Sewer Line Failure


A Homeowner’s Worst Nightmare

If you live in an older neighborhood, the pictures above are likely one of your worst nightmares. I live near the intersection of 54th and College Avenue in Indianapolis, and rarely does a week go by where I don’t drive through the Broad Ripple, Meridian Kessler, or Butler Tarkington neighborhoods and see similar pictures to these.

What’s Happening?

The work being done in these pictures is, more often than not, the result of some degree of sewer line failure. The failure may result in a pungent smell filling one’s basement or house, or, in worse cases, a back-up of raw sewage into one’s basement. Most of the homes built in the neighborhoods listed above, were built between the late 1900s and the early to mid 1900s. My home, for example, was built in 1929. During this time period, sewer pipes were made out of clay, like the one shown below.

Depending on the source, most believe the average life span for clay pipes is between 50-75 years, although some have lasted much longer (over 100 years). Some simple math shows many neighborhood homes have sewer lines operating on “borrowed time”. In many cases the “failure” of these pipes is not a result of cracking or breaking, but instead a result of tree root intrusion at the connecting points, or joints, of the pipes. The roots get in and create a web of destruction. The process and results are shown in the images below.


How Does it Get Fixed?

Again, a drive through the neighborhood will show one where and how this problem is addressed.

The Fix

Often, the problem be addressed through a “clean out” pipe (pictured below). A backhoe is used to dig a large hole down to the sewer line (8-12 feet deep usually) where the source of the problem is identified. Then, a section of the clay pipe is removed and replaced with a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe. This new PVC pipe includes a hole at the top where the long PVC clean out is inserted. This clean out usually sticks out of one’s yard or landscaping bed just above the ground. You can see tops (caps) of these cleanouts all around the neighborhood.

The Replacement

Depending on the severity of the tree root intrusion, and the projected remaining life expectancy of the current sewer line, a full replacement may be your only option. If this is necessary, a plumbing company will have to dig a trench from your home all the way out to where your sewer line connects to the city sewer line. The new sewer line will most likely be PVC. PVC is used now for two reasons: 1) it’s expected life span is close to 100 years and 2) it requires less connectors/joints, which means less opportunities for tree roots to find their way into the line to wreck havoc.

What’s the Cost?

Of course, it depends. There are several factors that impact the cost. The main factors are: 1) is it a fix or replacement and 2) how far is it from where one’s line exits the house and enters the city sewer (affecting labor and materials).

Going back to my personal situation, the total cost for replacing the sewer line and installing a new sump pit was (gasp)… $13,578. Here’s the proof!

This is why I used the word “nightmare” to describe this situation earlier. This type of “out of pocket” cost will have a significant impact on almost anyone’s “emergency fund”!

Is it Covered?

The answer, again, is it depends, but is most likely NO. Our independent insurance agency, Miller Insurance Group, brokers personal lines (homeowner) insurance for twelve companies. Of those twelve companies, this type of loss is NOT COVERED on any of the unendorsed policies, and only one of the companies has an endorsement that allows one to add $10,000 of coverage for a small amount of premium. Through a couple quick Google searches, my best guess is most of the large insurance companies you see on television commercials do not cover this type of loss either. This is only for the EXTERIOR sewer line.

Damage caused to one’s basement and personal property MAY BE COVERED. A common endorsement all of our companies offer is coverage for “back-up of sewer or drain”. As with the exterior sewer line, the ONLY way there will be coverage for this type of loss is if an endorsement is added to the policy. It is NOT a coverage included on a standard, unendorsed, homeowner’s policy.

For each type of loss you’ll want to check with your agent to see if is covered under your company’s policy. If it’s not covered in your home or business policy, I’d love to talk to see if we can provide a solution through our company who offers the coverage or discuss an additional solution.

Now What?

To get in touch, you can contact me, Chad Miller, by emailing:, calling or texting: (317) 869-9180, or clicking “Quote” to provide some basic information after visiting our website.