Just as a check underneath the hood before you buy a car can save you from investing in a lemon; a check underground when you buy a house can save you thousands of dollars.
Most buyers and sellers are familiar with the home inspection. But another type of inspection is growing in popularity and helping to save buyers from having to deal with big problems later on.
"Sewer lines, of course, are one of those things that are under ground and nobody can see what's going on with them unless you put a camera down there to see exactly what's going on within the pipe," says John LaRocca a partner in Sewerline Check Professionals.
LaRocca's company checks sewer lines that typically run from the home out to the center of the street. He says a lot of buyers don't realize that these pipes are broken, crushed, or damaged until the pipes back up and cause often severe problems. Once the home is purchased, fixing these pipes can be very costly.
The repair of sewer pipes can be very labor intensive because they're under ground and frequently located under driveways, garden areas, walkways and patios. "It gets very expensive to dig up these pipes and repair them. So you want to know before you buy a property whether or not there's something you have to deal with underground," says LaRocca.
But a simple inspection, that most of the time doesn't disrupt anything, and costs around $250 is the best way to get a picture of what's happening beneath the surface of a home. The sewer line check is becoming popular with single family homes. LaRocca says often buyers will couple a home inspection with a sewer pipe check.
A video camera with a light is placed down the sewer line pipe through the clean out plug. If there is no clean out plug because it is a very old sewer system or the clean out plug is buried beneath concrete the company can go in through a vent line or the inspector can pull a toilet off of its mounting and access the sewer pipe line that way. The camera travels all the way to the city sewer line recording the condition throughout the entire pipe. The inspector brings a TV monitor that shows what the camera is seeing below ground. The inspector also makes a recording of the inspection and a DVD copy is given to the client complete with narration.
LaRocca says, "Nine out of 10 inspections that we do we find that there are significant areas of damage to the sewer system."
Damage can happen from pipes becoming brittle and deteriorating and eventually collapsing under the weight of the soil. Especially if there has been an earthquake, pipes can move and crack and as people drive on to their driveways and over the underground pipes more pressure is put on the pipes and eventually they become damaged. Another big problem is caused by roots searching for moisture and nutrients. If there is a crack or break in the sewer pipe the roots can grow into the pipe.
LaRocca says a problem that his company has been finding lately has to do with the way cable and other utility companies are laying underground pipes.
They drill underground with a high pressure mortar drill and what happens is if they happen to hit a sewer line they just go right through it. People don't realize that the city or maybe some cable company has put a pipe right through their sewer line pipe. We actually have found five of those situations in the last two weeks. It's amazing how many we're finding," says LaRocca.
Yet another sewer pipe issue, LaRocca says has to do with an unused septic tank that was not properly disposed of by filling it with gravel or concrete. If the septic tank is left unfilled it can be disastrous and many times no one knows because the hole is underground.
We actually found one in a very expensive home in Beverly Hills where they thought that they had totally abandoned this old septic system but they didn't do it properly," explains LaRocca. He says the owners had built a beautiful billiard room addition over the hole where the septic tank was.
"It was very elaborate and lovely but when we put the camera in we found out that the septic tank was still underneath that room and they actually had to cut a hole in the middle of that room and go down there and clean and pump [the septic tank] out, and then fill it with gravel and put the room back together again, which cost them a lot of money," says LaRocca.
A check beneath the ground before you buy a home can amount to a tremendous savings. LaRocca figures, "on average we save people 10 times the amount of money that we charge them for any type of inspection that we do."