Home » Top Reasons Why You Need a Sewer Scope Inspection Before Buying a Home

Top Reasons Why You Need a Sewer Scope Inspection Before Buying a Home

Sewer Scope Inspection

Purchasing a home is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make. While home inspections are standard, many buyers overlook getting a sewer scope inspection prior to closing on a house. This can end up being a very costly mistake. Here are the top reasons why every homebuyer needs to get a Sewer Scope Inspection before finalizing the purchase.

Detect Existing or Pending Problems

The primary reason you need a Sewer Scope Inspection is to detect any issues with the underground sewer line between the house and the main utility line. This is the homeowner’s responsibility, not the city’s. If there are any problems, you want to find them before buying the property.

There are several types of defects that may exist:


Blockages in a sewer line prevent waste from properly draining. Sometimes the blockage is located right under the house. Other times it’s further down the line closer to the street. Contractors use specialized cameras on flexible cables to insert into the sewer line and view the interior. This allows them to pinpoint the location and cause of the blockage.

Common causes of blockages include:

  • Tree roots growing into the line
  • Buildup of waste and grease
  • Old cracked pipes allowing root intrusion
  • Collapsed sections of pipe

Blockages that are already present can wreak havoc on your new home. Waste and sewage can back up into the property, causing horrible odors and an unsanitary, unhealthy environment. But blockages that are pending are just as much of an issue. Slow-growing tree roots, for example, may not impede drainage much now, but in a couple of years could become a fully blocked line.


Infiltration occurs when outside elements make their way into the sewer line. This includes groundwater and roots. Once inside the line, flow and drainage are compromised. Sewage can then overflow into the property rather than down the line.

Infiltration also introduces a significant amount of clear water into the pipes. This overloads and dilutes the wastewater headed to the municipal treatment facility. Most cities then levy a fine against homeowners for exceeding allotted levels of infiltration.

Having a professional plumber complete a video Sewer Scope Inspection determines how much, if any, infiltration is taking place on the line. They’ll be able to advise you on any needed repairs before these problems arise after purchasing the house.

Pipes in Wrong Position

A cleanout allows access to the sewer line near the house, and it should always be installed vertically. However, through improper installation or shifting soil, cleanouts can end up horizontal or on an angle. When this happens, it makes snaking the line extremely difficult. It also increases chances of sewage backups.

Using a sewer scope shows whether the piping is positioned correctly or needs realignment. Like other defects, the sooner this is remedied, the better.

Broken Pipes

A complete split in the line, crushed piping, detached joints – these are all serious problems that require emergency repair. If such major damage exists, raw sewage can flow directly into the ground beneath your home, creating a hazardous and unsanitary environment. It can also be extremely difficult to detect broken pipes just by surface appearance.

The purpose of a Sewer Scope Inspection is to thoroughly check the integrity of the entire line and pinpoint any splits, cracks, or breaks. Identifying these before home purchase can save you thousands down the road.

Missing Pipe Sections

Good sewer scopes should run from the house all the way to the connection at the street. If any section of the footage comes up missing, it likely indicates a broken or detached segment of piping underground. Again, this allows sewage and waste to spill out beneath the home and yard.

Missing sections must be promptly replaced to restore normal flow. The inspection and camera footage helps locate and diagnose these missing portions accurately.

Assess Condition & Functionality

In addition to uncovering existing problems, a Sewer Scope Inspection provides valuable information on the overall condition and functionality of the line. Factors inspected include:

  • Age of pipes
  • Pipe material (cast iron, clay, PVC)
  • Diameter and depth of line
  • Presence and severity of cracks, fractures, misalignments
  • Amount of buildup, mineral deposits, or grease
  • Signs of prior repairs

Knowing the state and adequacy of the line will clue you in on upcoming repairs and replacements that will be needed. Perhaps the line is very old clay piping that has surpassed its useful life and needs a full replacement soon. Or is it a fairly new PVC in good shape?

This affects your budgeting and ability to take on repairs. It also may point out functional issues with the way the line was installed. For example, an uphill grade when it should be sloped downhill for drainage.

Information on condition provides the full picture of what you are getting with the property’s sewer system.

Consult the Experts

Sewer and drain specialists are experts in dealing with underground piping problems. When you get a professional sewer scope, their experienced technicians can make recommendations on issues they discover.

A thorough inspection company will provide a detailed report with video evidence of any problem areas. They can then advise you on recommended repairs, costs, and timeframes for those repairs.

Their insider knowledge is invaluable in helping you make an informed decision on the home purchase. They know what types of issues are DIY fixes versus requiring a full replacement. The specialists inform you up front what you are getting into with the sewer line.

Checking off this crucial inspection before closing puts the power in your hands. There are no unpleasant surprises that pop up later.

Negotiate Repairs or Price

After a Sewer Scope Inspection uncovers any defects, you have a couple options if you still want to proceed with the purchase:

1. Request the seller make repairs first

Since the inspection happens prior to finalizing the sale, you have the ability to negotiate with the sellers. Ask them to cover the cost and repairs for any significant issues found. Offer to split costs on minor repairs. Get all repairs done upfront before closing.

2. Adjust offer price

Based on the inspection results, you may request the seller drop the offer price to cover future repair costs. Know the scope of the problems and average cost to fix them. Then determine a fair price reduction based on that amount.

Either option gets defects remedied before the purchase is final. This prevents unexpected, costly surprises after moving into the new home.

Uncover Previous Patch Jobs

Sometimes sellers (or their agents) attempt simple patch jobs on sewer lines before listing a home. For example, they may cut out a root blockage, replace a short section of pipe, or pump concrete into cracks. Then when potential buyers tour the house, everything looks fine.

But these patch jobs often just temporarily mask larger issues. Roots continue growing back quickly. Cracks widen over time. Sections of piping keep deteriorating and collapsing.

The purpose of a sewer scope is to uncover any previous repairs or patch jobs. If done hastily just for show, they likely did not fix the underlying problem. Once you move into the house, you’ll be stuck with expensive repairs that should have been done properly and more extensively beforehand.

Inspecting the line first forces disclosure of any band aid-type repairs. You can follow up appropriately to get issues fully addressed.

Eliminate Disclosure Surprises

In some states, sellers must provide a property condition disclosure to buyers outlining known defects. But occasionally sellers claim to have no knowledge of previous sewer or drainage problems. Then soon after moving in, the new homeowner encounters backups, slow drains, or sewage odors.

This indicates the sellers likely did have some awareness of issues but chose not to disclose them. Without a sewer scope prior to closing, you’ll never know about undisclosed problems until disaster strikes.

Getting an independent inspection eliminates this possibility of unfair surprises. You have proof of any defects through video footage. Unreported issues can then be brought to the seller’s attention immediately to negotiate a fair resolution. Don’t rely solely on the seller’s word. Verify and document the condition yourself.

Record Cleanout Locations

Many homes have buried cleanout caps somewhere in the front yard that provide access to the sewer line. Their covers become obscured over time by layers of sod and landscaping. This makes them impossible to find when needed.

Sewer inspections scope the line by feeding cameras into the cleanout. In the process, technicians pinpoint the exact location of buried cleanout covers. Most keep detailed logs of properties they inspect with cleanout locations mapped out.

These records become invaluable when future repairs are needed. Excavators and plumbers know precisely where to dig for access to the line. This minimizes property disturbance and damage.

Confirm Service Line Details

In addition to scoping the length of the sewer lateral on the property, a full inspection should also verify details where it connects to municipal sewer lines.

The service connection point is usually somewhere near the street. Confirming the exact location, depth, angle, piping material, and condition at this juncture provides useful information on the overall system.

If any repairs will require digging through the street, permits and municipal approvals are needed. Inspecting now helps identify what will be involved if digging in the right-of-way is unavoidable.

Checking where your lateral joins the city’s main line is an important piece of assessing infrastructure.

Weigh Ancillary Signs

Beyond scoping the sewer line itself, inspectors will check for other hints of trouble. Slow drains, gurgling sounds, foul odors, higher water bills can all indicate unseen issues under the ground.

Carefully survey plumbing fixtures and floor drains for flow speed as well. Be present during inspection so you can point out any problem areas.

Earlier signs like these justify a closer look at the buried pipes using cameras. The full diagnostic picture guides smarter decisions.

Determine Insurance Needs

Specific sewer and underground utility line insurance policies help pay for repairs to lateral blockages, collapses, and breakdowns. This insurance can save you thousands in emergency repair bills down the road.

If the scope uncovers significant defects or problems, inspectors will recommend getting appropriate sewer coverage right away. This specialty insurance may also be required by mortgage lenders before approving your loan.

A clean scope on a well-maintained line may not require extra coverage, potentially saving monthly premium costs. Either way, doing the inspection now determines wise insurance choices.

When Should a Sewer Scope Occur?

Ideally, a sewer scope should happen shortly before closing on a home. However, a case can be made for scoping at two other points in the purchase process:

During Home Inspection Period

Most purchase agreements allow a window of time for general home inspections after an offer is accepted. Including sewer scoping at this stage allows you to back out of the contract without penalty if major issues are found.

However, only minor problems may be evident during a quick walkthrough scope. More invasive access through cleanouts may not be possible yet without seller approval. So defects can still go undetected at this phase.

After General Home Inspection

If the standard inspection uncovers hints of drainage trouble, request a separate in-depth sewer scope immediately after. This allows a closer diagnostic look at lines that may need attention.

Waiting until this late phase can limit negotiating power if scope results are poor. But it’s better than not scoping at all before closing.

Both options are better than no scope at all. But your best window for a thorough, conclusive inspection is right before finalizing the home purchase. At this point there is no downside to backing out based on results, and ample time remains to negotiate repairs.

Signs a Sewer Scope Is Necessary

As a buyer, how do you know whether the home truly needs a full sewer inspection? Here are some telltale signs a scope is warranted:

  • Age: Older homes over 20-30 years are more likely to have sewer deterioration and defects. Scope provides useful diagnostics on lines past their expected lifespan.
  • Known problems: If the sellers disclose prior backups or drainage issues, smart follow-up is scoping the cause before proceeding further.
  • Major renovations: Home additions, basement refinishes, or rerouted plumbing can disturb sewer lines right under the house. Scoping checks for resultant damage.
  • Tree-lined property: Large trees near service lines heighten root intrusion dangers. Their roots can penetrate even small cracks seeking moisture. Scope verifies sewer integrity on properties with lots of mature trees.
  • Cast iron or clay lines: Older cast iron or clay drain lines corrode, crack, and collapse easier over decades. Scoping identifies damage before failure.
  • Old municipal lines: Some cities have antiquated sewer mains from the 1950s-1970s that back up and overflow. Scope the lateral to check for trouble signs even if the house interior is upgraded.
  • Scope history unknown: Lack of records on past scopes is reason enough to verify conditions yourself before purchase. Prior owners may have avoided scoping intentionality to dodge expenses.

Scope access through cleanouts allows thorough interior inspection. If multiple warning signs are present, sewer scoping provides peace of mind that your biggest investment is free of hidden dangers below.

How Often Should Sewer Scopes Be Done?

Many homeowners wonder if sewer scopes should be part of yearly home maintenance along with other regular inspections. Opinions vary on scope frequency for existing homeowners. In general, the following factors determine appropriate intervals:

  • Age: Older pipes likely need scoping every 2-5 years looking for deterioration. Newer lines may go 10-15 years between scopes in the absence of problems.
  • Pipe material: Clay lines are prone to cracking over time. Check these every few years for new settlement breaks. PVC can go longer between scopes.
  • Tree roots: If tree roots have infiltrated in the past, scope more often to check for new intrusions. Roots grow rapidly seeking moisture and can quickly choke drains.
  • Prior issues: If original scope found major damage, safety dictates a re-inspection after repairs ensure proper functioning.
  • Plumbing changes: Scope after re plumbing or sewer work to verify proper installation and no harm to the existing line.
  • Before selling: Smart sellers scope before listing to head off inspection surprises later. Try to scope the year of selling if no recent records are available.

The final expert opinion on scope frequency for current ownership comes from your sewer inspector. Their past experience and familiarity with your line will guide prudent follow-up intervals.


Having a professional sewer scope before purchasing a home provides vital information to protect this major investment. Like any other inspection contingency, sewer scoping gives power back to the buyer to make fully educated purchase decisions.

In cases where scope findings are less than favorable, negotiation leverage exists to address problems proactively, before they become expensive emergency repairs later.

Think of scope results as an early sewer line warranty supplementing seller disclosure. When scoped prior to closing, the full picture of underground conditions gets revealed before ownership legally transfers. No more undisclosed defects that pop up as big surprises post-move-in.

The interior condition of drain lines can’t be judged from exterior appearance alone. Physical eyes on by camera is the only prudent way to evaluate what exists below grade. Sewer scopes should be an absolutely non-negotiable aspect of due diligence before buying any property. They add minimal cost upfront but can save a thousandfold down the road.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *