How Do I Know if My Sewer Line Needs to Be Replaced?

Sewer lines help transport waste from your home into the central sewer disposal system underground. Neglecting to maintain your sewer lines can result in broken pipes, water blockage, awful smells, loud noises, as well as a host of other issues that can ultimately affect your health and quality of living. For these reasons, the professional plumbers at Summit Drain have created this guide to help homeowners discover how long sewer lines last, how to tell if a sewer line is leaking, dangers of sewer gas in the home, how often do sewer lines need to be replaced, and an informative section to answer some of your most frequently asked questions. Let’s see what the experts say!

How Long do Sewer Lines Last?

The lifespan of a sewer line varies based on several factors including the environment, accidents such as flushing an item down the toilet, the age of the home, and the sewer pipe material. With that in mind, here is a breakdown of how long each sewer line material generally lasts so you know how often sewer lines should be replaced:

Clay – At one point in time, this was the most popular type of pipe material used for sewer lines. Clay pipes have a life expectancy of anywhere between 50 to 60 years. Homes built with clay sewer lines in the 1960s and 1970s are nearing the point where they’ll need to be replaced.
PVC – From the 1980s onward, this was the pipe material primarily used in homes due to its durability of the rigid plastic. The lifespan on PVC pipes is about a century or longer.
Steel – This includes metal piping and cast iron. Steel isn’t commonly used for sewer lines due to its high upfront costs, tendency to rust, and weight.
Concrete – Not a common option because this material can be delicate and prone to damage. Concrete sewer lines are however an eco-friendly alternative to PVC, and they last just as long.

Signs of Sewer Line Problems

Increased Hydro Bill

Your water bill is calculated based off your household’s water consumption within a 30- or 31-day period, and it should be fairly consistent from month to month. Therefore, if you notice your bill is higher than usual, it can indicate that more water is flowing through the sewer lines than expected.

A leak in the sewer line will cause continuous water flow, thus causing the meter to run. It’s important to contact a plumbing company that can address sewer line problems because the sewer line itself is in a less-than-ideal place, located several feet down below ground, and requires specialized equipment to access and repair.

Gurgling Sound from the Pipes

Occasionally hearing a gurgling sound coming from your plumbing system is a common occurrence. It’s when the gurgling noise becomes constant that this response may be a symptom of a much larger problem, such as blocked or damaged pipes. In situations where water cannot drain properly, gurgling sounds occur as a result of the blocked pipe releasing air pockets. If the blockage is small, a plunger may be just the solution you need for a quick fix.

However, you are facing a much bigger problem if calcium deposits, grease, or tree roots are causing the significant blockage in the sewer line. Reach out to a professional plumber immediately because to find the source of the problem, they may need to dig into the system, and that requires specialized equipment to clean or repair the sewer line. If the line is damaged, the plumber will need to replace the sections or joints to restore the line to full condition.

Gurgling Sound from the Yard

One of the ways of how to determine a leak in your sewer pipes in your yard is if you are hearing gurgling sounds outside, a pipe may have ruptured. Once a pipe breaks, the area may flood because the water will begin to seep through the ground. You may also smell a foul odor from the sewage gases under the soil.

If some areas of your yard are consistently wet, the leak may be rising from the sewer line broken under the house however, the source of the leak may rather be as a result of your basement, outside fixtures, or sprinkler system. The best course of action to take is to contact a plumbing company that knows how to perform sewer drain replacements and repairs right away to handle the severity of the issue immediately.

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Slow Water Drainage

An issue with the sewer will typically result in water draining slowly. At first, the problem may seem minor as you notice merely a slight delay as the water goes down the drain. However, over time, it will become clearer the severity of the drain’s complications.

A cleaner or a snake will not work when you attempt to clear the blockage. To remove the blockage in the sewer lines, you will need professional sewer line repair technicians. A professional plumber can provide a long-term solution that sustains the water flow smoothly.

Smell of Sewer in the House

There is a distinction between the smell of sewage in your pipes, and the smell of sewage outside. If every time you walk outside, you smell sewage, there is likely damage somewhere in the sewer line. To stop the sewage smell in your yard, you will need to get the sewer line fixed to restore its condition.

If inside your house, the smell is coming from the pipes, a blockage is causing sewage to back up. The smell is from hydrogen sulfide gas, which can lead to health issues as a result of its toxic properties. In any case, you’ll need to address the problem as soon as possible regardless of where you smell the sewage.

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More Pests are Coming to your Yard

A yard that has the smell of sewage or a soggy yard tends to attract certain types of bugs, bacteria, insects, and other critters crawling around and about in the yard. The reason for the attraction is because sewage is not just waste, but it also contains food.

Typical animals attracted to sewage may include rats, mice, snakes, flies, moths, or other rodents. These animals may spend time in the yard, and in more unfortunate circumstances, they may find a way into your house. When they do, you’ll probably need to contact a pest control company in addition to an Ottawa plumbing company.

The Toilet Bowl Water Level Fluctuates

There can be several reasons as to why your toilet bowl’s water level is fluctuating. For example, a porcelain trap may be filled with hair or other material, if the plumbing air vent is blocked, or if the waste pipe coming out of the toilet bowl is not positioned correctly, any of these instances may cause the toilet water to go up and down.

When looking at how much water should be in your sewer line, as per most licensed plumbers, the recommended water level in your toilet bowl should be 1 to 2 inches below the toilet fill valve. If you notice the water keeps bouncing above or below that line, then there could be a sewer line problem.

toilet plumbing rough in

Water Damage in your Home

You should call a plumbing service immediately if a drain line breaks in your home. A clogged or broken sewer line can cause serious water damage as a result of the increased moisture in the air or by way of contact.

Mold will spread on the floors or walls and this affect can be harmful to your health and your wallet.

What Does a Broken Sewer Line Smell Like?

A broken sewer line can often emit an unpleasant odor, resembling rotten eggs. The reason for this toxic stench is because sewer gas is a term used to describe the noxious mix of chemicals which include methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulphide, that are the by-product of decaying waste.

In some cases, you may smell the problem before you physically see it. The moment you smell a persistent foul smell lingering around your home, call a plumber so they can identify the source of the problem, and solve the issue accordingly.

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Additional Factors to Determine When to Replace Sewer Line

Old Age – The number one reason why most sewer lines fail is because of its advanced age. Unfortunately, sewer line pipes do not last forever which means inevitably, at some point, they will need to be replaced. Once they reach their lifespan’s end, they simply cannot continue to work as they did once before.

Old sewer lines can rupture and leak into the ground around your home. This deficiency can lead to a terrible odor to discharge, and even possibly cause damage to the home itself. The simple fix here is to replace your sewer lines in a timely manner to ensure your sewer system remains functional and intact.

Frequent Pipe Clogs – This may be a sign worthy of a problem larger than toilet paper causing the backup, debris, or hair buildup. Occasionally facing small clogs is normal and these minor hiccups generally do not require the services of a plumber, as they can be cleared with the help of a plunger.

However, if you are experiencing hefty clogs occurring several times per year, and these buildups require a professional, then this may be a sign of sewer line problems and these pipes need to be replaced.

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Tree Root Problems – Tree roots can cause serious pipe damage if they grow into the tiny cracks in pipe couplings. Trees need to grow, and the pipes are a source of water for the tiny roots, hence the attraction.

Incredibly aged trees can have roots that span out far and away from the base of the tree, including stumps from cut down trees.

Dangers of Sewer Gas in your Home

Finding sewer gas in your home can be very dangerous and even life-threatening. Do not dismiss small amounts of sewer gas as nothing because even a few doses over long periods of time can take its toll. Low levels of sewer gas can emit from sources such as a leaking wax seal under a toilet.

Symptoms may include shortness of breath and eye and throat irritation. High levels of sewer gas originating from leaks, cracks, or blockages in your plumbing can cause long-term symptoms including dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. These symptoms may not seem dire at first but should be treated with caution and care just to be safe.

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When to Call a Plumbing Company

Troubles with your sewer lines are no joke. Though the issue may not always be life-threatening at first, plumbing problems can often worsen quite quickly and have consequential impacts that are costly and harmful to you and your home. To maintain your household’s continuous water flow and ensure waste is being properly disposed of, sewer line maintenance is vital! Do not wait for a problem to occur because it could be too late by that point in time.

Contact Summit Drain in Ottawa for all your sewer line repair and replacement needs. Our expert plumbers know when to replace sewer lines and can inform you about how do you know if you have a sewer leak to prevent issues in the near and distant future. We offer reliable emergency plumbing services where we can determine onsite whether complete sewer line repair or replacement is necessary. To schedule a sewer line repair or replacement inspection, fill out a form online or give us a call at 613-355-7566.


Home insurance does not typically cover broken sewer pipes however, the option is available to add service line coverage to repair your sewer pipes if they were to break. Also, the option is available to add backup coverage if your pipes were to overflow into your home.

It’s important to identify a collapsed sewer line quickly before the issues potentially spiral out of control. Here are the 8 most common signs of a broken sewer line:

  • Frequent sewage backups and clogging
  • Foul odors and sewer gas
  • Lush patches of grass
  • Mildew or mold growing on your walls or ceilings
  • Sewage pooling in your lawn
  • Slow drain
  • Surrounding soil is soggy
  • Wall and foundation cracks

Here are some of the most frequently recorded signs that may indicate your sewer line is clogged or broken:

  • Common plumbing problems are affecting multiple drains. Examples include a sink clog or a backed-up shower.
  • There is a foul odor, one similarly resembling rotten eggs, coming from your sewer drain lines as a result of the sewage settling in your pipes.
  • At the basement or other sewer drains, flooding or backflow is occurring. You may notice mucky water backing up into sinks, the shower, or up from the drain in the basement or crawlspace.
  • Puddles of water are accumulating in your yard as a result of tree root damage.

The most common causes that can lead to the main sewer line breaking and signal to you how to tell if a drain pipe is broken are:

  • Corrosion, damage, or deterioration of an older pipe
  • Flushing debris or pouring grease down the drain
  • Improper sewer line installation
  • Increased traffic on the ground above
  • Pipe settlement
  • Sewer pipe rupture due to shifting soil
  • Tree root infiltration
  • Use of heavy construction equipment above ground

If you are noticing strange noises or odors coming from your drains, a constantly wet lawn, multiple fixtures clogging up, or frequent backups, then your sewer line may have collapsed. Once a pipe collapses, you’ll need to fully restore flow by either repairing or replacing it.

Sewer lines broken under the house can release raw sewage or illness-causing bacteria that can get you sick. High exposure to a broken sewer line can be detrimental to your health, disrupting organs and tissues that use oxygen to function. If large quantities of bacteria enter your body through the eyes, the mouth, or open wounds, this can result in illnesses such as Salmonella, E-coli, Pinworms, Cholera, Hepatitis A, or Amoebiasis. Low levels of gas exposure from a broken sewer line can cause a sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, and/or eye irritation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no detection test or blood test for someone to take to determine whether they have sewer gas poisoning. The alternative to diagnosing sewer gas toxicity is if:

  • You’ve noticed the smell of sewer gas.
  • You’re experiencing symptoms of sewer gas exposure.
  • You’ve been in a place that has been exposed to a sewer gas leak recently.

From when you are initially exposed to sewage backup and the onset of illness, this time can typically occur between 1 to 3 days. The most common illnesses associated to sewage backup exposure are skin rashes/infections and/or gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Symptoms may include nausea, cramps, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, dehydration, and feeling weak.


A main sewer line blockage can cause water to backup in random places. For instance, you run your washing machine and notice your sink overflowing – this can be a clear sign that you have a clogged drain line.

If you have ruled out a potential sewer drain clog, you can rinse your sewer drain by flushing it with water. When you flush your lines, try adding a bit of drain cleaner to the water. A great place to flush your sewer line is the toilet – a larger amount of water and drain cleaner can enter your system quickly and easily. Unfortunately, if you do this when you have a clog, it can cause backup and potential flooding – if this is the case, clear the clog first.

You should generally know if your sewer line is blocked with slow drainage. The purpose of the sewer line is to take all the water drainage away from your house via sinks, bathtubs or toilets – if you find that there is slower drainage in one drain then you can essentially clear that yourself using a drain snake or a plunger.

There is confusion regarding when you are responsible for sewer line repair. While some may believe that the homeowner is only responsible for repairing the part of the line that’s on their property, this is not the case. Sewer lines consist of multiple sections, the upper lateral, lower lateral and the main line. The city is only responsible for repairing the main sewer line.

If issues with the main sewer line cause damage to your lower lateral, which is most likely where the damage would generally first start – the city would repair this damage when they work on the main sewer line. Unfortunately, if there is backup and flooding on your property from the main sewer line, then the city would not be responsible. It is best to follow up with the city to see if they will repair any damage in these cases.

Unpleasant smells coming from your drains is indicative of sewer line issues and damage. You should always take these types of smells seriously as it could be toxic fumes slowly releasing from the sewer below into your home.

There are a number of ways to clear a slow drain using products found around the home:

Bent Wire – If you do not have a drain snake, you can try using a stiff wire – like one from a clothes hanger, leaving the hook to enter pipes and pull out any clogs. Try to make sure you don’t push debris further into the pipe.

Homemade Flush – Mixing baking soda and vinegar can dissolve any materials that are potentially clogging your drain pipes. This is a good and much safer alternative to store-bought chemical cleaners.

Toilet Plunger – Like plunging a toilet, you can try using this on your drains. Using a plunger on your drains can help get things moving by using suction. This should be enough to fix any mild blockages.

Aged drain pipes are at risk for corrosion which can lead to breaks. Summit Drain has both the technology and expertise to fix this if necessary.

Yes. Drain pipes are durable, but not meant to last forever. If you live in an older home in Ottawa, most likely the pipes are made from copper and can collapse in this day and age.

When it comes to a collapsed drain, call Summit Drain. We use trenchless technology to replace sewer pipes made from original materials without ruining your property.

Rock salt
Rock salt helps by removing moisture from the roots, which in turn kills them. Two lbs should do the trick, pour 1 down the toilet. Flush until gone. And repeat with the next. Then leave for 12 hours and don’t run any water.

Foaming root killers
Another effective way to treat roots in pipes is with foaming root killers. Pour powder into toilet and flush. It will foam upon contact with water. Not only does it help dissolve current roots, but also helps to protect against future ones.

Copper sulfate
Copper sulfate is another good option. Available at most hardware stores, pour roughly half a cup into toilet and flush until gone. Leave the home and take all pets and family members along. This is a toxic substance and banned in some places.

Should I replace old pipes?
There does come a time where it makes sense to replace your pipes. Over time they crack and corrode. It is recommended to begin routine inspections once your home reaches 50 years in age. For plumbing Services in and around the Ottawa area, nobody does it like Summit Drain.

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