How To Replace Your Cracked Sewer Pipe

For the past few weeks, you've discovered lawn indentations, strange odors, and moisture in your front yard—which are sure signs of a damaged sewer line. Although there are numerous problems that can damage your sewer line, the fact remains the same: you must repair your line before the existing damage worsens and causes further problems.

Locate The Damaged Pipe

Without knowing exactly where your damaged sewer pipe is located, you would have to excavate your entire line. To avoid unnecessary physical labor, locate your damaged pipe by routing a sewer camera through your line. If you don't already own a sewer camera, you can purchase one at your local home improvement or hardware store.

Use a ladder to climb onto your roof. Remove the vent that covers your plumbing service system's main stack. Feed your camera through your main stack until you reach the curve that indicates the beginning of your sewer line. Take note of the distance displayed on your camera as it curves into the sewer line.

Continue routing your camera through your line until you locate the damaged pipe. Once you've located the damaged pipe, write down the total distance traveled by your camera. Subtract the distance your camera traveled through your main stack from the total distance traveled by your camera. If you performed the subtraction correctly, then the remaining number is the distance from the bottom of your main stack to your damaged pipe. Mark the above ground location of your damaged pipe before continuing with the repair process.

Contact Your Local Utility Companies

Telephone, power, gas, and water lines may be buried in the same area of your yard as your sewer line. To avoid damaging these vital components of your home (and your neighborhood), contact your local utility companies to mark the location of their lines. By doing so, you can avoid accidentally damaging them while repairing your line.

Remove Obstacles

If your sewer line is only covered by your grass lawn, then you're in luck—you won't need to do any serious work before excavating your damaged pipe. However, if your yard is paved over with cement, then you'll need to jackhammer the cement slab before you're able to access your line. Additionally, if large tree roots block access to your line, then you'll need to cut through them.

However, breaking a concrete slab and removing tree roots are difficult tasks that require specialized equipment. If you've never used a jackhammer or dealt with large roots, then leave the task of removing these obstacles to a professional contractor.

Excavate Your Line

The depth of your sewer line depends on your local climate. If you live in a climate that experiences snow and freezing weather in the winter, then your sewer line will be buried below your region's frost line—the depth at which surface temperatures are unable to freeze underground water. However, if you live in a fairly warm climate, then chances are your line will only be a couple feet beneath your yard.

The depth of your line will determine the tools you'll need for excavation. A shallow line can be excavated with a trenching shovel, but a deep line will require heavy equipment such as a backhoe or excavator.

If heavy equipment is required to excavate your line, then leave the task of excavating your line to a professional contractor. However, if you're able to excavate your line with a trenching shovel, then performing the physical labor yourself will save you a large sum of money.

While trenching your sewer line, make sure to avoid the areas of your yard marked by your local utility companies. If you accidentally damage any of the power, telephone, water, or gas lines in your yard, then you can expect to be charged a hefty repair fee.

Replace or Clamp Your Pipe

Once you have access to your damaged pipe, inspect the damage and determine whether or not the pipe can be clamped. Pipe clamps work well on small, thin cracks, but will fail to seal pipes with large cracks or missing sections of piping. Additionally, if the pipe shows any signs of corrosion, then it should be replaced instead of clamped.

To clamp a pipe, measure the length of the crack and purchase a suitably-sized clamp from your local home improvement store. Place the clamp around the entirety of the crack and use a screwdriver to tighten the bolts on the side of the clamp.

If your sewer line is made from PVC or clay, then make sure not to make your clamp too tight. If your clamp is too tight, then you risk causing further damage to your sewer line.

If you need to replace your damaged pipe, then you'll need a chain pipe cutter. However, if your line is made from PVC, you may be able to use a reciprocating saw. Cut the damaged section of your pipe out from your line. Place pipe clamps of matching material (typically either cast iron or PVC) over the sections of your line that were attached to your damaged section of piping. Line the clamps with pipe cement before securing your replacement pipe in between your clamps.

If you have trouble performing any of the steps required to repair your damaged sewer pipe, then stop and hire your local plumber to finish the job for you. If you continue attempting to repair your line without knowing exactly what to do, then you risk making a crucial mistake that is likely to compromise the integrity of your line.