As you may have guessed, sewer line replacement options exist, with many factors affecting the cost. If you can control some of these factors and choose the right option, you can save money or get better results from your sewer replacement project.
This article will review the top 5 factors contributing to your sewer line replacement cost. We discuss how each element can drive the cost up or down and why. This way, you have all the information you need to decide with your best interest in mind.
- The average residential sewer line replacement cost is around $10,000 – $15,000 but can exceed $30,000.
- The four main things that affect your sewer line replacement cost are the method used, the piping length of the sewer replacement, the depth of the sewer replacement, and the obstacles in the way of the sewer replacement.
- The fifth is legal items, including permits, fines, home warranties, insurance coverage, and contractor warranties.
- Many plumbing companies offer financing options.
1- The method of sewer line replacement
Three main sewer replacement methods are available, each with advantages and drawbacks.
The main methods are:
- Fully Excavated Replacement
- Trenchless Excavation (Pipe Bursting)
- Epoxy Lining
- Fully Excavated Replacement
The fully excavated method
The fully excavated replacement method is as it sounds: the sewer is dug up and replaced. When done correctly, physical removal and replacement is the leading method for a perfect new sewer. You may be surprised how this method affects your sewer line replacement cost.
Due to its simplicity and lack of expensive technology, the excavation method is, on average, the least costly sewer line replacement method. However, if you have to repair landscaping or hardscaping as a result, it could be the costliest method for you.
What can drive the price up or down for a sewer excavation project?
The depth of the sewer. Deeper sewer depths require more labor, equipment, heavier-duty machinery, and carry higher insurance liability. Any sewer over 7ft deep is a high-liability project, so the cost is driven down the shallower the sewer is. Sewer depths over 7ft can add thousands to your sewer project, and depths over 9ft can double the sewer line replacement cost.
Obstacles to the sewer line. Obstacles are the most significant cost factor when excavating your sewer. Common excavation obstacles include concrete, streets, buried utilities, landscaping, fencing, home additions, and boulders. Fewer obstacles will drive the cost down. Significant obstacles can add $3,500 to $6,500 to a project, which makes a big difference in your sewer line replacement cost.
Inaccurate sewer line location. Sewer estimation can be complex, and a plumber must do a sewer location service using a sewer video system that emits a location beacon while traveling down your sewer. The signal-receiving wand can give false signals if the sewer is deep and at a steep angle or if electrical interference from an electrical utility is nearby. Few things are worse for a sewer replacement project than digging deep to discover there is no sewer where the location equipment said there was. The good news is that a highly experienced plumber can read the warning signs before the project begins. Accurate sewer location doesn’t drive the cost down on the front end, but it does keep it from driving up mid-project, which keeps your sewer line replacement cost down.
Landscaping and Hardscaping. Sewer excavation requires things that are in the way removed and ideally put back. Plumbing companies are not the ideal contractor type to do this work since it is not their specialty. Some companies may include this in their bid but are likely subcontracting the work, which means you will pay a premium. Most plumbing companies only include soil backfill and basic concrete flatwork in their proposals so that you can choose your landscaping contractors, which should drive your sewer line replacement cost down.
Trenchless Excavation (Pipe Bursting)
Trenchless excavation involves digging a hole at the beginning of the sewer and another at the end. The remaining piping in between is replaced underground without digging a trench. A machine pulls a new sewer pipe through the existing underground sewer piping.
Since the new sewer piping is the same size as the old sewer, a unique spear-like head breaks the old sewer apart when pulled through. This breaking away of the old piping is often called “pipe bursting.”
Suppose you have obstacles to trenched excavation and a good drainage slope the entire distance of your sewer. In that case, trenchless excavation is likely the option with the lowest sewer line replacement cost.
What can drive the price up or down for a trenchless excavation project?
- Obstacles: Though there is no trenching, there is still a considerable amount of excavation required to expose each end of the sewer with enough room for plumbers to work, fit the hydraulic bursting equipment, and feed the new seamless sewer piping through. The same obstacles that drive the price up for complete excavation projects also apply to trenchless excavation, but the advantage here is that they are less likely to be encountered, which drives the sewer line replacement cost down.
- Pipe Bursting Equipment: The technological equipment used is costly, with complete systems retailing more than $100,000 for the plumbing contractor. While this may save some labor and landscaping, clients pay for the equipment use, which drives the plumbing portion of the project price upward. But the lack of excess landscaping needed after the project is completed drives the total sewer replacement cost back down.
- Inaccurate sewer location: Sewer estimation with the trenchless excavation method is just as complex as a fully excavated project. A plumber must still do a sewer location service using a sewer video system that emits a location beacon while traveling down your sewer. The same pitfalls apply here as well. Remember that accurate sewer location doesn’t drive the sewer line replacement cost down on the front end but keeps it from driving up mid-project.
- Landscaping and Hardscaping: Since there is no trenching, you only have to worry about the backfilled holes at each end of your sewer, making this why the trenchless method of replacing sewers is popular. The lack of excess landscaping repair drives the total sewer line replacement cost down.
Epoxy lining involves soaking a long felt sleeve in epoxy, shooting it down your sewer with pressurized equipment, and then curing it dry. Where branch lines attach, robotic equipment is sent down the piping to cut holes in the cured epoxy sleeve to allow drainage connections to function normally. Excavation on one end of the sewer is still required so that the equipment can shoot epoxy-soaked felt liners directly into the sewer.
Though it is the least destructive method, it has, on average, the highest sewer line replacement cost. This method is appropriate when landscaping or other obstacles financially complicate the other sewer replacement options.
What can drive the price up or down for an epoxy lining project?
- Epoxy Lining System Equipment: The technological equipment used is costly, with complete epoxy lining systems retailing more than $150,000 for the plumbing contractor. While this may save some labor and landscaping, clients pay for the equipment use, which drives the plumbing portion of the sewer line replacement cost upward. The lack of excess excavation needed helps justify the premium cost.
- Pipe Size: The size of the piping determines the amount of materials used and dramatically affects the project’s cost. 4” epoxy liner costs average around $170 per foot, while 6” liners average about $225 per foot for the piping alone.
- Pipe Preparation: To ensure the epoxy sleeve fits through your whole sewer pipe in an optimal circular shape, it must have removed all of the debris inside of it. Debris would include scum and grease build-up and root intrusions regarding clay ceramic sewer piping. Depending on the level of waste and roots in the sewer, this can be labor-intensive and significantly impact your sewer line replacement cost. This process involves high-pressure hydro-jetting equipment. Removing the debris in a ceramic clay sewer to prep the piping can cost between $750-$1500 on average.
If your sewer is cast iron or a portion of it, the plumber must descale the sewer of years of rust and mineral build-up. This process involves a machine that inserts a cable into the sewer and spins a head of abrasive chains at high speed to remove the scale.
Cast iron pipe descaling is a labor-intensive process that can cost $3,500-$5,500 on average. This cost includes using the descaling chain system and the high-pressure hydro-jetter to wash all the removed scale down the sewer.
- Reinstatements: Reinstatements are rare but can significantly impact your sewer line replacement cost. Pipes that connect to your sewer get blocked off after the installation of the epoxy liner sleeve down the main sewer piping, and the connections must be re-opened for flow to continue.Robotic equipment enters the sewer liner and cuts openings where the connections are, thus reinstating that connection. The first reinstatement typically costs between $1,500 and $2,500, with additional reinstatements costing $750 each on average.
- Indoor/Outdoor Access: The plumbers must excavate at least one end of the sewer to gain the direct access required to inject the epoxy liner. If you have an unfinished basement, excavating inside the basement is ideal since the hole may be less than five cubic feet. If you have a finished basement or the equipment does not fit in your home, a large hole may need to be excavated outside the house to gain proper access. A deep outdoor excavation would drive up your sewer line replacement cost and could add $3,500 to $6,500 to your project.
- Obstacles: If your situation requires outdoor excavation, all of the obstacle risks associated with the alternative sewer replacement methods will also apply to your epoxy lining project.
2- The piping length of the sewer line
Is your entire sewer damaged, or just a spot or two? The amount of sewer piping replacement you would like is the most significant factor driving your sewer line replacement cost.
If you just have one bad spot, the choice is then yours.
You may get more lifetime value in a complete replacement over a spot replacement, but the overall cost you will pay for a spot repair should be significantly less, saving you thousands of dollars.
3- The depth of the sewer line
The deeper the sewer is, the more it adds to your sewer line replacement cost. The situation least affected by sewer depth is if you have an unfinished basement and choose the epoxy liner method.
That strategy only requires about five cubic feet of excavation inside the house, which could drive the cost down if there are significant excavation obstacles outside.
Other sewer replacement methods involving deeper sewer depths require more labor, equipment, heavier-duty machinery, and higher insurance liability.
Any sewer over 7ft deep is a high-liability project, so the sewer line replacement cost is driven down the shallower the sewer is.
Sewer depths over 7ft can add thousands to your sewer project, and depths over 9ft can double the project cost.
4- Obstacle to the sewer line
Obstacles are your sewer replacement project’s most significant cost factor. Since all three of the most common sewer replacement methods require excavation and access to some degree, this is a universal issue to strategize around.
Common excavation obstacles include concrete, streets, buried utilities, landscaping, fencing, home additions, and boulders.
Fewer obstacles will drive the sewer line replacement cost down, and significant obstacles can add $3,500 to $7,500 on average to a project.
5- The legalities of the sewer line
Legal expenses come with ensuring a safe and correct sewer replacement. Some from your local municipality, insurers, warranty providers, and the plumbing company contracted for the project.
What legalities can drive up or down your sewer line replacement cost?
- Permits: Building permits are required when removing and replacing a sewer or parts of it. The city charges a fee to obtain permits, but other expenses are involved. Inspectors are notorious for scheduling large blocks of time as their arrival window, and it’s not uncommon for them to not show or to reschedule. Waiting for inspectors costs man hours to have plumbers wait for the inspector’s project approval. While this is not something typically added to the sewer line replacement cost at the end, it is often added on the front end of a project estimate.
- Fines: Fines are rare but can occur if your contractor has not pulled permits, is not licensed, or if they damage city utilities or property while working on your sewer line replacement project.
- Insurance Coverage: Most homeowners have homeowners insurance, often partially covering your sewer replacement project. Your policy may cover damage to your home caused by a sewage backup, the indoor excavation of the sewer, and the concrete basement floor replacement portion of the project. Insurance coverage drives down your sewer line replacement cost.
- Home Warranties: Adding a home warranty for your sewer can lead to full-cost coverage for small to average-sized sewer replacement projects. While having your sewer replacement cost covered is an exciting thought, there are some potential financial complications. Let’s go over a few.
Ensure that you have exterior sewer coverage, as many warranties do not cover anything exterior of your home walls or beneath its floors.
It’s important to know that even though the warranty company may tell you that you have to use the contractor of their supply to replace your sewer, you are free to use the contractor of your choice, which should not affect your sewer line replacement cost. What’s wrong with using their contractor? Maybe nothing at all.
But warranty companies have the reputation of using the cheapest contractors they can find, and it’s challenging to be the cheapest without cutting corners, which may lead to more sewer line replacement costs for you down the road. We recommend getting sewer replacement estimates from multiple contractors and selecting the one you are most confident will complete your project correctly.
The last consideration regarding home warranty companies is that you will likely only be eligible for sewer replacement coverage once you have a total sewer collapse. Repeated sewer clogs and snaking may lead to damage caused by sewage backups within the home. While waiting for your full coverage sewer replacement, sewer remediation can significantly determine your sewer line replacement cost.
Plumbing Contractor Warranty: Contractors commonly include their own warranty on the sewer replacement project they perform for you. Depending on the extent of the warranty they offer, your sewer project cost may be affected. We have seen contractors provide warranties for as little as one year of “parts-only” coverage to lifetime “full parts and labor” coverage. Suppose the contractor you prefer offers a minimal warranty as standard. They will likely include an extended warranty for an addition to your sewer replacement cost if you would like one.
Sewer replacement financing
The final consideration that can affect your sewer line replacement cost is financing. Many plumbing contractors have financing partners that offer low monthly payments that may help with unexpected projects as large as a sewer replacement.
There are two types of project financing typically offered.
Zero Interest “Same as Cash” Financing: This financing can potentially lead to higher project cost estimates from your contractor since contractors are responsible for paying the lender their interest and financing fees. The financing cost usually gets built into the sewer line replacement cost. You can also expect short-term loans with high monthly installments and high-interest “back charges” if not paid off entirely within the loan term. But for those who understand and accept the terms upfront, zero-interest financing can be a great way to save money while not having to pay the lump sum upfront.
Standard Financing. This financing leads to lower sewer line replacement costs from your contractor since contractors pay their lending partners little to nothing to offer standard financing to you. You can expect a variety of lending terms, from short-term low-interest to long-term higher-interest rate loan options. Almost all of these financing options include no money down and no prepayment penalties.
Estimating sewer replacements is complex
If this seems like a lot to consider, you are right. Finding the best sewer replacement option for you involves many different variables. Everything from the replacement method to buried obstacles and improper diagnostics can impact the cost. And every plumbing company will have its preferred way of doing things.
With a professional plumber evaluating it onsite, you would know how much your sewer line replacement cost is. Licensed master plumbers can draw from their wealth of experience and knowledge, identify the most reasonable options and present them to you to select one for yourself.
Now you know the top five factors that impact your sewer line replacement cost. Many are beyond anyone’s control, like buried obstacles, the size of your sewer, or how deep it is. But there are factors within your choice as a homeowner.
The method of sewer replacement, the amount of sewer you want to replace, purchasing insurance or home warranty coverage in advance, project financing, and choosing the plumbing contractor you are most comfortable with.