There are times when a sewer line needs to be inspected because someone is buying an existing building and they want to be assured that the sewer line is in good condition, properly graded, and without roots or breaks. In those times there is no question that a sewer camera is needed for the inspection to be done and the pipe condition documented. But when there is a clogged pipe, the tech working on clearing the drain may recommend that the pipe be camera inspected and will try to sell an inspection in addition to the drain cleaning. Is it really necessary?
The last couple of articles have been about drain cleaning, so this article will be the logical choice to follow those: Is using a camera down a drain really necessary or worth the cost?
One of the things I said in my drain cleaning articles is…
“Ideally, Plumbing Systems that are properly designed and properly installed will normally never clog. I have installed both residential and commercial drain systems that are going on 40-years of continuous use and the vast majority have never clogged. But life isn’t ideal. Pipes get damaged and shift. Ground settles. All kinds of foreign objects get flushed or put down a drain. Grease gets dumped or builds-up over time…”
Even though a well-designed drain system really should ‘never’ clog, they get clogged all the time, so often in fact that a whole industry has been created to respond to the many clogged drains. Most all of the clogs are mainly due to users. If it’s not a foreign object somebody has stuffed down the toilet or pipe, the ground has shifted or settled and caused problems. And rarely, the design or installation of the pipe was not to code and/or not done well.
Unless you can physically see what is causing the clogged drain, if there is a recurring clogging problem I always recommend that the drainpipe be camera inspected and located if it’s underground, so you know where the clog is and how deep it is. If you have a good-quality video of the problem, you can better assess what the costs should be for repairs. It used to be when there was a bad root intrusion or a broken pipe, the customer had to ‘take it on faith’ that there really was a problem and hope that they weren’t being deceived; now it’s just a matter of taking a look.
These days sewer cameras are very common and available and are excellent quality, and if you go to the trouble and expense of having a tech send a sewer camera into a drain, insist on getting a recording (disc or thumb-drive) of your pipe for your records.
There is only one ‘catch’. If there is a clogged drain, and someone works and works on it and cannot get any drainage, then a camera will not be much help. You will be able to tell ‘where’ the camera is in the pipe through the tech’s ‘locator wand,’ but usually if the pipe won’t drain out, the resulting water and debris are so opaque that you can’t ‘see’ anything with the camera. Then, one way or another, you have to wait until the water is out/drained down in the pipe. We have seen clogs so severe that we had to have the sewer line sucked dry by a big Vactor truck in order to be able to see anything.
Most of the time, the pipe eventually clears enough so that a camera can record what has happened and caused the problem. Root intrusions, crushed pipes, bellies, or back-graded pipe all show up pretty clearly when a camera is used carefully, and then it’s just a matter of taking care of whatever has been causing the clogs. And after the repairs, be sure that you get a record of what the pipe looks like once things are fixed by the tech sending the sewer camera down when all is done.
So, is a camera really necessary? Recurring clogs in a drain are very annoying and expensive. In certain circumstances it’s a great benefit to the tech, and the customer, to have a tool that can help diagnose these problems and take care of them once and for all.
Bruce Davis, Sr.
President, Director of Education and Learning, Sales Manager, Licensed Journeyman Plumber, Licensed Electrician,
HVAC/R Electrical Administrator, HVAC/R, Certified WA State C.E.U. Instructor
Bruce Sr is President of Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, a 67-year-old family owned and operated plumbing and heating business in Lynnwood, Washington. Bruce can be contacted at: Email: Bruce@dayandnite.net
Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating Inc. 16614 13th Ave. W. Lynnwood, WA 98037 800-972-7000