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Sewer Scope Inspections – Helpful or Hype?

We regularly receive inquiries as to whether we utilize sewer scopes as part of our inspection process. In this blog post, we’ll cover what a sewer scope inspection is, when you may need one, who can perform sewer scope inspections, and why we choose not to offer this service as part of the home inspection process.
 

What Is a Sewer Scope Inspection?

 
A sewer scope is a specialized service that sends a camera into the main sewer line through an existing code-approved opening, if present, at or near the foundation and connecting to the city line or the septic tank to look for any causes of concern, such as visible cracks, clogs, or roots growing into the system. In some cases, it may also be used to take a limited look at the main line under the foundation but not the branch lines. During a sewer scope inspection, the camera will move through the system and record the journey, documenting any issues.

It’s worth noting, the camera cannot reach all sections of the system leaving some portions of it unseen.
 

Do I Need a Sewer Scope Inspection?

 
Not every home needs a main sewer line inspection. The best candidate for a sewer scope inspection is a home that was built prior to 1980 where the older waste lines may be nearing the end of their lifespan. While the lifespan of these older waste lines is determined by several factors, they can generally last 50 years or more.

Additionally, choosing whether to perform this inspection depends on the information that you are wanting. A sewer camera can be used to locate lines, find blockage or stoppage problems, and to determine what type of pipe was used for the waste lines. A sewer camera is NOT the definitive method for ensuring the waste lines are free of leaks. If you want to make sure the under-slab sewer lines are free from leaks, you might consider getting a licensed plumber to perform a hydrostatic test. This test is the only definitive way to find out if there are leaks in under-slab sewer pipes.

A home inspection will report deficiencies in waste pipes, such as slow drainage, which would be indicative of blockages or other issues however, utilizing a sewer scope is outside the scope of a home inspection.
 

Who Can Perform Sewer Scope Inspections?

 
Prior to September of 2020, only licensed plumbers were allowed to perform sewer scope inspections. However, in 2019, a State Representative sent a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s office requesting an opinion on whether home inspectors possess statutory authority to perform sewer scope inspections even though the Plumbing Board had a rule that stated you must be a licensed plumber to perform this “service”. The opinion from the Attorney General’s office indicated that the plumbing board’s restriction on the ability for home inspectors to perform sewer scope inspections could be challenged, and a court could have a basis to conclude that the rule is invalid but did not outright invalidate the rule.

Considering this opinion, the Plumbing Board modified the previous rule and no longer requires being licensed as a plumber to scope a sewer line with a camera.

    Since this rule change, there has been some inspector marketing stating that the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) recently approved that home inspectors can perform sewer scope inspections. Unfortunately, this is very misleading. The TREC DID NOT approve this, and, in fact, they did not feel that it was prudent to establish a specific Standard of Practice (SOP) for this activity and specifically excluded the use of “cameras or other tools used to inspect the interior of a drain or sewer line” in the SOP’s. They also made it clear to home inspectors that while they are not prohibited from going beyond the scope of the SOP’s, “If an inspector provides services beyond the scope required by these standards of practice, including the use of specialized equipment, or inspects components and systems in addition to those listed under the standards of practice, the inspector must possess the competency required to do so” and if it is determined that an inspector conducted a sewer scope inspection incompetently or negligently, the TREC could take disciplinary action against the inspector.

It is important to note that this rule change only allows a home inspector to provide an opinion as to the condition of the waste line in conjunction with the use of a sewer camera. Anything dealing with the installation, repair, service, or maintenance of the waste line requires licensing as a plumber.
 

Should Home Inspectors Perform Sewer Scope Inspections?

 
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Home inspectors, by nature, are Generalists. Many home inspectors are extremely competent and have a vast amount of general building knowledge but it’s tough to be an overall expert when you consider just how many pieces there are in a home’s systems and components.

Even though home inspectors are now allowed to perform sewer scope inspections, it remains outside the scope of a home inspection. Therefore, the TREC chose not to create a Standard of Practice for this service which means there is no bona fide regulation or oversight for this service. And since home inspectors must show competency when exceeding the SOP’s, sewer scope training has become “self-regulated,” being conducted by home inspectors for home inspectors. This “self-regulation” seems akin to “the fox guarding the hen house.”

Additionally, prior to the recent rule change, you rarely heard of sewer scope inspections being performed during the home buying process even though they have been readily available through licensed plumbers for over a decade. Now suddenly, sewer scope inspections have quickly become “one of the most commonly-ignored, yet most important, parts of inspecting a home that you’re interested in purchasing.” This trend seems to be influenced by a large contingency within the inspection industry who share an expressed goal of driving inspection fees upward as evidenced by comments in industry forums online:

    “One of the reasons to choose sewer line inspections over other ancillary services is how much profit can be made.”
     
    “Although the initial purchase of sewer scope equipment can be pricey ($7-10K), the financial benefits of this ancillary service will quickly pay for this, and more.”
     
    “A sewer scope inspection is one more significant additional source of revenue for the inspector.”

Unfortunately, it was rare to see comments about providing a higher level of service to clients.
 

Takeaways

 
As previously mentioned, not every home needs to have a sewer scope inspection performed. If you are purchasing a home that seems to be a good candidate and you feel that the home inspection is not going to provide the level of information that you desire, then getting a sewer scope inspection might be the right choice while keeping the following things in mind:

  • Sewer scoping should be left to a specialist, meaning a licensed plumber. Properly scoping the drainage system not only takes extensive knowledge of plumbing, talent, and experience but a licensed plumber can also tell you what repairs may be needed, the scope of work required, and offer pricing to correct any issues, whereas a home inspector can only offer their opinion as to the condition of the sewer line itself and will recommend that you have it further evaluated by a licensed plumber.
  • A code-approved opening (clean out) will need to be present at the property.
  • How much of the waste system will be viewed as this can vary among providers and rarely, if ever, views the entire sewer line system.
  • Do the camera features include?
    • A self-leveling camera head to always orient the camera view for easier interpretation.
    • Adjustable LED lighting at the camera head.
    • Distance counter indicating how far the camera head has traveled inside the sewer line as this feature is helpful in reporting the location of issues or defects.
    • The ability to record color video and take still photographs as well.
  • Read the providers Service Agreement and note any fine print, limitations, or exclusions.

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