Sewer lateral repair options

In the last post, we looked at sewer laterals and why they fail. Few home repairs strike fear into the hearts of homeowners like a sewer lateral repair. They’re expensive and they destroy the outward appearance of your property. Except as a way to avoid having sewage in your house, a sewer lateral repair has very little upside!

Broken sewer laterals often go unnoticed because the break may not completely disrupt the flow of wastewater away from the house. Once a sewer lateral is noticeably impaired, the traditional repair option involves digging up the sewer pipe and replacing it. The process is messy and expensive, and isn’t typically covered by homeowner’s insurance. It can also mean extensive restoration to fix landscaping and paved surfaces around the home. It’s no surprise that a sewer lateral repair is the last thing homeowners want to think about!

There is a relatively new option for rehabilitating broken sewer laterals called sewer lining. The process involves minimal to no digging, so it’s often referred to as “trenchless technology” or “trenchless sewer repair.” The sewer lining process uses the existing broken pipe as a form to line the sewer pipe with an epoxy resin that cures in place and seals leaking sewer pipes. The liner is as strong as PVC and has an estimated lifespan of about 50 years. Sewer lining can’t be done when a lateral has completely collapsed, but it can be used to selectively line small sections of lateral pipe that have been compromised. It can also be used to rehabilitate the entire length of pipe, if desired.

The process can take as little as a few hours to complete, and has been shown to be highly effective at reducing common problems like infiltration and exfiltration. The Environmental Protection Agency has approved sewer lining as an accepted method of sewer lateral repair in neighborhoods that have significant groundwater contamination from failing sewer lines.

Another sewer lateral repair option is called lateral bursting or lateral pipe bursting. Lateral bursting doesn’t completely eliminate trenching, but it reduces the amount of excavation needed by about 85%. Lateral bursting can be used in cases where an existing lateral line has completely collapsed, or in laterals that have to bend at an extreme angle to connect to the main sewer line. It is also a good option to consider for sewer lines that are buried close to the surface.

Lateral bursting can also allow the homeowner to increase the size of the connection to the main sewer. Typically lateral lines are about 4″ in diameter, but can range between 2″ and 6″. In cases where “upsizing” a connection is desirable, lateral bursting can lay new, larger-diameter pipe without significant trenching. Lateral bursting is fast – some lateral burst devices can lay pipe at a rate of about 12 feet per minute – and can limit the potential for damage to trees and landscaping around the affected pipe.

Both lateral lining and lateral bursting are less expensive per foot sewer lateral repair options than open trench replacement of failing or failed sewer lines. If you’d like more information about maintenance, repair or replacement of your sewer lateral, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss your options.

Photo Credit: Guido Ric, via

Your sewer lateral: Something you'd rather not think about

If you have a home in an urban area, it’s probably connected to the city sewer system by a pipe, commonly called a “sewer lateral” or a lateral connection. As much as you don’t want to think about your sewer lateral, it’s one place you should probably visit at least once in awhile.

Your sewer lateral carries all of the waste water from your home to the sewer. That includes whatever you flush down your toilets and wash down your sinks. You assume (and hope) that the waste water from your home takes a one-way trip elsewhere, but where the waste water goes depends heavily on the condition of your sewer lateral.

The uncomfortable news for homeowners is that they own their sewer laterals. That means the homeowner is responsible for the maintenance and condition of the vast majority of their home’s connection to the city sewer. Unless you have the right equipment, sewer lateral maintenance really isn’t a DIY job. Nor do you want it to be.

The city sewer is a pretty inhospitable place and decidedly hazardous to human health. Sewer connections are typically buried, so it’s easy to assume that all’s well as long as you don’t have sewage in your basement. That’s a dangerous assumption, especially for older homes.

Many sewer laterals are made from materials that don’t last forever, like clay, cement and galvanized iron pipe. Some homes have sewer laterals made of a material called “Orangeburg” pipe, bituminous fiber pipe, or Bermico pipe. This pipe was made of wood pulp and pine pitch, and was manufactured between the 1860’s and 1970’s. The first known use of Orangeburg pipe was in the Boston area, but it typically wasn’t used for sewers. Instead, it was used as a conduit for electrical wiring and other dry applications. Following World War II, builders began to use Orangeburg pipe for sewer laterals. Under ideal conditions, Orangeburg pipe had a life expectancy of about 50 years, but because of its organic nature, Orangeburg pipe could fail in as little as 10 years. And it did – in big ways!

Other common materials like clay and cement don’t fare much better, though they may last longer. Clay and cement are both porous and fragile. They can be broken by tree root invasions, compression from heavy equipment, seismic activity and the frost/thaw cycle. Galvanized iron pipes corrode and rust over time, leading to weakness and eventual failure.

Sewer laterals are not very large, so even small bends and obstructions can cause big problems. Small cracks and breaks in the pipe can lead to sewage overflows into the surrounding ground, and can also allow rainwater intrusion into the sewer system. Water leaking from a broken sewer pipe can wash away the dirt around the pipe. This can cause support problems (like sinkholes) for the pipe and the ground around the pipe.

Sewer inflows and outflows can throw off the sanitation of an entire area. An exposed sewer pipe can lead to dangerous E. coli blooms and fecal contamination of groundwater, so addressing aging sewer laterals is important.

My next post will cover some interesting options for repairing or rehabilitating old or failing sewer laterals. These options are often faster and less expensive than replacing a failed sewer lateral. In the mean time, if you have problems with sewer backups, or need an assessment of your sewer line, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to show you what’s going on in your sewer lateral!

Photo Credit: Marcelo Terazza, via