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Sewer Scope


Mike Lamb
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This was brought up by Kurt in a recent thread but I’m starting a fresh one.

This story is unfortunately true. I inspected a condo a few years ago, a 1970’s 2 story on a slab. My client had a ground level unit. Anyway, her unit was fine except it wasn’t. There were tree roots in the sewer in the front yard. One day all the sewage from the units above backed up into her unit through the floor drain in her laundry room. She was livid I did not recommend a TV scope. This occurred almost a year after I did my inspection.

The condo assoc. paid to have new carpet and some drywall replaced but she was still unhappy. There is something very disconcerting about having a few inches of shit floating around your home. I told her I wouldn’t dream of recommending a scope when there were no signs of problems. She told me in so many words she was thinking about suing me.

Now I’ve lived around the city’s Southside (Chicago) nearly all my life and still do. Sewer back-ups are not uncommon, but they certainly are not common if that makes sense, so I have stayed away from recommending the scope when I see no apparent reason to do so. But I have changed my mind. Not because of the frequency of this happening but because it is so nasty when it does.

So what is a recommended boilerplate stating that the underground sewer should be scoped? What house age would you make the cut off for such a recommendation? Would an overhead sewer vs. all gravity weigh into the decision?

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Your story parallel my own of about 15 years ago. Why recommend something when there's no apparent problem? I found out, and now you have.

You can beat the rap (you couldn't see it, it's below grade, no previous, etc.), but you don't want this to happen again.

I tell folks to have their sewer scoped all the time; I tell them EVERYTIME there's trees anywhere in the front yard, and sometimes I tell them just because I feel like it. It's a no lose proposition; if someone wants to make a stink about scoping a sewer, that's their business; I have plenty of credible history lessons of people who have been flooded out due to sewer backups.

I ALWAYS tell folks to do it when they're in a garden or first floor unit, or when sewer repairs would mean tearing out their floor.

I often make reference to "any necessary repairs to this sewer will require tearing out the floor of your apt.; have it scoped", or something similar.

I've got several boilerplate comments for this item; it's one of the simplest, and I make up new ones all the time.

I have one for trees, one for age, one for garden units, a couple for the "raised street" thing like you get in Pilsen or the older neighborhoods, I've got one for catch basins or old crawlspaces that don't have a catch basin, I've got a couple for when there are cleanouts or not exterior cleanouts (they have to put in a cleanout to scope, about $1000), and I've got one for condos that I change around all the time.

Sewers are a big stinking mess in Chicago, no pun intended. You gotta start talking about it all the time; you'll be amazed how many people respond w/ "Yeah, my uncle/brother/neighbor had that happen! You're right, I should scope the sewer!".

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Originally posted by Mike Lamb

. . . Now I’ve lived around the city’s Southside (Chicago) nearly all my life and still do. Sewer back-ups are not uncommon, but they certainly are not common if that makes sense, so I have stayed away from recommending the scope when I see no apparent reason to do so. But I have changed my mind. Not because of the frequency of this happening but because it is so nasty when it does.

It's not just back ups that are a problem. There can be breaks that let rats in, breaks that allow the effluent to erode the ground and cause sink holes, bellies in the line that collect solids and cause slow drains, etc, etc, etc.

So what is a recommended boilerplate stating that the underground sewer should be scoped? What house age would you make the cut off for such a recommendation? Would an overhead sewer vs. all gravity weigh into the decision?

"Have the sewer line video scanned to determine its condition."

I recommend it on almost every house from about 1960 and earlier.

I recommend it on some houses that are newer if I see something suspicious.

I rarely recommend it on a house from the 1970s on because, in my area, they almost all have ABS sewer lines and there are rarely any problems with those.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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  • 5 months later...

Im not gonna go in depth, but I am being sued as we speak.

My Lawyer says I should just settle with them, and split the cost with the Realtor. They are looking to settle for replacement of the sewer line, and flood damages in excess of $30,000.

We(the Realtor, and I) may be @ fault because we did not suggest they have the sewer line inspected. Nor did we inform them that Sewer Camera Inspections existed. I have a disclaimer about pipes in walls ,and below ground, but apparently its garbage because I did not educate the customer about Sewer Inspections.

Make sure you recommend(verbally, and in writing), and highlight it on every single job you do.

If I live through this ordeal I will never let this happen again.

My Lawyer is writing something up to the effect that lists all specialized inspections(chimney, sewer, geo, etc.) available to the customer. It will state that I "John Hancock" have informed "Joe Blow" about specialized inspections available, and recommend these inspections to the "Joe Blow" to further educate them about existing conditions that may be beyond my scope of work. All specialized inspections should be perform before close of escrow. They will have to sign, and date it.

Cover your butt!

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This is my present disclaimer. I just don't check it, I tell them what it all means.

Æ’Ã Note: It is not uncommon for homes, especially older homes to have hidden sewer problem. A TV scope of the underground drain/sewer by a licensed plumber is recommended.

Good luck.

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After my 90-year-old sewer collapsed and starting pushing stinkwater up my kitchen sink drain, I started telling every customer with cast iron drains to get a scope job.

And, don't you know, I did it in active voice, and I tried hard to make sure nobody could misunderstand me. Something like this: "The drains are old. We can't see the parts of pipe that are hidden underground; we don't know the condition of the underground pipe. If the pipe fails (as old pipes often do), sewage could back up into the house. We recommend that you have a contractor 'scope' the drain pipe(s) with a camera, and tell you what problems, if any, exist in the pipe(s). If the contractor finds problems, get them fixed."

Really, it's not hard to give people straightforward and adequate warning. We don't have to see a blatant problem. A savvy HI knows that old drains are prone to failure, and customers don't want poopwater in the house. Why not write one simple paragraph that'll save your ass and your customer's ass? What's the upside of not warning a customer about the plague of poopwater?

WJ

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We(the Realtor, and I) may be @ fault because we did not suggest they have the sewer line inspected. Nor did we inform them that Sewer Camera Inspections existed. I have a disclaimer about pipes in walls ,and below ground, but apparently its garbage because I did not educate the customer about Sewer Inspections.

I have been recommending clients get a sewer scope in some broiler plate that I have in my important notices and disclaimers section of my report for longer then I can remember.

The rule of thumb that I have used for the last year or two I have adopted from Jim K. If the CYA is designed to benefit me it gets tossed; if it is designed to benefit the client then it stays.id="blue">

Also recently Jim K. gave me another pearl of wise advice. Stop trying to pigeon hole stuff in terms of defects and deficiencies. Instead think about whether or not it would be good advice.id="blue">

I think far too many HI's are trying to pigeon hole everything to fit and stop at the limits of what ever SOP they are working under or the constraints of their lousy purchased report writing system. Doing so tends to withhold giving the client good advice and adequate warningid="blue">.

Chris, Oregon

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Chris,

Nice thought. Some of us report in a particular style that covers nearly every SOP. I remain of the opinion that 20-30 sentences are all that should be necessary for a pre-purchase report. Never happen, because an inspector has to live in the real world.

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Originally posted by SonOfSwamp

Something like this: "The drains are old. We can't see the parts of pipe that are hidden underground; we don't know the condition of the underground pipe. If the pipe fails (as old pipes often do), sewage could back up into the house. We recommend that you have a contractor 'scope' the drain pipe(s) with a camera, and tell you what problems, if any, exist in the pipe(s). If the contractor finds problems, get them fixed."

WJ

I don't think this should be directed to just old houses; new construction has been known to have a 'belly' or to be just plain crushed during backfill; I even seen where the clean-out was broken off and the pipe filled with dirt.

Darren

www.aboutthehouseinspections.com

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