What Do Home Inspectors Need to Know About Sewer Scope Inspections?

September 24, 2021 | 
sewer scope inspection

There are over 140 million houses in the United States, meaning there’s an enormous variety of sizes, styles, and structures for home buyers to choose from. Like snowflakes, it’s nearly impossible to find two houses that are exactly alike, but they all have one thing in common: sewer lines.

Sewer waste isn’t a glamorous topic, so most HGTV-sated buyers aren’t considering septic tanks and sewer pipes when they tour potential properties. But if a home’s sewer system is in rough shape, it can lead to incredibly expensive repair bills down the line. 

Fortunately, there’s an inspection for that. 

Sewer scope inspections: a primer

Sewer scope inspections — also known as sewer line inspections — are conducted with a small camera mounted onto a flexible scope. Think of it as a colonoscopy for a house. While a doctor snakes an endoscope through the colon to ensure everything’s working, a sewer inspector works their camera through the main waste line from the house to the septic tank or city sewage system. Both are looking for problems that could cause backups or other serious issues in the future.

To begin a sewer scope inspection, the home inspector flushes water through the main drain line. The inspector then presses the camera through the access point and down into the main, or lateral, sewer pipe. The camera and light on the scope send images back to the home inspector’s monitor, where they carefully watch the show. The inspector is looking for dirt, debris, and tree roots that could block the flow of waste through the pipe. They’re also looking for cracks, leaks, and other signs of damage. 

As the camera makes its way down the entire pipe, the inspector notes any issues, including at what length along the line the problems are located, for future reference and repairs. The home inspector also provides a thorough inspection report to the homeowner or buyer, who can then act on the information. 

Who should get a sewer scope inspection?

According to real estate agents, a sewer scope inspection is a good idea for any home buyer. That’s because the expense of repairing or replacing a sewer line can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. Older sewer lines were sometimes made of clay or tar paper, which have a limited life span and will eventually collapse on themselves, causing sewage to back up into the yard — or worse, the house itself. 

Replacing an underground sewer line is a major task. It requires help from the city to disconnect the line from the sewage main (unless the line runs to a private septic tank). It also means hiring an excavator to clear dirt from the line, which could be buried many feet underground. If there are any trees, shrubs, paved paths, or other landscape features in the way, these will all be lost and need to be replaced. It’s a messy, costly process.

And while, eventually, sewer lines need to be replaced, homebuyers should know what they’re getting into. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to tell the state of the sewage system from a traditional home inspection, which requires documentation only of what can be seen. A sewer scope inspection goes the extra mile to reveal underground problems so buyers can make an informed decision about their purchase — or negotiate a better price in light of impending expenses.

Some houses are more ripe for a sewer scope inspection than others. A sewer scope inspection is especially important when:

  • A house is over 20 years old
  • There are trees, shrubs, or hedges in the immediate area
  • There’s a new cleanout cap, but no documentation that the sewer line has been replaced, indicating past clogs
  • There’s a foul odor in the area
  • Toilets or drains run slowly, back up, or smell bad
  • The grass near the sewer line is extra green or lush, indicating a leak
  • There’s evidence of earthquakes or other significant soil movement

These signs are often symptoms of a larger issue with sewer lines — issues that can be more accurately diagnosed when a home inspector performs a thorough camera inspection from the inside.

Adding sewer scope services to your inspection business

Does adding sewer scope inspections to your list of services make sense for your business? To decide, you’ll need to weigh the start-up costs with the potential to profit from offering this add-on service.

For starters, you’ll need a good camera system. These typically cost between $6,000 to $10,000 for the complete system (camera, light, scope, monitor). That’s not a small bill, though it should be noted that you can write off the cost as a business expense. On the bright side, these camera systems are fairly small and easy to transport, so you won’t need any additional investment in your vehicle to carry them to and from the job site.

You’ll also need proper training on how to use your new equipment. InterNACHI offers hands-on workshops that allow inspectors to practice in a real-world situation. They also offer a handy primer on sewer scope inspections to help get you familiar with the process.  

Finally, you’ll need to decide what to charge per inspection to make your investment worthwhile. Most sewer scope inspections cost between $150 and $300, and most inspectors offer a small discount to clients who choose to add the service to a full home inspection. If you live in an area with many older homes or a history of earthquakes, your potential customer base will be very strong. If you educate local real estate agents about the need for sewer scope inspections, you could broaden the market for your new service even further, leading to a quicker return on your investment in equipment.

Want more helpful advice on making the most of your home inspection business? Whether you want to customize your inspection report to include sewer scope inspections or learn more about running a successful business, HomeGauge is here. Get in touch today to learn more.

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