A cute little girl with curly brown hair piers through a magnifying glass.

A Colonoscopy for My Home’s Piping? The Benefits of a Pipeline Video Inspection.

Does water back up in your tub or kitchen sink when you run your washing machine?

You just might have a blockage in your home’s plumbing system.

Back in the old days, knowing where to dig when you had a drain problem was, at best, an educated guess. Even when a professional plumber handled the job, it was still guesswork that relied on trial and error before finding the optimum solution to a plumbing problem. Let’s face it, the plumbing system in your home can be quite substantial, with many hidden, underground and hard-to-reach places.

Today, the plumber has a state-of-the-art technology to get right to the source of the problem. Now, he can see exactly what’s going on inside your pipes. Even better, he can show you, too, so there’s no doubt about the diagnosis of a plumbing problem.

It’s called pipeline video inspection.

It’s a sort of piping colonoscopy!!

Pipeline video inspection is the process of putting a small rugged, flexible, waterproof camera inside the plumbing system, including the sewer and storm drains. This camera (sometimes known as a “PIG” or pipeline inspection gauge) is attached to a mobile wheeled base at the end of a long cable or wire. The base can be operated somewhat like a remote-control toy car and sent forward or backward, left or right. While monitoring the camera and the base from a video screen, your plumbing professional can “drive” it through the pipes and drains. The camera and its light source can also be adjusted and focused on the control station as it moves through the pipes.

The camera transmits a clear image of the inside of your pipes back to the technician on the other end. This real-time imagery shows what and where the problem is, so the appropriate repair or replacement can be made.

Why are video cameras suitable for this task?

It’s quite simple. Video cameras are small and can offer the visual feedback that you need for the home’s underground pipelines. The fact that you can acquire real-time feedback makes the process of pipeline video inspection very precise and results do pay off immensely in the long runs.

The ability to use this equipment to see underground, in pipes surrounded by concrete, and under your home’s foundation allows for the opportunity to more accurately diagnose drain issues, identify obstructions, root intrusion, pipe damage, pipe misalignments, punctures and other defects.

When your plumbing pro can accurately pinpoint the source of leaks, blockages or other plumbing damage, he can focus on repairing the pipes at that exact location. Being able to see in tough to reach places and around corners makes a world of difference, and can save you time, money and hassle.

Along with finding the exact location of the break, the camera provides a number of other visual aspects that are vital to solving your problem. You can find out what material the drain is made of, the condition of the material, and whether or not the break is in one specific location, or if the whole line needs to be replaced. More importantly, how significant the break is.

Plumbing fun fact: During his presidency, Richard Nixon established a special investigations unit after sensitive information was leaked during his first term. He called this covert group the White House Plumbers.

As a homeowner, what part of the sewer system is your responsibility?

Before we go any further, it’s really important to know that property owners, not only homeowners, connected to a municipal sanitary sewer system are responsible for the entire length of the sanitary sewer service line from their property and throughout their property to the city main line. This includes the part of the line under the sidewalk, landscaping or nearby easement (where the line is the deepest and the most expensive to repair, and where your sewer connects to the city’s mainline.) This is why having a pipeline video inspection done before you buy a new property, is very important to shed light on the health of the pipes connected your potential new home or office.

$#&#@&*!! What causes those darn clogged sewer pipes in the first place?

  • Intruding tree roots: Tree roots penetrating your pipes are the number one cause associated with sewer back-ups. The roots grow into the pipes and will continue to grow until they fill the pipes completely. Or, in many instances, the roots will actually break the pipes, creating an even bigger problem.
  • Heavy corrosion: Rust is never good for pipes. Older pipes may become so rusty that they can no longer deliver water from one place to another. What used to be a clear pathway for a strong stream of water is now an obstacle course that delivers only a trickle.
  • Sunken pipes: Sometimes, in certain soil conditions, pipes can actually sag because the soil is so soft. This creates a valley where debris, paper, and waste can collect and form a major clog.
  • Grease: Grease is a pipe’s worst enemy. Many homeowners casually pour their old, used grease from cooking down the drain. This is the worst thing you could do. That grease will eventually turn solid, creating a blockage. If this happens, you will need to get your pipes hydro-jetted.
  • Debris build-up: There’s no telling what’s gone through your home’s plumbing system over the years. Your pipes may be blocked by objects that should never have been flushed or crud that creeps in through breaches in the pipes. Either way, the result is clogged pipes and a pipeline video inspection is the best way to scope out the problem.

A J&A South Park employee lying on the kitchen floor with his legs sticking out from under the sink while he inspects the kitchen plumbing.

So, what exactly should I be looking for as indicators of a potential problem?

  • You see raw sewage backing up into your drain, toilet or tub.
  • Gurgling sounds coming from the pipes.
  • You see water pooling around the floor drain in the basement.
  • If water backs up into your shower or bathtub when using the washing machine.
  • Recurring clogs or multiple clogged drains
  • Slow Drains
  • Sewer Odors

Plumbing fun fact: Pipes haven’t always been made of metal. In the late 1800s, both Boston and Montreal used wooden pipes; they were logs that were hollowed out and tapered at the ends.

So, you think your wedding ring just went down the kitchen drain!!!

Sometimes, the plumber gets to go on a treasure hunt. Many people are surprised to learn that everything that goes down drainpipes doesn’t immediately get washed away to the wastewater treatment plant. Car keys, wedding rings, and watches are just a few examples of things that have been rescued from sewer lines.

Locating these missing or lost items, especially valuable jewelry or the like, that may have been dropped down the drain is another scenario where the drain and pipeline video inspection would come in handy.

A pipeline video inspection will also allow you to monitor the health of your septic system and let you know when repairs or maintenance are necessary.

You might also need a video inspection if you plan to add a bathroom or remodel your kitchen or bath. Because of the greater quantities of wastewater involved in a remodel, you may want to inspect the sewer line to make sure that it can handle the increased needs.

Warning, warning: Always get a professional video pipeline inspection before you buy a new home.

Most home buyers today wouldn’t think about closing their purchase without getting a general house inspection. That’s especially so with older homes. Inspections are excellent insurance for discovering existing and potential problems. Unfortunately, most home inspectors fail to examine the sewer lines, which can turn out to be a critical and costly mistake.

This isn’t a slam against house inspectors. Far from it. Most inspectors are quite competent and have an immense amount of general building knowledge. Fact is, however, it’s tough to be an expert on everything when you consider just how many pieces there are in a house’s system. Just the plumbing system alone is extensive, and good inspectors know what plumbing features to check.

Unfortunately, some inspectors fail to consider the sewer lines as an extension of the plumbing system. That’s when problems begin to back up, so to speak.

A simple pipeline video inspection is relatively inexpensive and will allow you to find plumbing problems before you close on the house.

It’s sort of a rule of thumb that a potential homebuyer obtains a video pipeline inspection if the home is older than 20 years. Although the sewer line may be somewhat new compared to homes built before 1950, tree roots can still clog a 20-year old sewer line.

Plumbing fun fact: It’s one of the biggest plumbing myths in the world: If you visit Australia, when you flush the toilet, the water will swirl in the opposite direction because you’re in the southern hemisphere. It would be kind of nifty if this were true, but alas, it’s just a myth. The water in your toilet swirls in the direction the jets are pointed. So, it can swirl in either direction, in either hemisphere.

Should I ever consider a second opinion?

If you’ve been shown a low-resolution, poor quality video of your sewer line and don’t know what you’re seeing nor understand what the heck it means, and you are being pressured to make an on-the-spot decision — many professionals advise getting a second opinion.

Security camera mounted on a J&A South Park homeowner's home. Represents a homeowner believing they can conduct their own pipeline video inspection because they have a regular camera.

I’m sort of a camera aficionado. Can I do a pipeline video inspection myself?

Yes, you probably can, but it is much more cost effective to hire a trained professional like our experts at J&A South Park, to do the job.

First, typical homeowner level pipeline video inspection scopes are far too short to inspect more than the first few feet. Not only that, these scopes are probably 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, are self-righting (the picture always stays upright), come with high-resolution and have recording capabilities. Most importantly, these cameras have transmitters at the end that can help the technician locate block points.

Of course, you can rent drain inspection cameras from local rental yards. For a one-day usage, however, it would still be more worth your time and money to hire a professional.

Plumbing fun fact: Are you an Ozzy Osbourne fan? Well, the legendary rocker was a plumber’s apprentice before getting into the music industry.

Okay, how hard is this going to hit my wallet (or pocketbook)?

A video pipeline inspection used to be very rare and expensive. Nowadays, modern video cameras, monitors, and transmitters have become standard equipment for a plumber’s toolbox.

That said, inspection costs vary immensely, from as little as $99 to as much as $300.

Cheaper video line inspections may produce lower-quality images due to older equipment not equipped with higher definition. Moreover, these “$99 specials” may be tied to purchasing more expensive services; e.g., you might be required to purchase drain augering in return for the inexpensive video inspection.

Don’t wait for a serious plumbing problem caused by blocked underground pipes.

The thought of having sewage spraying into your home from a sewer pipe problem – or a fountain of water gushing all over your yard from a water pipe problem – is enough to make most homeowners nervous. If it happens to your neighbor, your home may be next. Don’t let it happen to you when getting a pipeline video inspection can catch big problems before they become huge problems.

If you think you are in need of a video sewer inspection, contact J&A South Park to conduct your pipeline video inspection at your home or office, today! We pride ourselves on providing customers with prompt and honest service that is second to none in the South Hills and beyond.