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Two workers stand in the front yard of a home and observe as a third worker operates an excavator to dig a trench for installation of a sewer line.

Photo “new sewer line” by Edsel Little, CC BY-SA 2.0

 

A broken sewer line can feel like a nightmare for many homeowners. Since every pipe in your home drains into the main line, if it becomes damaged or collapses, your entire plumbing system is out of commission. It can be much easier to avoid a serious problem and a less costly to fix if you catch the clogged or collapsed line before it backs up and floods your basement. Keep an eye out for a few important signs that your sewer line might have a problem.

What Causes a Sewer Line to Collapse?

Most older homes have sewer lines that are made of clay drain pipe. These materials generally have a lifespan of 50 years, though many last much longer.  Over time, they are subject to stress from freeze and thaw cycles, and intrusion by roots from nearby trees that can cause them to crack and eventually collapse.

Though the causes of a collapse are common, they can be hard to spot as they are occurring underground.  Here are some indicators you may have a broken sewer line:

Frequent Backups

If you are experiencing frequent backups or slow drains in areas such as the sinks, toilets, or showers within your home, suspect your sewer line.  Floor drains and fixtures in the basement may be the first place that you will notice these backups.

Strange Smells Coming from Your Fixtures

If there’s a clog in your line, you may notice an odor of sewer gas backing up through your fixtures indoors.  If the line is actually broken, then you’ll be more likely to notice this odor outdoors near the source of the break.

Your Lawn is Always Wet, Surprisingly Lush, or Has Sunken Spots

A break or collapse can cause soil to rush in and water to rush out of the line, leading to wet areas or sinkholes. This may be more noticeable when you use appliances that discharge a lot of water at once, like a washer or dishwasher.  You may also notice that the grass in one area grows much faster than in other parts of your yard (or is much greener from “nutrients” in the sewage.).  If you are noticing puddles, there’s an issue.

 

What To Do When You Notice That Something is Wrong

If you suspect a problem, it’s best to start with a plumber or drain specialist who can examine the line with a camera.  These cameras are waterproof and are attached to a long cable that can show you were the problems in the pipe. They often include radio transmitters that are able to save the exact location of the problem.  The technician should be able to show you the source of the problems.  Most will keep a recording of the video inspection.

If the issue is something like tree roots or a clog of toilet paper, they’ll also have tools to clear the clog.  If there is a break or collapse in the pipe, then a bigger fix is required.

 

How Can a Collapse Be Repaired?

If your sewer line has collapsed or is broken, the solution will depend on the severity of the break.  In some cases, the line can be repaired and stabilized from within, with either a smaller diameter pipe, or a liner called Cure-In-Place-Pipelining (CIPP), which is a flexible material that hardens once installed within the lines. If your line is not a candidate for these methods, then it may be necessary to excavate the area and install a new line from above.

 

Funding Options to Repair Your Sewer Line:

A broken sewer line can be a public health hazard, and so many communities offer affordable financing options to repair or replace them.  In the City of Saint Paul,  homeowners are able to have the cost of a sewer repair assessed to their property taxes and paid back over 20 years. Check with your local government to find out what programs may be available to you.

NeighborWorks Home Partners also has emergency financing for repair needs that make your home unhabitable, such as a broken water or sewer main, or heating system. Emergency financing has an expedited approval process.  Contact us to learn more.

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About the Author:

Photo of Emilie Dozer

Emilie Dozer

I have a passion for housing and I am very excited to get involved in the meaningful work that NeighborWorks Home Partners is doing within the Twin Cities. I am currently a student at the University of St. Thomas studying both Justice and Peace Studies and Sociology. In my free time I enjoy listening to podcasts and cooking with my roommates.

I have a passion for housing and I am very excited to get involved in the meaningful work that NeighborWorks Home Partners is doing within the Twin Cities. I am currently a student at the University of St. Thomas studying both Justice and Peace Studies and Sociology. In my free time I enjoy listening to podcasts and cooking with my roommates.

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NeighborWorks Home Partners’ mission is empowering individuals and communities by helping people buy, fix and keep their homes. Learn more.

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Saint Paul, MN 55103

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