2018 Cost of Roto-Rooter Unclogging and Video Inspection Services

Plumber working on kitchen sink

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Roto-Rooter is a franchised plumbing company that specializes in quickly fixing problems like clogged sewer mains and branch lines, tubs that refuse to drain, and other emergency plumbing situations.

An emergency plumber is contrasted with a plumbing contractor, who deals with creating plumbing systems for home remodels and new home construction projects. The distinction between emergency and contract plumbers is important because it is one of the drivers behind the often higher prices found with emergency plumbers. As with other expedient services, you pay for the convenience of having a plumber quickly show up at your door at any hour of day or night.

Roto-Rooter arrives at its costs after an in-person visit from one of its plumbers. Each Roto-Rooter is a separate franchise. Different franchises may even be found within one city. Each franchise may have different costs, and each plumber may assess a project differently to arrive at a cost.

Sewer Main Line Unclogging

Cost: $375 base price

A sewer main line is a large pipe that leads from your house to the large municipal sewer line outside of your property line, usually buried under the street. If you are the sole owner of your single family house and property (contrasted with a condominium owner), you completely own that sewer line. So, it is your responsibility to keep that line open and running and you alone must pay to service that line.

Sewer lines can become clogged in either of two ways: obstructions that build up in the line from usage or obstructions that intrude on the line from outside. Over time, greases, fats, hair, and other items sent down the branch drains can build up on the walls of the sewer line and narrow its capacity. When that capacity is low enough, showers and tubs will not drain and toilets will not flush properly. Another way that a sewer line's capacity can be compromised is when elements outside of the line, namely tree roots, enter the line. Despite the strength of sewer pipe materials, tree roots' growth can be strong enough to penetrate the line.

Augering the sewer main line is Roto-Rooter's stock in trade, a service they have been providing since the 1930s. The process begins by wheeling their large root-cutting machine into your house and as close as possible to your sewer trap. Electric access is needed. The technician opens up the sewer trap and advances the auger down the sewer line. At the end is a rotating cutting head that cuts into shreds the soft obstructions, sending them down the sewer line and to the city main line. The Roto-Rooter machine is even strong enough to cut through tree roots. But should the tree root prove to be too strong, it might break the auger head.

Branch Line Unclogging

Cost: $365 base price.

A branch plumbing line is a line that begins at a service such as a toilet, tub or shower drain, or sink drain. The end of the branch line is at the home's sewer line. All branches lead to a single sewer line. Thus, similar to a tree, the main line is the trunk and the lines leading up to that trunk are the branches.

Clogged branch lines are typically the result of hair, grease, or rare obstructions (rings, broken plastic pieces from shampoo bottles, etc.). Tree roots never intrude on branch plumbing lines.

Similar to unclogging the sewer main, the Roto-Rooter technician will run a rotating mini-rooter auger machine, otherwise known as a drain snake, down the branch line. The auger will begin at the area of the clog, such as the shower drain, and run as far as the sewer main. Sometimes the snake only needs to extend as far as the nearby trap in order to unclog the line.

Many Roto-Rooter franchises will include, within the cost, their enzyme-based Roto-Rooter Pipe Shield product. This is not a true a clog opener, but a conditioner that prevents materials such as fats, grease, soaps, and detergents from building up on the walls of the pipes over the long term.

Sewer Video Inspection

Cost: $295 base price.

Sewer main lines are mysterious places because, until recently, no one had any idea of the nature of the blockage. Roto-Rooter and other emergency plumbers would run the augering rooter machine down the line and hope that it adequately chewed through the obstruction to get the waste running again. But sewer video machines now allow plumbers and homeowners to see exactly what is blocking the line.

During a sewer video inspection, the homeowner can watch over the technician's shoulder as the camera snakes its way through your sewer. After the camera finds the obstruction, it is stopped. The video technician then goes outside with a sewer sonde device which locates the video camera underground. This area is marked with spray paint. If the sewer line later needs to be dug up and replaced, workers will know exactly where to dig. Roto-Rooter provides the video to the homeowner, either on DVD format or online.