Video Sewer Inspection: A Comprehensive Overview and Service Guide

Imagine it’s your long-awaited weekend, and you plan to enjoy a long, luxurious hot bath. You also invited family or friends to enjoy a meal you’ll prepare. But, upon entering the bathroom, an overpowering foul smell fills your nose. You look inside your tub, and you see brown-colored muck! So, you race to your kitchen, turn the taps on, and notice the water takes forever to drain, too. Those are all signs you have severe drain clogs or sewer line problems.

Fortunately, a professional sewer inspection from Stuart’s Plumbing can help determine the problem and its cause. With this, your local plumber can develop an appropriate plan to fix your plumbing issues. This guide covers the crucial facts you need to know about sewer line inspections.

How Do Sewer Cameras Work?

Also known as a sewer line camera or video pipe camera, a sewer camera is a tiny, waterproof imaging device. It attaches to a flexible cable that a plumber can feed and guide through a branch drain line or the main sewer pipe. The end of the cable where the camera is also has a transmitter, a device that emits a signal. It allows the operator to determine where exactly the camera is.

High-quality sewer video cameras also have multiple lights, usually LED bulbs. They illuminate the otherwise dark interior of pipes and are typically adjustable. Sewer cameras can also record and provide live video feeds. At Stuart’s Plumbing, we watch them through a remotely connected, above-ground monitor. It’s a high-definition screen that displays what the camera sees in real-time.

What Is the Process of a Sewer Video Inspection?

Before getting your sewer or drain lines inspected by a pro, test them first to see which ones don’t work well. These include those connected to your sinks, floors, and toilets. You should also check your clothes washer to see if its standpipe works correctly. Next, list all slow-moving drains, toilets, and other symptoms you notice. For example, indicate if they make weird noises (bubbling or gurgling) or emit a foul smell.

All these details can help them determine if you need a drain and sewer camera inspection. If you need one, here’s what you can expect to happen during your service appointment.

Finding the Sewer Line Clean-Out

The sewer line clean-out is a capped access point to your home’s main sewer line. This is usually where licensed plumbers insert their sewer cameras. So, when you schedule your sewer for a visual inspection, this is one of the first things the plumber will look for. Many newer homes have a clean-out made of ABS plastic. It’s often a white, covered vertical PVC pipe protruding from the ground. It’s usually outdoors or near a septic tank but can also be inside a house (such as in the basement).

In many other older homes (about 76 million), cast iron (CI) pipes, including sewer lines, are still in use. Instead of ABS plastic caps, these typically have brass or CI covers. If you’re unsure where your sewer line clean-out is, don’t worry, as your local plumber we can find it for you. You’d still want to know its location, though, as you should open and close it at least once a year. This can help keep it from corroding or rusting shut. However, it’s also possible that your house doesn’t have a sewer line clean-out. Or the previous owners may have inadvertently hidden it after a remodeling project.

In those scenarios, we can still use a different access point for the camera, such as a branch drain line. The inspection can also help establish if you have no clean-out or if there’s one, just hidden. If you don’t have a clean-out, we may suggest installing one. Consider doing so to help make future inspections and cleaning simpler.

Inserting the Camera

Once the plumber locates your sewer line clean-out, they’ll open it and insert the camera here. We can control its movement remotely, including rotating or panning it. They’ll slowly feed the flexible cable while observing the live video feed.

Identifying Problems and Developing a Resolution

As the camera enters the pipe, the plumber watches the screen and looks for signs of problems. They also record the video, letting them give it a more thorough review after the live inspection. This helps them avoid missing details and creating a long-term solution. After a careful assessment, we will discuss the findings with you. You can also watch the recorded video or look at the photographs taken during the inspection. This allows you to see what your pipes look like from the inside instead of only hearing about it.

During the discussion, the plumber will explain each problem they find and what they can do to fix it. Depending on their severity, we may be able to complete the repairs on the same day. However, you may have to book another day for more severe problems that can take longer to resolve.

What Types of Problems Can a Video Inspection Identify?

A sewer camera inspection can reveal problems like clogs, corrosion, and pipe breakages. By establishing these issues, your plumber can recommend the most appropriate fix. Here are some of what a drain and sewer video inspection can reveal.

Clogs Caused by FOG

FOG, which stands for fats, oil, and grease, is among the most common causes of drain and sewer clogs. Although liquid when hot, it congeals or turns jelly-like after cooling down. Certain types of fat can even solidify at room temperature. FOG often enters sewer systems due to improper food preparation and kitchen clean-up. Aside from their pure form, fats, oil, and grease are also in:

  • Baking ingredients
  • Butter, lard, and shortening
  • Cooked meats
  • Food scraps
  • Condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup
  • Sauces like gravy, salad dressings, and stews
  • Sour cream

Once placed or poured down the drain, the FOG in those items can gelatinize along the way. It often does so while still in your main branch lines. However, it can reach your sewer line before becoming a congealed mess. Solidified fats, oils, and grease also adhere to the inside walls of plumbing pipes. They build up as more FOG enters the drain and sewer system, causing partial clogging. But they can become complete blockages as more FOG and solid waste enter the pipes.


Fatberg is “fat” and “iceberg” combined. It’s a rock-hard mass that requires specialized equipment to clean and remove. It can cause severe drain lines and sewer clogs. Fatbergs develop when fats, oil, and grease combine with other waste and debris. The latter includes personal hygiene products like baby, makeup, and sanitary wipes.

The problem with those products is that most aren’t flushable, contrary to their label. Research confirmed these items don’t disintegrate even after getting flushed down the toilet. Instead, they retain most of their structure as a solid material. Since these wipes don’t break down, they can clump up and get stuck in drainpipes. Worse, they can stick to existing FOG build-up, compounding the problem. So, it’s no wonder cleaning them up costs U.S. agencies millions of dollars yearly.

Tree Root Intrusion

Wastewater contains elements like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Since they nourish plants and trees, treated wastewater can become fertilizers. The problem is that trees on or near your property can be feeding on untreated wastewater. This can happen when your outdoor drainpipes or sewer line has cracks or leaks. Untreated wastewater seeps out of that leakage point. This moistens and nourishes the soil. Since tree roots naturally seek moist, nutrient-filled soil, they’ll grow toward the source.

From there, tree roots can reach and penetrate the leakage points. The longer this goes on, the thicker and the more obstructive they can get. This can cause partial or complete blockages within the drain or sewer pipe. Over time, that can also lead to the pipe slipping or suffering significant damage. Worse, it may collapse under the roots’ weight.

Other Drain or Sewer Line Problems

A video sewer inspection can also reveal drain or sewer lines corroded from within. This is more common in pipes made of cast iron. Corrosion weakens pipes, makes them more prone to leaks, and can also contribute to clogs. A sewer camera can also discover interior pipe breaks, cracks, slips, and offset joints.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Video Inspection?

Without a sewer video camera, a plumbing company must dig trenches in your yard. This is costly, time-consuming, labor-intensive, and highly disruptive. But thanks to modern technology, your local plumbers no longer has to do all that. Here’s how this innovative plumbing service can benefit your household and home.

Quickly Find Plumbing Problems

Residential sewer line depths typically range from four to eight feet deep underground. So, if sewer cameras don’t exist, plumbers must excavate to expose the pipes. Digging alone requires much time and energy, which translates to higher expenses. However, even after all that work, plumbers still won’t know what or where exactly the problem is. They would have to physically inspect every inch of the pipes and keep digging until they find it.

That scenario also means disrupting your lawn and landscaping. You then have to get it restored after the plumbers have completed their work. A video sewer inspection allows plumbers to bypass most of those steps. Instead, they only need an easy-to-find access point for the camera, such as your clean-out or a drainpipe. Once the camera is inside the pipe, the plumber can keep moving it until it finds a problem. We then use a locating device to pick up the signal from the transmitter to mark the signal’s exact location. Since the video inspection doesn’t require digging, completing it takes less time. This also means less complex work for the professionals. As a result, we can provide you with a fast, efficient, and affordable service!

Locate Multiple Issues Faster

The latest video sewer cameras can inspect your home’s entire sewer system. First, their cables are long enough to span from the passageway to your main sewer line. Their cables are flexible, too, letting them bend, twist, and turn in the pipeline. Because of their capabilities, sewer cameras can find many problems inside your pipes. As a result, professionals can finish the inspection quickly, usually within an hour.

Prevent More Severe Problems

Remember at the start of this article, we asked you to imagine seeing brown-colored muck in your tub? That can happen when wastewater flows back to your home due to a clogged drainpipe or sewer line. Aside from your tub, wastewater can also back up floor drains, toilets, and sink drains. Wastewater isn’t only disgusting and foul-smelling; it can also cause numerous diseases. Most of which are diarrheal illnesses, although some can also present as skin infections. The foul sewage smell itself may even cause dizziness.

Sewer backups can also lead to thousands of dollars in property damage costs. They can cause water and mold damage to floors, carpets, furniture, and walls. They’re also expensive to clean up and remediate. Video inspections can help prevent such issues by letting plumbers identify sewer issues. Once they determine what’s wrong with your sewer system, they can develop a plan to fix it.

Hydro-Jetting for Blockages

Your local plumber can recommend hydro-jetting for hardened fat deposits. This pipe cleaning technique can even pulverize tree roots blocking your sewer line. It can also clean your entire sewer system, improving its overall efficiency. If you only have a few minor drainpipe clogs, the plumber may suggest drain cleaning using an auger or snake. This tool can dislodge or break up smaller build-ups that haven’t turned into fatbergs yet.

Repairs for Damaged Pipes

Suppose the video inspection reveals you have broken or cracked drainpipes. In this case, your local plumber will recommend pipe repairs. Having damaged pipes fixed promptly can prevent them from completely collapsing and failing.

Restoration of Cast Iron Pipes

Was your home built before 1975? If so, you likely have cast iron pipes, including those for your sewer system. Cast iron pipes were very popular in the past because they were inexpensive. They also had an estimated service life of 100 years or more. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for CI pipes used in Florida homes. The state’s salt- and moisture-rich air and soil make them corrode faster. So, in the Sunshine State, their life shortens to 40 to 60 years, with some developing issues after only 25 years.

If you’re unsure whether you have cast iron pipes, a video sewer inspection can reveal if you do. It can also inform you of their health and status, such as if they have severe corrosion. In this case, your local professional plumber will likely recommend cast iron restoration.

What Are Some Things a Video Inspection Can’t Accomplish?

While convenient and timesaving, sewer video inspections can’t reveal all pipe problems. For example, they can’t detect cracks or damages that only affect the exterior walls of pipes. A video sewer inspection alone doesn’t constitute repairs, either. It can only find areas that need fixing. Depending on the extent of the problem, your local plumber may still have to dig to access the faulty pipes. However, you can expect this to be much less disruptive. After all, the initial inspection helped the pros find the exact location of the problem.

So, rather than excavating a large area, the plumber will only have to dig where the faulty pipe is. The pro can also avoid cutting through a massive section of the line. Since they already know where the problem is, they can limit the work to the affected area. Another limitation is that a sewer camera alone can’t find drain and sewer line leaks. Fortunately, it can still help experts find leakage points if used with a leak detection test. Your local plumber may recommend this test if the following symptoms are present:

  • Isolated wet spots in your lawn
  • Plants and trees that seem to flourish better in a specific area
  • Foul smells that get stronger near a drainpipe’s possible location
  • Damp drywall
  • Mold, mildew, or stains on floors, ceilings, and walls
  • High indoor humidity levels

A leak detection test involves devices that use radio waves and electrical signals. These allow plumbers to locate areas with pipes buried or hidden by ceilings and walls. They also use devices that monitor high moisture levels or acoustic (sound) changes.

How Often Do I Need a Video Sewer Inspection?

Many homeowners usually only schedule sewer inspections once they experience problems. However, you don’t have to do the same and wait for issues to pop up before investing in this service. What’s wiser is to regard it as a vital preventive maintenance step for your plumbing system.

If you have an older home, the ideal frequency for a sewer camera inspection is once a year. This can help you better monitor your aging drain lines and main sewer pipe. By knowing their interior state, you can have a plumber fix issues before they worsen. If you have a new home or sewer system, you may be okay with scheduling an inspection once every three years. In between inspections and cleaning schedules, be sure to ask everyone in your family to:

  • Avoid pouring FOG and FOG-containing items down the drain
  • Stop using the toilet as a “trash” can
  • Flush only the three Ps (toilet paper, pee, and poop)
  • Throw so-called flushable items in the waste bin

By following those guidelines, you won’t have to schedule more frequent inspections. It also helps you maintain your sewer system and avoid hazards like sewer backups.

When Else Should You Schedule Sewer Inspections?

While sewer inspections help locate problems, they can find lost items, too. They can also assist you in creating home improvement or remodeling plans. They can even be a valuable tool for home shoppers!

To Find and Recover Valuables

A video inspection can be helpful if you dropped a valuable object in a sink drain or flushed it down the toilet. These include things like rings, bracelets, earrings, or necklaces. We can inspect your drain pipes and, if still possible, recover the items for you.

Before Making Significant Home Improvements

Another scenario is if you plan to extend your kitchen, add a bathroom, or remodel either room. An inspection can determine where your existing drain lines are. It can also help you confirm if your sewer system can handle an increased wastewater output. You can also schedule a sewer inspection if you plan to alter your landscaping. When you know where your outdoor pipes are, you’ll know which areas to avoid digging into. This can help you prevent accidentally hitting them and causing a costlier mess.

If You’re Buying a House

A sewer inspection can also benefit you if you’re about to buy a house. With Florida home values averaging nearly $400,000, buying one with a faulty sewer is the last thing you want. So, have its sewer system inspected before you finalize your purchase. If the inspection reveals numerous problems, you can back out before it’s too late. Alternatively, you can ask the seller to have them repaired first. Or, you can have the plumber who did the inspection give you a breakdown of the repair costs. You can then use this to negotiate a lower purchase price.

Do You Need a Sewer Inspection Today?

A sewer inspection is an efficient, less disruptive, and low-cost way to know if you have drain clogs. It can also inform you of other issues like cracked or collapsed pipes that need fixing. So, consider scheduling it today, especially if you haven’t had it done for a long time. Our team of plumbing experts at Stuart’s Plumbing Service is ready to help. For nearly 30 years, our customers in Lakeland, FL, have relied on us for their plumbing needs. Call us today to schedule your sewer inspection or other plumbing services!

Don’t let a clogged drain obstruct your day.