Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: For the past several years, we’ve had ongoing problems with our old clay sewer main. The line has to be rooted every few months, and the cost to install a new line would be about $15,000. Why is this problem so persistent, and what, if anything, can be done to solve it without spending a fortune? Gayle

Dear Gayle: Tree roots typically invade older types of sewer mains, where cracks and loose fittings allow roots to enter. Old clay sewer mains are highly susceptible to root intrusion because the mortar that was used to seal the fittings has deteriorated with age and because old clay pipes often have cracks. As roots enter these openings, they grow thicker, causing increasing damage to the pipes and enabling further root invasion. Root growth into sewer pipes may increase during dry weather because seepage from the pipes may be the only available ground moisture. But regardless of wet or dry conditions, roots are attracted to sewer pipes because the effluent contains organic nutrients as well as water, and this provides an enticing meal for hungry trees and shrubs.

Clearing a clogged sewer line with a rooter machine provides a temporary respite at best because rooting merely prunes the root ends that have entered the pipe. Once the plumber’s machine is withdrawn, the roots begin to grow again, and six months later the plumber is back. Chemical products can be flushed down the drain to kill these roots, but such products are not nearly as effective as portrayed in advertisements

The most common long-term solution is to replace the old sewer lines — obviously a very expensive answer to the problem. A less costly solution, offered by some plumbing companies, is the installation of a special synthetic lining in the old sewer main. With this method, the cost of excavation is eliminated and the seepage that attracts tree roots is terminated.

Dear Barry: I’m preparing to remodel my bathroom and am wondering if I should take a permit for the work. Basically, I have two questions: If the bathroom changes are not structural, do I need a permit? And when the city inspector comes to inspect the bathroom work – does he have the right to inspect other portions of my property where work may have been done without a permit? Dave

Dear Dave: If the bathroom remodel involves changes to the plumbing or electrical systems, a permit is definitely required. Alterations do not have to be structural for the building department to have authority over the project.

The building inspector has the right to cite any noncomplying conditions that are observed on the property. However, when the permit involves a limited area, most building inspectors are not this far-reaching in their approach. In most cases, they consider only the work that is currently in progress. But don’t take refuge in that assurance. The inspector has the power to be proactive regarding conditions of noncompliance on your property. In other words, don’t expect the worst, but be prepared for it.