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Sewer Scope Inspections – Helpful or Hype?

People often ask us if we use something called a “sewer scope” when we inspect houses. In this article, we’ll talk about what a sewer scope inspection is, if it’s important to have one, who can do it, and why we don’t offer this.

What is a Sewer Scope Inspection?

A sewer scope is a specialized inspection that uses a camera to check the main sewer line for any problems like cracks, clogs, or roots. The camera goes through an approved opening (cleanout) near the foundation and travels to the city line or septic tank. Sometimes it is used to check the main line under the foundation, but this is limited.
It’s important to know that the camera can’t reach all parts of the system, so some areas will not be seen.

Do I Need a Sewer Scope Inspection?

Not every home needs a main sewer line inspection. The best candidate 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. Newer homes have modern plumbing systems that don’t usually require this type of inspection.

To decide whether you need a sewer scope inspection, think about what information you want to know. A sewer camera can help you locate lines, find blockages, and identify the type of pipe used for waste lines. However, it’s important to note that a sewer camera is not a surefire way to check for leaks. If you want to be sure that your under-slab sewer lines don’t have leaks, consider hiring a licensed plumber to perform a hydrostatic test. This test is the most reliable way to find out if there are any leaks in your under-slab sewer pipes.

During a home inspection, any problems with waste pipes such as slow drainage, which could mean blockages or other issues, will be reported. However, it’s important to note that using a sewer camera is not within the scope of a home inspection.

Who Can Perform Sewer Scope Inspections?

Before September 2020, only licensed plumbers were allowed to perform sewer scope inspections. However, a State Representative in 2019 asked the Texas Attorney General’s office whether home inspectors were allowed to do this inspection even though a rule from the Plumbing Board stated that only licensed plumbers could do it. The Attorney General’s office said that the Plumbing Board’s rule could be challenged and found invalid by a court, but did not completely invalidate the rule.

Based on the Attorney General’s opinion, the Plumbing Board changed its rule and now it’s not mandatory to be a licensed plumber to do a sewer scope inspection using a camera.

    After the Plumbing Board changed its rule about needing a plumber’s license to scope a sewer line with a camera, some home inspectors are advertising that the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) recently approved that inspectors were now allowed to do sewer scope inspections. This is misleading. The TREC did not approve this and did not include it in their Standards of Practice. In fact, they added language stating, “cameras or other tools used to inspect the interior of a drain or sewer line” are specifically excluded from the Standards. They also warned inspectors that they must have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform these inspections and could face disciplinary action if they perform these inspections in an incompetent or negligent manner.

The rule change only permits home inspectors to use a sewer camera to give their opinion on the waste line’s condition. Anything involving the installation, repair, service, or maintenance of the waste line still requires a plumbing license.

Should Home Inspectors Perform Sewer Scope Inspections?

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Home inspectors are generalists by nature, meaning they have a broad knowledge of building components. However, with the vast number of components and systems in a home, it’s difficult to be an expert in every area.

Even though inspectors can now do sewer scope inspections, it still lies outside the scope of inspection. TREC decided not to create a Standard for this service, which means there’s no real regulation or oversight. Since home inspectors must be competent when exceeding the Standards, they conduct their own sewer scope training. This self-regulation can be seen as questionable, like “the fox guarding the hen house.”

Before the recent rule change, sewer scope inspections were not commonly performed during the home buying process, even though licensed plumbers had offered the service for over a decade. However, after the rule change, they have suddenly become “one of the most commonly-ignored, yet most important, parts of inspecting a home,” according to those who offer them. This trend is influenced by some within the industry as a way to increase their inspection fees, as seen in comments on industry forums:

    “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.”

Sadly, comments about providing a higher level of service to clients were rarely seen.


As we said earlier, not all homes require a sewer scope inspection. However, if you are buying a home that seems like a good candidate and you want more information than a regular home inspection can provide, then a sewer scope inspection might be a good option. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • It’s best to hire a licensed plumber to perform sewer scope inspections because they have specialized plumbing knowledge, skills, and experience. A licensed plumber can not only properly scope the drainage system but can also assess any needed repairs, determine the scope of work required, and offer pricing to fix any issues. In contrast, a home inspector can only provide an opinion on the condition of the sewer line and will likely recommend further evaluation by a licensed plumber.
  • A code-approved opening (clean out) will need to be available at the property. Many older homes do not have this.
  • The extent to which the waste system will be viewed during a sewer scope inspection can vary among providers, and it is rare for the entire sewer line system to be viewed.
  • Do the camera features include?
    • A self-leveling camera head to ensure that the camera view is always oriented properly, making it easier to interpret the images.
    • Adjustable LED lighting at the camera head.
    • Distance counter indicating how far the camera head has traveled inside the sewer to aid in reporting the location of issues or defects.
    • The ability to record color video and take still photographs as well.
  • Make sure to carefully read and review the Service Agreement of the sewer scope inspection provider, taking note of any fine print, limitations, or exclusions that may impact the scope or quality of the inspection.

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