How Much Does Roto-Rooter Cost and Is It Worth It?

Plumber working on kitchen sink
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Roto-Rooter is an emergency plumbing company that specializes in fixing problems like clogged sewer mains and branch lines, tubs that refuse to drain, and more.  Below, an emergency plumber is contrasted with a plumbing contractor, who deals with creating plumbing systems for home remodels and new construction projects.

Roto-Rooter Prices: The High Cost of "Convenience Plumbers"

The distinction between emergency and contract plumbers is important because it is one of the drivers behind the high prices found at Roto-Rooter, as well as similar plumbers.  You pay for the convenience of having a plumber quickly show up at your door at all hours.

Below are real prices that I have paid for Roto-Rooter services.  More importantly, I add my impressions of the services and whether I believe paying the price was worth it.

Unclog Sewer Main Line

  • What It Cost:  $350 base price.
  • Was It Worth It? Yes and no, but mainly not.
  • Why?  The technician tried gamely over and over, spending a full two hours at my house.  It was a noble effort that failed.  He managed to knock loose some obstructions and get the flow going again for a few days.  So, the "Yes" is for effort and the "No" is because I essentially spent $350 on nothing.
  • Notes:  This was a classic Roto-Rooter visit.  It was around Christmas, family had recently been visiting. Roto-Rooter began by feeding the end of their famous root-cutting machine (invented in the 1930s) into my sewer trap.  After the rooter reached about 25 feet, it would go no farther. What I found out later (in a separate visit from the video inspector) was that the machine had stopped at tree roots.  It was unable to cut through the roots, which is what it supposed to do.  

Unclog Branch Line

  • What It Cost:  $350 base price
  • Was It Worth It?  No.  
  • Why?  Unclogging the branch drain for that price was excessively high. The plumber spent about 45 minutes at the house, 30 minutes of which were spent on the work itself. So, that's a $700 per hour plumber. I was definitely complicit in all this--I agreed to it.  It is a case of caveat emptor--be aware of what you are buying. In my case, I was desperate to get this drain moving.  Next time, I will try to unclog the branch line on my own or shop around for a cheaper emergency plumber.
  • Notes:  They included their enzyme-based Roto-Rooter® Pipe Shield® product (not a clog opener, but a conditioner that, according to their site, "prevents organic materials such as fats, grease, soaps, and detergents from building up...").  

Sewer Video Inspection

  • What It Cost:  $250
  • Was It Worth It?  Yes--absolutely.  
  • Why?  The video technician located the exact area of the blockage and identified ​with marking spray paint.  This was invaluable, because when I later dug up my yard to replace that section of the sewer pipe, I was able to hit the exact spot.  Digging down 4 feet is no pleasant task; knowing exactly where to dig made it a far less unpleasant task.
  • Notes:  For sheer entertainment value, getting a sewer video inspection is worth every penny. During the process, you can watch over the technician's shoulder as the camera snakes its way through your sewer.  Later, you get a DVD of the journey, which you can show to family and friends on the big screen!  When I did not receive my DVD of the video-scope within a couple of weeks, I called the main office. To my surprise, I received a call back from the manager with apologies, and the video came in the mail the next day.