Sewer Camera Inspection: What to Expect

Basics, costs, and results of a sewer camera inspection

Cable inserted into PVC pipe for sewer video inspection

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

When plumbing issues happen, they can be hard to locate. If a water supply pipe in a wall breaks, it's apparent: soggy and moldy drywall develops. If a sewer pipe breaks, the location might eventually show itself in the form of wet, swampy ground and overabundant foliage. But if the sewer line is blocked, it's difficult to know where the blockage is located.

In years past, dig points were a matter of educated guesswork. A few exploratory holes might be augered, with more misses than hits. Today, a relatively low-cost method is the better way to do this: a sewer camera inspection.

With sewer video cameras and locating equipment, no exploratory holes or trenches need to be dug. Instead, a sewer video inspection professional can run a camera through the line to locate the exact location of the blockage.

What a Sewer Camera Inspection Is

A sewer camera inspection is a process by which an individual hires a private company, usually a plumbing company or specialist, to run a video line through the sewer water pipe.

The video might extend down your branch lines (the pipes that lead from bathtubs and faucets to the house's sewer line) or down the house's sewer line (the larger pipe that leads from the house to the municipal sewer line on the street).

At the end of the line is a camera that lets you see the line in close-up and real-time detail. Also at the end is a transmitting device that emits a signal. A locator device, up on the ground, can pick up the signals from the transmitting device.

Municipal water and sewage companies typically will not inspect the lines leading from the home to the sewer main. It's up to the owner or resident of the home to have these lines inspected by a private company.

When a Sewer Camera Inspection Is Helpful

Most homeowners call in a sewer line camera inspection only if there is a problem, such as a blockage that cannot be fixed by plunging, liquid drain cleaners, or sewer or drain augering.

Less frequently a homeowner may need a camera inspection prior to adding a bathroom or remodeling a kitchen or a bathroom. Due to the greater quantities of wastewater involved, it might be necessary to inspect the sewer line to make sure that it can handle the increased needs.

Professional vs. DIY Sewer Camera Inspections

While there are options for DIY sewer camera inspection, it is usually more cost-effective to hire a professional to do the job.

DIY Sewer Camera Inspection

Homeowner-level video inspection scopes—the type that is used to look inside walls or under floors—are far too short to inspect more than the first few feet. Not only that, many of these scopes are not auto-focusing or self-righting.

It is possible to rent drain inspection cameras from local rental yards for about $300 to $400 per day. Renting the locator is often a separate expense—$75 to $125 per day.

So, with one-day costs reaching $375 to $525, it may be easier and more cost-effective to hire a company to video the pipes. If you need the camera for a full week, reduced weekly rental fees will make this cost-effective.

Professional Sewer Camera Inspection

Sewer camera scopes and locator units owned by plumbing companies can cost upwards of $15,000. They have powerful lights; they are self-righting (the picture always stays upright); they are high-resolution; they have recording capabilities. Most importantly, these cameras have transmitters at the end which can help the technician locate block points.

Typical Costs for a Sewer Camera Inspection

Inspection costs vary greatly, from $300 to $600, depending on the length of the line inspected and any complications in the line.

Less expensive video line inspections may produce lower-quality images due to older equipment. These offers also may be tied to purchases of more expensive services. For example, you may be required to purchase drain augering in return for the inexpensive video inspection.

Rental yards will rent a video pipe camera with 200 feet of the line per day for $300 to $400 and about $1,000 per week. While this is slightly cheaper than what the more expensive companies will charge, the learning curve will substantially eat into your rental time.

What a Sewer Camera Inspection Can Show

If you are doing an entire sewer line camera inspection, you will see the entire passageway, leading from the trap, down through the sewer line, and up to any obstructions. If the camera can push through the blockage, it may continue through to the beginning of the municipal line.

While the resolution will usually be high, the picture will be jerky because the scope has to be manually pushed down the line. Plus, the camera will become clouded over from time to time.

The camera unit has a transmitter. The video technician/plumber will stop the camera at the blockage point. Then the worker will go up to ground level and sweep a locating device until the device picks up the transmission signal. This allows the worker to spray a paint spot at the exact point of blockage. You will dig the sewer trench here.