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Our home inspection business in Seattle has been robust this year. We have added a sewer scope inspection service and the volume has been brisk. Recent scopes have revealed adverse conditions such as an electrical conduit running through the sewer, collapsed or near collapsed lines, pieces of concrete in the line, and of course, root intrusion. Although the sewer inspection results can sometimes be frustrating and require follow-up, the process of doing the sewer scopes has confirmed their importance for me. It is important for buyers to have a good understanding of a property from a structural standpoint, as well as a knowledge of what's underground.
The primary goal of our sewer scope is to confirm a working line that is discharging into the main sewer, usually located in the street; and to look at the condition of the pipe for offsets, breaks and general wear. There is one particular sewer line issue that I would like to touch on, because this has been a repeating issue for me, and can cause frustration for all parties. It is discovering that the line has roots in it. Although this doesn't sound like a major issue, its resolution can be more complicated than it sounds.
A line with a lot of roots in it, generally at the bell connections, cannot be viewed properly. We may be able to push past some of the roots, but the roots are obscuring the very connections that should be viewed. It is at the connections where there are likely adverse conditions. In short, a line full of roots cannot be properly inspected and is therefore incomplete. When we encounter significant roots in the line, our recommendation is to have the roots removed and a re-scope of the line scheduled. The only way to ensure a complete root removal is to scope the line before and after the root rooter tool has done its job. This is very important, because "clearing a line" does not necessarily mean removing all of the roots. The only way to confirm that the roots are removed, is to scope the line after the root removal tool has been run in the line. In my opinion, it is best if this is done by the root removal contractor, because he can go back in and remove any roots he may have missed, or roots that have been loosened but are laying in the line.
The bottom line is, you can clear a line with a rooter tool but you can't see if any roots or other debris remain in the line without a follow-up sewer scope. Unfortunately, many line-clearing contractors do not offer this service. Or, the seller does not want to pay the going rate of $350 to $600 dollars for a line cleaning and sewer scope evaluation.
My advice to the seller is to go ahead and spend the money. That way you will know if the line is clear and the roots are removed. You will also know the general condition of the line and a confirmation of its location. If this is done by a professional, they will provide you with a report and DVD, and usually this is all that is needed to complete the process. If the buyer then wants their original sewer line inspector to re-scope, you can rest assured as the seller that the line will be clear and the re-scope should be routine.