Many home owners have been given this bad news. You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. Often there is warning as in the line that clogs up frequently every couple of years, and has huge amounts of roots cut out of it. Or, you have been told of having a belly (sag), or, misaligned joint in the line.
The responsibility of repairing your sewer lateral (the line from your house to the city line in the street) varies in different areas. In most locations by my experience the city’s responsibility is limited to the line running down the middle of the street. However, I have seen some places where they cover to the curb, sidewalk, or the edge of the street right of way. A check with your local authorities is a good idea to see what they cover. Some places also offer assistance if you have low income. It pays to get all the information you can from them. You at least need to know where your responsibilities end. In addition sometimes Homeowners Insurance may have some coverage available on sewer lines. Not all policies do have this coverage but some may, it is certainly worth checking to see if you have coverage. Water companies and sewer districts are frequently offering insurance coverage on sewer lines as well for a small monthly fee paid on your bill which may cover repairs or, replacement of a sewer line.
The first step is to have the line cleared if possible with a snake or, a jetter if needed. Then have the line video inspected to determine the full extent of the problems with the line. I would strongly recommend that you are present and witness the video inspection. Ask questions if you don’t understand what you are seeing. The line should be round, dry, joints should be smooth, and all turns should sweep nicely. It should look like a water fun ride at an amusement park. There is really not much to it and you should know when there is something wrong. It is a matter of what you see is what you got. You will know when something is wrong. You may not know what it is but you will know it’s not right. The camera operator should be able to explain what is wrong and the explanation should make sense.
Now the nitty gritty details. Cameras for sewer inspections are expensive pieces of equipment used in a harsh environment and the person operating that camera usually has considerable experience in the field. After the drain-cleaner experienced problems cleaning your line the camera may have been offered free. Nothing is free! Them using the camera had an expected pay off of doing the repair work. They cannot be expected to provide you with enough details on the problem to supply enough information to allow a competitor to bid on the job. Recouping the cost of the camera inspection will be built into the price of the job, as I said, “Nothing is Free!”
Repairs or replacement of a sewer line is not inexpensive. It is a large job requiring, licensing, excavation equipment, safety equipment such as trench boxes, permits & inspections, and sometime highly specialized knowledge and equipment. Costs vary widely in different ares but no matter where you live it is something that getting multiple bids on could save you thousands of dollars. much the same as shopping at several car dealerships before buying a car.
Another possibility is to pay for the camera inspection and get all the information a contractor would need to supply a bid on the job. Then make that information available to several contractors and solicit bids. You don’t have a lot of time on this your line will be failing again soon, so time is of the essence. To solicit bids you will need a full video recording of the line from your house to the city sewer line. Either a VHS video cassette, Mpeg file or DVD is used for this. My preference would be the Mpeg file or, DVD which I will explain in a minute. You will also need the location of the line marked both the physical location and the depth. From your house to the connection in the street. The camera has a secondary function as a transmitter for locating the line. All changes in direction should be marked as well along with some intermediate points on long straight runs. Marking should be done with flags, and or, paint on grass and dirt surfaces, and paint on pavement and sidewalks. If flags only are used for marking on the lawn great care should be taken that they are not moved or, removed.
So many people and companies have entered the electronic age that you may be able to submit the video converted to an Mpeg file, along with photo files saved as a Jpeg files, via E-Mail to several companies soliciting bids for the work. The photos should show the work area and all things near the line that may affect the excavation work. Sidewalks, driveways, HVAC units on a slab, trees, shrubs, patio’s, retaining walls, fences, and sheds are just a few of the obstacles commonly encountered. A written description of the the line depth along the way and any other pertinent details should be included. This will give them enough information ahead of time that they should have the proposal pretty well worked up then come out for a site visit to recheck the information provided and see if anything needs changing before giving you their bid. This can save everybody involved a considerable amount of time.
You may expect bids to come back often with several options ranging from a spot repair, to excavation and line replacement, pipe bursting and pipe relining. You may also expect methods proposed by different companies to be different. You will have to sift through these proposals and bid prices to decide which is best for you then give the go ahead to the winning bid.