limits for PVC or ABS plastic piping could give rise to cracks.

    Freeze-Thaw Cycles. In northern states, the continual cycles of ground freezes and thaws that naturally occur in winter can harm piping.

    Construction or Maintenance Work by Utility Company. Construction or utility company maintenance work in the area may stress your sewer pipe. The result can be a cracked drain line.

    Low Quality Piping and/or Faulty Installation. Unfortunately, shoddy work brings shoddy results. If you have a substandard drain line installation, it will tend to deteriorate rapidly. The seals that join sections of pipe are especially vulnerable to breakage.

    Video Cameras Specially Designed for Sewer Inspection

    A sewer camera, which may also be called a pipeline inspection gauge, is a new piece of equipment in the professional plumber's kit. This useful tool consists of a mini CCTV video camera with a powerful light attached, which may be mounted on a small-scale tractor and lowered into your home's drain system. Alternatively, to fit the narrowest diameter pipes, a long, thin fiber optic cable can be used; this must be slick and flexible enough to maneuver around corners yet very tough at the same time. The tiny high-resolution camera is hooked up to a monitor so that your plumber can watch the progress of its survey, onscreen in real time.

    How a Sewer Camera Locate Helps a Drain Line Break

    Here is what a sewer camera will do for you:

    • Definitively determine the cause of your sewage problem.
    • Pinpoint the exact location of any cracks, crumbling, or breaks.
    • Show whether the rest of the line is in acceptable condition.
    • Give your plumbing contractor a fast, accurate source of information on whether to repair or replace the drain line and how much either procedure will cost.
    • Avoid the major hassle and expense of digging up your prized lawn or garden to analyze a problem with your sewer lines.
    • Allow your drain line to be repaired within one day, in many cases.
    • Prevent the risk of further damage to your property, particularly your basement or crawl space.

    Laura Firszt writes for

    Updated August 19, 2018.

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