The drains and toilets in your house start to back up.

When the plumber arrives, he inserts a snake with a camera on the end, into your main sewer line from the basement to the city street to see what is going on.

Bad news.

Your main sewer pipe has collapsed in several places, has tree root invasions, and the entire line needs to be replaced.  The main sewer pipe is buried very deep in the front yard.

Who pays for the damage?

You hope the sewer utility will just come out and replace it for free. Unfortunately, your plumber tells you that you are responsible for all repairs and costs for replacing this section of sewer pipe, not just on your property, but up to the street utility connection too.

It will cost thousands of dollars to replace the pipe.

There’s no way you can live in your house without a properly functioning sewer system. A check with your home insurance broker reveals that sewer lines are not included in your homeowner’s policy coverage. But there is an additional coverage you can buy to cover service line breakdowns.

Wait! There are no trees on my property. How was the pipe invaded?

There’s a huge old tree in a nearby yard. Leaking water and sewage is attracting the small, thin roots to the pipe but over many years, the roots grow larger in diameter. When the roots grow inside the actual pipe, the roots themselves cause the pipe blockage.

Why did the pipe collapse?

The pipe on your property was made from wood pulp blended with coal tar, which was used extensively during and after World War II due to metal shortages. Although it can last a long time, when it does fail, it usually fails by collapsing, becoming oval or “heart-shaped”, and then delaminating and separating at the pipe-joint couplings.

Your plumber explains the three common methods for dealing with failed sewer pipes.  They include pipe-relining, pipe-bursting, and conventional open-trench excavation.  The first two are considered “trenchless” and are sometimes preferred where an open excavation could destroy the property.

The Conventional Open-Trench Excavation Process

First, the contractor uses electronic detection equipment to locate the path of the pipe and where to dig directly over it. The excavator digs an open trench over the path of the old sewer line.

The damaged sections of sewer pipe show the collapse, indentations, and holes created by old age and tree roots. The indentations were face-down in the trench as the roots grew under the pipe, seeking out the water leaking by gravity.

Next, new PVC sewer pipe is installed in the trench which will have fewer pipe joints and future points-of-failure for tree root intrusion.  Notice how many tree roots are visible coming from the direction of the fence and property line to the left.

The pipe is fixed. Now what?

Finally, the contractors will fill in the trench, re-establish the grade, and this sewer replacement project is complete. The lawn will need to be seeded in the spring to restore everything back to normal. Luckily, this repair did not require the city street to be cut open. If it had, in most cases, the homeowner would be responsible for that additional work and cost.

There is not much a homeowner can do to prevent the natural aging of underground sewer lines and their eventual demise, especially if your system has an old pipe and is vulnerable to tree root intrusion.

Thankfully, there is service line insurance that can protect against unexpected repair expenditure such as this one and can help make the incident less disruptive financially.

Interested in how to get this coverage? Click here for information on Service Line Insurance.

Related Articles

How To Protect Against Underground Service Line Failures

A home equipment breakdown can cost you thousands. How can insurance help?

Important mid-winter home maintenance checks


© The Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company of Canada (BI&I). All rights reserved.

This article is for informational purposes only. All recommendations are general guidelines and are not intended to be exhaustive or complete, nor are they designed to replace information or instructions from the manufacturer of your equipment or software. Contact your equipment service representative or manufacturer with specific questions. Under no circumstances shall BI&I or any party involved in creating or delivering this article be liable for any loss or damage that results from the use of the information or images contained in or linked to in this article.

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