Dealing with sewer line problems can be a real hassle and even a major hygiene issue if left unaddressed.
A sewer line replacement can be a significant undertaking for homeowners, especially if a homeowner is unaware of the complex process involved. This can lead many homeowners to ignore warning signs with their indoor plumbing out of either ignorance or uncertainty on how to properly handle sewer line issues.
However, failing to deal with sewer line problems in a timely manner can lead to significant damage that can wrack up repair costs, or even require a full replacement of a sewer line.
According to Home Guide, the average cost of a sewer line replacement falls between $50 to $250 per foot, or roughly $3,000 to $6,000 in total costs.
In this article, we walk homeowners through the specifics of sewer line care, including what a sewer line replacement is, the warning signs of sewage problems, and the costs associated with a sewer line replacement. Plus, we cover five key factors that can impact the final replacement price.
Keep reading to learn all about the real cost of a sewer line replacement.
What is a Sewer Line Replacement?
A sewer line replacement refers to the removal and replacement of a sewer line on a property. This type of replacement is necessary when an existing sewer line becomes damaged beyond repair, with the damaged sewer line often causing persistent issues with a property’s sewage and plumbing system.
Sewer line replacements are no small task, making it vital for homeowners to be aware of the signs of problems within their sewage system. These signs can include:
- Slow-draining water in sinks and showers
- Foul smells in the home and around the drainage field
- Problems with the water level in toilets
- Soggy patches and extra-green grass near the drainage field
- General plumbing problems without a clear source
- Pests entering the home via plumbing pipes
Depending on how quickly you catch on to a sewer line issue, you may be able to have your sewage system repaired rather than entirely replaced. This is crucial, as total replacements can be costly due to the labor-intensive and time-consuming nature of the task.
Additionally, homeowners can reduce the risk of sewer line damage by practicing proper sewer line maintenance regularly, such as:
- Being mindful of waste sent through the pipes (i.e. food waste in the garbage disposal, feminine hygiene products in the toilet, etc.)
- Paying attention to drainage quality (such as how fast sinks and tubs are draining, unusually wet or green grass around drainage fields, or foul odors coming from indoor plumbing systems)
- Calling in professionals to assess potential issues and damage when early signs are noticed (for example, a professional plumbing or sewer company can use a technique called snaking to clear out backed-up gunk in your sewer line before it becomes a major problem)
5 Factors Affecting Sewer Line Replacement Cost
In the best-case scenario, a homeowner would be able to identify early signs of sewer line problems and have the necessary repairs or maintenance completed promptly.
Yet, doing so requires fairly in-depth knowledge of how to properly maintain a sewer line and identify problems as they occur. Moreover, if a homeowner has just recently purchased a property, they may not have enough time to recognize early signs and may already be dealing with a serious situation.
No matter what your sewage story looks like, what matters most is acting quickly once you recognize the problem occurring and knowing what costs you can expect.
As previously mentioned, the average cost of a sewer line replacement falls between $50 to $250 per foot or roughly $3,000 to $6,000 in total costs. This final price point can be further heightened if a full sewage system replacement is needed as well, averaging between $8,000 to $30,000 in total.
However, every scenario is different and many factors can impact the cost of a sewer line replacement.
Let’s take a look at five of the biggest factors at play that impact sewer line replacement costs:
1. Sewer Line Location
The first key factor that can have a huge impact on the cost of a sewer line replacement is location.
Where your sewer line is located determines the complexity of the replacement project. Specifically, the depth and accessibility of your sewer pipes, as well as the ground above your pipes, can either increase or decrease how complicated a replacement will be.
For example, sewer lines located deep underground will require greater excavation efforts to reach. Additionally, if there are any structures directly above your sewer lines (such as driveways, landscaping, gardens, etc.), these structures must be demolished to access the pipes beneath the ground.
Excavation is typically treated as an extra cost on top of replacement costs. While the cost of excavation can vary, you can expect to pay between $2.50 to $15.00 for each cubic yard of an excavation, Home Guide reports. The cost of excavation for sewage purposes can range from $500 to $1,200 on average.
2. Sewer Line Material & Length
Sewer lines can be constructed from a variety of different materials such as cast iron, clay, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Most older homes have sewer lines made from materials like cast iron or clay, while more modern sewer lines are constructed from PVC or ABS.
Though once considered the standard for sewer lines, cast iron and clay have become outdated materials for use in a sewage system.
Cast iron is more commonly seen still in use today thanks to its long lifespan — however, cast iron is considered to be more costly and heavy than modern alternatives. On the other hand, clay is no longer frequently used for sewer lines today due to its porous surface that attracts tree roots under the ground which can cause major damage to the entire sewer system.
By contrast, plastic sewer line materials like PVC and ABS tend to be lower in overall installation costs, more durable, and easier to repair or replace as needed. PVC is generally preferred over ABS, as ABS contains a chemical compound that poses potential health risks.
Most sewage companies recommend using a plastic-based material, such as PVC or ABS, for your sewer line replacement. According to 2023 data from Angi (formerly Angie’s List), the average cost for sewer line materials is as follows:
- Cast Iron: $1,100 to $3,600 for 48 linear feet (or roughly $22.92 to $75.00 per linear foot)
- PVC: $80 to $370 for 48 linear feet (or roughly $1.66 to $7.70 per linear foot)
- ABS: $130 to $450 for 48 linear feet (or roughly $2.70 to $9.38 per linear foot)
Additionally, you can also opt for copper as a sewer line material, though copper is by far the most expensive option. Copper is easier to replace than cast iron, though PVC and ABS still take the cake for being the easiest to repair and replace. The average cost of copper for a sewer line is between $3,900 to $4,300 for 48 linear feet, or roughly $81.25 to $89.58 per linear foot.
3. The Scope of the Sewer Line Damage
Along with materials, length, and location, the damage within your sewer line can have a massive impact on the final cost of replacement.
The complexity of a sewer line issue is often closely tied to the final price. For example, a simple blockage that has caused a minor leak can generally be repaired through less-invasive means and may not even require a full replacement. Meanwhile, extensive damage such as major cracking or corrosion will almost always necessitate a full sewer line replacement.
Assessing the scope of the damage in your sewer line requires the help of sewage professionals who can use special tools to view and analyze the data prior to any excavation.
4. Sewer Line Permits
When it comes to plumbing work, you almost always need a permit to complete the work legally.
Sewer line replacements are subject to specific safety codes and require a permit — however, every state and local region has its own set of safety codes and permit requirements. In most cases, you can go to your city or town’s Building and Safety Department to obtain the necessary permit.
The cost of a plumbing permit to replace your sewer line will vary from location to location, making it crucial to reach out to your specific local regulator regarding costs and requirements.
Let’s take a look at obtaining permits in Boulder, Colorado, as an example.
Boulder, CO requires a plumbing permit and a completed inspection by a certified professional. The permits come in three main types — new construction permits ($1,593), major repair construction permits ($1,593), and minor repair construction permits ($1,003). According to the Boulder County Permit & Fee Schedule, permit fees can be waived for existing owners for projects involving sewer lines.
You can view the full set of instructions, fees, and permit applications on the Boulder County website.
5. The Type of Sewer Repair
The fifth major factor that can significantly impact the cost of a sewer line repair is the type of sewer repair you are dealing with. Sewer line repairs or replacements are divided into two main categories:
- Trenching: The trenching method involves the extensive excavation process we discussed earlier and can accrue hefty additional costs for labor, equipment, and excavation. This is the traditional method for performing sewer line repairs or replacements.
- Trenchless: Advancements in technology have enabled the trenchless method, which involves one of two processes — pipe lining (the insertion of an epoxy-coated sleeve into an existing sewer line) and pipe bursting (the use of a missile-like device to break down and remove the old pipe and immediately replace it with a pipe attached to the back of the device).
Trenchless sewer line repairs and replacements can be greatly beneficial for reducing the cost of your sewer line replacement project. However, if the damage is too severe, trenchless replacements may not be a viable option for your sewer line.
Trenchless vs. Trenching Costs
As discussed, trenchless sewer line replacements can be the more cost-effective option when you are in need of a new sewer line. Though these lower costs can be tempting, only certain circumstances can feasibly use a trenchless process, while more severe cases may still require the trenching process.
With this in mind, let’s compare the costs of the trenchless vs. trenching methods:
- Trenchless Sewer Line Replacement Costs: For the pipe lining method of trenchless replacements, you can expect to pay between $135 to $150 per linear foot — meanwhile, pipe bursting costs an average ranging between $150 to $190 per linear foot, according to Angi data.
- Traditional Trenching Sewer Line Replacement Costs: The traditional trenching method for sewer line replacements will include the excavation costs discussed earlier (between $500 to $1,200 on average). This method can also be more time-consuming.
Both methods of sewer line replacements require skilled manual labor specialized in either the trenchless or trenching technique. The cost of manual labor varies from company to company but you can expect to pay an average of $50 to $150 per hour for the labor involved.
Finding the Right Contractor for Your Sewer Line Replacement
Unless you are a plumbing professional specializing in sewer line replacements, you will need to work with a professional plumbing and sewage company to complete your replacement project.
Finding the best contractor for your sewer line replacement comes down to three key factors:
- Specialized Expertise: Always seek out a contractor that is not only certified in plumbing but is specialized in sewer line repairs and replacements. Whether you will need a trenching or trenchless specialist will depend on the scope of your sewer line damage, so make sure to find a professional company or team that can advise you accordingly.
- Thorough Consultation: Any reputable plumbing contractor should perform a thorough consultation and analysis of your sewer line replacement needs before commencing the work. During this consultation stage, your contractor should explain the magnitude of the problem to you and what options you have for repairs or replacements.
- Transparent Pricing: Along with assessing the scope of your problem, a plumbing contractor should also give you an honest and transparent overview of the potential costs. Finding a contractor that is transparent in their pricing and willing to give you an initial quote is the key to determining the actual cost of your specific sewer line replacement needs.
By taking the time to find a reputable sewer line specialist, you can receive the tailored care your sewage system needs to get back in great working condition.