Sewer Video Inspection Basics, Cost, and Results

Process, Cost, and Other Basics a Homeowner Should Know

Supply and Drain Pipes Under House
Pipes under house. Getty / Slobo

Got a sewer problem and have no idea what it is or where to dig?  A relatively low-cost sewer video inspection just might help.

In years past, dig points were much a matter of educated guesswork. Now, with sewer video cameras and locating equipment, it is a simple matter of calling a sewer video inspection and locating the block.

Following are basics involved in ordering a sewer video inspection:

What is a Sewer Video Inspection?

It is a process where you call in a plumbing company or a specialist to run a video line through your waste pipes.

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.

Is This Needed For Most Plumbing Remodel Projects?

No, this would not be a frequent occurrence. But you might need a video inspection if you plan to add a bathroom or remodel your kitchen or a bathroom. Because of the greater quantities of waste water involved, you may want to inspect your sewer line to make sure that it can handle the increased needs.

Typically, though, most homeowners call in a sewer line video 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.

Can You Do a Video Inspection Yourself?

Yes, but it is more cost effective to hire a company.

Homeowner-level video inspection scopes are far too short to inspect more than the first few feet. Not only that, these scopes probably are not auto-focusing or self-righting.

By contrast, sewer video 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.

It is possible to rent drain inspection cameras from local rental yards.  For one day usage, it would be more worth your time and money to hire a company instead.  But if you need the camera for a full week, reduced weekly rental fees will make this cost-effective.

How Much Does an Inspection Cost?

Inspection costs greatly vary, from $99 to $300.

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

Rental yards will rent you a video pipe camera with 200 ft. of the line per day.  While this is slightly cheaper than the what the more expensive companies will charge, the learning curve will substantially eat into your rental time.  

How Far Will the Video Inspection Scope Travel?

It can go as near as branch lines within the house or as far as to the point where the home's sewer ties to the municipal sewer line, maximum being about 330 feet.

What Will You See In the Video Itself?

If you are doing an entire sewer line video inspection, you will see a "walk-through," 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 municipal line.

Do not expect a Hollywood movie.  While the resolution is high, the picture will be jerky because the scope has to be manually pushed down the line.

How Does the Camera Help You Locate Where to Dig?

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