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Ask Angie: Fixing a clogged sewer line

Angieslist.comSeptember 6, 2013 

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Angie Hicks

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Dear Angie: We have a clogged sewer line, which the first plumber could not unclog. The second plumber was able to run the snake through. That plumber ran a camera and said that the missing sewer cap was in the drain, causing the back up; he quoted me $1,300 to break up some concrete, retrieve the cap and put a new cap on. Does that seem like a reasonable solution and price? Should we try flushing the cap out ourselves with a home power washer or just pay the plumber? — Irma R., Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Irma.: Before we start, I have a question for you: Have you seen the video the plumber shot showing that there is indeed a sewer cap causing the clog?

If you haven't already, ask him or her to show that to you as soon as possible before making a decision. If they say they can't, it's probably time to contact another service provider, as any reputable company should be more than willing to show the evidence.

Making sure that the cap is the culprit will confirm the problem is not related to another source, such as tree roots, a common reason sewer lines get clogged.

Based on your description of the problem, our research indicates paying $1,300 isn't out of range of what can be expected when it involves breaking up concrete and working on sewer lines.

Prices can vary greatly, depending on the size of the job and region of the country you live.

If you're sure the cap is the problem but are still wary about the estimate, call around, explain the problem and get estimates from multiple service providers. Be as specific as possible when you tell them what's wrong.

To answer your second question, several highly rated service providers on Angie's List tell me they do not recommend using a power washer or other type of pressure device to knock the cap out.

Depending where the cap is, using pressure might just make the situation worse. The cap might spin around or it could even get knocked further down the line, causing your estimate to shoot from $1,300 to several thousand dollars. If that happens, you would also need to have a company shoot more video of the line to see where the cap went. Some service providers say they've had luck using various equipment to push the caps out to the main sewer lines, but most consider it risky.

It's important that whichever service provider your hire has ruled out the possibility of tree roots growing in your main sewer pipe, a common problem especially in older neighborhoods. Roots have the ability to grow very far out — even from a neighbor's tree — and tend to grow toward water sources, such as sewer pipes.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

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