Buyer 101- Sewer Lines

stainless steel sink under a window

The sewer line of your home is one main home system you cannot see while touring perspective homes. If it’s an older home, there could be a range of materials, or a combination being used to take wastewater from the property. It’s important to know how your sewer line is performing so there are no surprises down the line, pun intended. In this addition of Buyer 101, we will go over the types of materials a home may have and what to do if you have a problem.

Newer Homes – Homes built in the 1970s and on are most likely using modern plastic lines made from PVC or ABS. PVC will be white in color and ABS will be black. The smooth surface on the inside is perfect for moving wastewater out to the city connection and smooth surface on the outside will resist roots from anchoring but not completely prevent them from entering the line in the future. If purchasing a new home from a builder or a recent new home, it is ideal to still get a sewer line inspection. Construction materials could have found their way into the system, and it should be free and clear before you take ownership. Lastly, you could find a combination of ABS and an older material if the home you want to purchase is a newer build on a lot that used to have an older home. Sometimes a builder will use all ABS in the new home and a few feet into the yard, connect to the old cast iron or clay system. Just another reason to always inspect the sewer line. This doesn’t mean not to buy- this is just for your knowledge and to alert you to potential issues down the road.

Older Homes – Older homes can have so much charm and have a lot of the details and character that you are looking for in your dream home. They can also come with a wide range of “character” or materials used in their sewer lines.

The first material you could come across is cast iron. Cast iron lines, just like the heavy frying pan you might have in your kitchen, are heavy duty pipes used a lot in construction in the early part of the 20th century into 1960s and even today. They are super strong and can withstand a large amount of weight if a truck is needed in your yard. Over time, these lines will rust and corroded and flake off and expand. These flakes or rust particles can swell and begin to cause clogs and backups. They can be cleared out inexpensively and extend the life of the line, however, depending on the age and extend of interior corrosion, you may want to consider replacement.

Clay lines and pipes are also common in Arizona and look just like your clay pots on your patio holding your favorite plants and cacti. One advantage over PVC and ABS would be that clay lines will not interact with chemicals like chlorine or other that could be found in your system. The downside is that they are porous and prone to root intrusions.

Orangeburg lines, named after Orangeburg, New York where most of these lines were produced, was a favorite of plumbers up until the 1970s because it was light weight and easy to cut with a typical wood saw. They were made of wood pulp, pressed and held together with a waterproof adhesive, and then impregnated with liquified coal ash tar. They have a short life span of about 50 years, so many have already been replaced but not all of them. If found as part of the sewer system in your inspection. Work with your agent and plumbing professionals on how to proceed. 

Some typical issues can be offsets between plumbing pieces, a “belly” is a sag in the line where water and material can collect, root intrusions which disrupt the flow, or even collapsed lines. There is always a solution, and everything can always be fixed with time and money.

No sewer line will be perfect and that is why it is important to have a property inspection and conversations with your agent and plumbing professionals before you move forward with your purchase. It is very common to find issues with sewer lines in Arizona, so don’t let this derail you, this is something you can budget for or have your agent negotiate into your transaction.

Written by: Colby Schmeckpeper

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