Dear PoP – pipe relining?

Photo by PoPville flickr user JosephLeonardo

“Dear PoP,

The underground sewer line that leads from my house to the street is made of cast iron. A couple years ago the line backed up and the plumber who came to unclog it snaked a video camera down the line to determine the cause. He found that roots from a tree in the front yard had infiltrated the line through a crack in the iron pipe and were constricting the flow in the line as they grew, eventually leading to a backup. As a stopgap measure I’ve been putting root killer down the drain but I still get backups once in a while, requiring expensive plumber visits.

Digging up my small front yard to replace the pipe would be a major undertaking, involving some very deep digging, removal of a concrete staircase, walkway and likely the offending tree. I’ve been reading about pipe relining as an alternative. As I understand it, relining involves sliding an epoxy-saturated fabric sleeve down the drain to the crack in the pipe and then using compressed air to force it to fill the crack. The epoxy then cures and the sleeve permanently fills the crack, preventing roots from getting back in.

I’m curious if any of your readers have tried pipe relining and could share their experiences.”

Wow, I wonder how common a problem this is. I know we’ve heard about pipes being completely replaced but has anyone had one relined? If so, how much did it cost and who did you use to do it?

25 Comment

  • Whatever it is it sounds expansive. This is why everyone should burn the trees down near their house. The trees in this community do nothing and plus they are behind on their taxes. The trees are like the homeless but require you sometimes to rubber cement down just like the homeless do.

  • If the damaged part of the pipe isn’t beneath concrete, you can replace it with a PVC section that will last you a century. There might not be need to replace the entire pipe.

    But if that’s not possible, you might be right to look into relining. I don’t know much about it. I do know that if you decide to dig and just replace the damaged section, don’t let the plumber do it. Hire unskilled labor. You’ll save about 6000%.

  • ohmanohmanohmanohman – if you figure out how to do this I would forever be indebted to you! I have a drain pipe in the front of the house that has been clogged since I purchased the place. Root killer certainly does not help. This sounds like a GREAT solution! Please keep us informed of how it goes!

  • Root infiltrate cast iron, but they won’t sneak aorund/in some fabric/plastic? I’d think replacing the small affected section with an actual PVC pipe would work better and be less costly.

  • how fast do the roots grow back? they make pipe snakes w spade bits to chop through that crap.

    • Sadly, that lasts 1-2 years in my experience. Then you get a messy “surprise” and have no plumbing while you wait for the plumber again.

  • I too have this problem and heard back from several plumbers this week. Apparently nobody in DC does relining, just complete dig out and replace. For me, I was told that the best case scenario is $20K. The problem is that a lot of row houses sit on hills that adds to the amount of material that needs to be dug out.

  • I had this done to my Columbia Heights home back in 2003, the year I purchased the home. I went down to the finished basement and the sewer was backed up into the tubs, sinks…what a mess. You really need to get the line replaced, its the only way to do it properly, and its all about the guts of your home being sound. Who cares if the window treatments are first rate when the plumbing is for crap. It cost me about $13,000 back then and well worth it. Check with your homeowners insurance.

  • Relining can work for pipes that show signs of corrosion, but if there is damage from roots breaking into the old pipe, then the only real solution is to replace it. But like others have said, you can do this with PVC, and you may not need to replace the entire pipe – just the damaged section.

  • Take it from a long time home owner – don’t try the band-aid, just fix the problem. The permits, labor, material, and peace of mind are worth the investment and it will not cost you tens of thousands. Reasonable estimates should come in b/w 4-7k, but it depends on where the line is plugged up. The only way it would double in cost is if the problem is in the piping under the sidewalk or the street (public space), in which case, you should be able to get this recorded by camera, marked, and then reported to WASA. If the problem is not on your property, it’s their job to resolve the matter. I have a handy-man that could take care of this for you if it’s on your property; he’s honest, hard working and very reasonable. I’m not sure how to pass my info along?

  • My neighbor had to do this – roots had infiltrated the sewer lines for her house and she had to have her basement floor dug up to replace the pipe, as well as a good portion of her yard. I remember she said it cost $20K. I have no idea if homeowner’s insurance could help with this but it’s enough $ it might be worth looking into. I would only do this with a professional plumber.

    FYI, the tree causing the problem was a huge elm tree immediately next to the foundation of the house. Small trees in your yard are fine (dogwood, crape mytle, etc.) but I’d beware of having a giant shade tree next to your foundation.

    • You are scaring me. Why did she have to dig up her basement? I have a neighbor’s tree causing me problems, but it is quite a way away from my house.

      • I just put a front door into my basement and I had to dig to find the drain. It was a real pain. But anyway, while digging in the basement, we found a ton of roots. Roots live beneath these row houses. They weren’t big enough to hurt an iron pipe, but I don’t have any big trees close to the house. Lesson is that trees close to your home are bad news.

        I’d rather dig up my basement than tear apart my front walk or something, though. It really wasn’t all that big a deal. It was messy and I needed new flooring, but that was the extent of it.

        As far as $20K goes, take it from this quasi-DIY’er: don’t ever let someone licensed to do one thing do a second thing. Don’t pay a plumber to dig! Call Miss Utilities, get the line marked, buy three shovels, and hire a few day laborers. That person could have saved half, at least. Most of these projects aren’t as hard as they sound if you’re smart about them.

  • Wow. I’m sorry to those who had to deal with this problem.

    For those of us that haven’t but live in a neighborhood with a lot of mature trees and are getting worried now… is there any PM we can do to discourage roots from getting in?

  • Find the Lorax, he speaks for the trees.

  • I’m a licensed contractor, and we have to replace the main sewer and storm lines in every project that we do. One way you can save money here is to only replace the section of the pipe that is damaged. The most expensive part of a complete replacement is the fees and deposits to cut the sidewalk and street, which are in public space. Also you pay a heavy fee to WASA for a new tap to the main in the street. If you only replace part of the pipe on your property, you should be able to do the job for $5-10k, as opposed to $15-20k for a full replacement.

  • Have DC WATER come out and confirm the original contractor’s assessment. I had flooding problems caused by a cracked/collapsed joint and WASA had to pay for the whole thing because it was 6″ off my property line. No problems since and no bill.

    Make sure they snake the line, and make sure you measure the length of snake they used. Also, it’s where the crack occurs, not how far the root has traversed.

  • If you live in a historic district, the city owns the property up to your front door, so they’re responsible for replacing the pipe.

    We’re facing this problem and dreading it. The pipe in front of our house is terra cotta, to illustrate how old some of these pipes are.

  • OP- You didn’t get any real answers to your question, but if you wind up doing the re-lining, please post (either here or elsehwere on PoP) your experience. I would like to know what happens.

  • Thanks for the tips, everyone. I’ll update PoP when I move forward with this.

  • You got some good but mostly bad advice above. Re-lining a sewer line in DC is not an option. Replacing a section is usually the best option as most jobs like this do not require replacing the entire line only a section. If you hire unlicensed people and one of them gets hurt or damages someone else’s property, you don’t have to worry about the sewer line anymore because someone else will own your house. The estimates given above are pretty accurate depending on how deep it is, how close it is to your house and whether or not the defect is inside or outside your house. I advise you to get several estimates.

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