Side Sewer Repair Methods

Photo of Side Sewer under street
Side sewer under a City street exposed during repair by a contractor

Once you have determined that a side sewer repair or replacement is needed, the following steps should be taken:

1. Select Contractor Type(s)

Types of sewer and plumbing repair services

It is important to select a contractor that has experience and the correct expertise.

Some companies offer a full range of services, including unblocking, repairing, and replacing sewer lines or pipe, but some companies specialize only in certain areas. For more information on selecting the contractor see further down this page.

There are three main types of repairs services:

1. Rooter companies unclog plumbing and private side sewers using water pressure or mechanical “snakes”. They might repair and/or replace side sewers.

Tips:

  • The rooter service's snake cable should reach from a property's side sewer to the City’s sewer main.
  • Use caution – high-pressure cleaning tools can damage pipes further.

2. Side sewer contractors repair and/or replace side sewer defects, such as breaks or holes. Some contractors also might unclog lines. A registered side sewer contractor needs to be used for any repairs within the public right-of-way.

3. Plumbers repair leaky or broken fixtures and they install systems in new construction and remodeling. If only some fixtures are not draining, or if pipes are leaking, a plumber might be able to remedy the problem.

A registered side sewer contractor needs to be used for any repairs within the public right-of-way. For more information on selecting the contractor see further down this page.

2. Get Several Contractor Bids

Getting recommendations and bids

  • Ask friends and relatives for recommendations.
  • Property owners may check with the Better Business Bureau at (206) 431-2222 to find reputable companies.
  • Since companies offer a wide range of prices, it’s a good idea to get at least 3 written bids before choosing a company.

All repairs performed in the city right-of-way must be done by a contractor licensed and bonded to work in Seattle. Visit Registered Side Sewer Contractors for more details.

Main types of structural repairs

If you have had multiple contractors bid for repairs, they may be recommending different types or combinations of repairs. There may be more than one way of fixing the issue in your side sewer and the contractor may have a preference of what type of repair to do based on their experience.

The general types of repairs are summarized in the Repair Resources section below (note that two or more of these might be used in combination with each other).

3. Get a permit

Permits are always required, on both private property and in the right-of-way, when performing repair work on side sewers. Permits are not required for root removal or unclogging services. Obtain permits online or in person at:

Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections
Seattle Municipal Tower
Floor 21, Permit Counter
700 5th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104

4. Schedule the work

Availability of your contractor will be the main determinant on when you can have repair work started. For emergency repairs this may be the key factor in how you choose your contractor. Your contractor will schedule an inspection by a City inspector before the side sewer pipe is covered.

5. Final inspection

Once all work is completed, a City inspector will inspect the work to ensure it was constructed in accordance with all applicable codes and regulations.

Repair Resources

Costs and Financial Assistance
The Seattle Office of Housing offers Home Repair Loans for owner-occupied, single family homes with low- to moderate- income families. If you qualify for assistance, then one of the Housing staff will also be able to help in your search for a contractor.

Types of structural repairs summarized

If you have had multiple contractors bid for repairs, they may be recommending different types or combinations of repairs. There may be more than one way of fixing the issue in your side sewer and the contractor may have a preference of what type of repair to do based on their experience.

The general types of repairs are summarized below (note that two or more of these might be used in combination with each other):

Spot repair
Used where the issue or defect is at a specific location. Examples might be where there is an offset between two segments of pipe, where the pipe has collapsed, or where there are roots that can’t be removed by another method. A hole has to be dug to replace a section of pipe.

Open cut construction
Where there are defects in multiple sections of pipe and, therefore, a long length of pipe needs to be replaced. The old pipe is dug up and and replaced. Requires a lot of disturbance to the surface.

Pipe bursting
This involves inserting a new flexible pipe inside the old pipe. It requires a pit to be dug for access at both the start and end of where the new pipe is to be located. It is useful in situations where you wish to minimize the amount of surface disturbance.

Cured in place pipe (CIPP) lining
A resin-soaked felt tube liner is inserted into the existing pipe, inflated to expand to shape of the existing pipe, and then cured until the resin hardens to form a pipe within the old pipe. Like pipe bursting, it involves less disturbance to the surface than having an open cut repair. It results in a seamless length of pipe that can prevent roots from infiltrating and extend the life of the side sewer.

Possible questions to ask the sewer contractor

Make sure you have all questions answered in legible writing at the time of service with the provider's signature and date.

What is causing the problem?
Have the service provider write down the probable cause of the blockage. Knowing the type of blockage will help determine what method should be used to open it, and if regular maintenance of your side sewer is needed to prevent future backups.

Where is the blockage?
If your line is rootered, have the service provider write down the specific footage where the blockage was found (or where they think it is). Also have the provider mark the spot on the ground. This information is helpful in determining if the problem is within the City’s area of responsibility. The mark can be helpful if you must dig up the pipe to repair it.

Should a TV camera be used to see blockages in my line?
TV cameras generally are not effective in determining what is blocking a line. They cannot see under water, so if a line is blocked and not draining, the camera won’t be able to see inside your pipes. Camera inspections are most useful after the blockage has been cleared to determine the condition of your pipes and where future problems might turn up.

Can I be provided a copy of the inspection video?
If you do have a contractor perform a video inspection verify that they will provide you a copy of the video. Most contractors can record a copy of the video and either provide you a copy on a USB drive or upload it to a website and provide a link to it. Having a copy of the video for your records can be useful if you ever wish to file a claim with the City, have the City review the video for possible damage to the connection, or as a reference to see if the side sewer is deteriorating over time.