Sewer Main Collapse: Why It Happens and What You Should Do

Sewer Main Repair by Excavator

Collapsed sewer lines are most often the result of several types of untreated sewer line issues.  Underlying problems can range from tree root incursions, to offset pipe joints, aging Orangeburg pipes and more if left untreated.  All of these things can lead to the loss of structural integrity of your sewer pipes and eventually to the soil above collapsing into the line, completely blocking the flow of wastewater.  A collapsed sewer line is not a diagnosis that any homeowner wants to hear (let alone deal with) when it comes to your plumbing system. However, it does happen, and you have to be prepared.

Once a pipe collapses, you’ll need to either repair or replace it in order to fully restore flow.  Of course, you’ll want to be sure to determine the underlying cause, as well, so that your problem isn’t likely to repeat.  

Causes of Collapsed Sewer Lines

There are a number of reasons why your sewer main might collapse.  Some underlying issues include:

  • Tree Root Incursion – When tree roots grow near, around, or into your pipes, they weaken pipe walls. Often, tree roots seeking out water are attracted to the available moisture that lies within your sewer line, and so they grow into the pipe itself through the joints.  The more the roots grow, the more they weaken the joints allowing wastewater to escape from the pipe and erode the soil around it, thus creating a belly that results in collapse.
  • Misaligned Pipes – To a very similar effect as tree root incursion, offset or misaligned pipe joints can allow wastewater to escape into the surrounding soil, eroding the earth from around your pipe.  Again, this leads to collapse. 
  • Aged Orangeberg Pipe – Orangeberg pipe is a paper pipe that’s made up of compressed tar.  They were manufactured during WWII when metal was diverted towards the war effort.  These pipes can be found supplying older homes. But, after decades of use, they degrade from the constant exposure to moisture.  Eventually, they weaken and completely collapse.

Repair Options & Procedures

After your sewer main collapses, the first thing you’ll need to do is call in a plumber to diagnose the cause.  This must be determined in order to decide upon a plan of action to get your sewer flowing and working as it should.  Once a cause is determined, your plumber will present one (or several, depending on the situation) of the following repair options:

  • Rooter and Drain Cleaning – Getting your home’s waste water flowing again is obviously going to be your first priority.  While rooter service is only a temporary fix to the presented symptoms, it will at least get things flowing.  Through this process, the line will be cleared in preparation of video inspection.
  • Video Camera Inspection – Once your sewer line has been cleared for visibility, the next critical step your plumber will take is to visually inspect the entire sewer line with a video camera.  This video inspection allows the technicians to accurately diagnose the underlying problem in order to come up with the best possible option for repair.

After these initial first steps are taken, then it’s time to draw up a permanent solution to solve the problem.  These may include:

  • Hydrojetting – This is a more permanent solution than the above-mentioned rooter service. Rather than punching a hole through a blockage to get waste water flowing, the hydrojetting process uses high pressure water jets to clean the inside of the line, removing grease buildup and even tree roots for a longer lasting effect.
  • Pipe Lining – This is a process of creating a new seamless plastic pipe within the old pipe.  It’s a solution that’s used to completely replace the line or for spot repairs of problem sections.  What’s more is that pipe lining is able to do so without the expense and damage of conventional trenching methods. It is a permanent solution to your collapsed pipe problem, and, because the new pipe is seamless high grade epoxy, you’ll no longer have to worry about pipe joints being a weak link.
  • Pipe Bursting – Like pipe lining, pipe bursting is another permanent solution for sewer backups and collapse.  This process hydraulically pulls a pipe bursting head underground while breaking apart the old pipe (even those made of cast iron) and pulling into place the new seamless HDPE pipe.  

Dealing with a collapsed sewer main can be a stressful situation when you don’t know what measures to take.  Fortunately, that’s why we’re here to guide you through the process. If you suspect this issue in your home, give someone from our Tritan team a call.  We’ll come out right away to assess the situation, determine the underlying cause and present you with your best option for repair.


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