A private sewer lateral (PSL) is the pipe that connects a home or business’ plumbing to the publicly owned sanitary sewer main line, usually located under the street. This essential pipe carries all the wastewater from a home or business to the sewer main. This includes everything washed down a sink or flushed down a toilet. Sewage is then transported to a treatment facility.
Sometimes referred to as “side sewers,” private sewer laterals consist of two main parts:
- The upper sewer lateral – The length of pipe closer a home or business, including the area from the building cleanout to the sidewalk.
- The lower sewer lateral – The length of pipe closer to the street, including the area from the sidewalk’s curb cleanout to the public sewer main.
Who is Responsible for a Sewer Lateral?
As the PSL term may suggest, a private sewer lateral is the responsibility of the private property owner. In many cases, a homeowner is solely responsible for the upper lateral connection. In many locations however, property owners are responsible for both the upper and lower lateral. The city is only responsible for the connection onto the city’s sewer main lines. A property owner could be liable if their pipes cause damage to the public sewer main. The city should cover any repairs for damage caused by them and maintenance.
Common Private Sewer Lateral Problems
The condition of a private sewer lateral will determine where the wastewater goes. Pipe condition also effect whether or not ground water or rain runoff can enter the pipe.
Pipe failure usually comes in the form of cracks, breaks or blockages in the pipe. Common causes of sewer lateral failure include:
- Natural erosion from the wastewater
- Pipe corrosion, calcification, and scale build up.
- Shifting soil
- Root intrusion
Problems caused by a broken sewer laterals
- Sewer backups
- Contamination of soil and local waterways from leakage
- Raw sewage overflow caused by water intrusion and root growth
As a sewer lateral ages, it becomes more vulnerable to breakage. The average lifetime of a private sewer lateral depends on the material used to construct the pipe. Clay pipes are the most common, but the old-style hub and spigot joints fail, causing the pipeline to break. Cast iron is a common sewer lateral material and should last about 30-50 years. Finally high-density polyethylene (HDPE) has gained popularity the industry. HDPE offers durability, low cost, faster repair, and 100+ years of useful life.
Environmental Requirements for Sewer Laterals
Broken private sewer laterals can create serious environmental risks. Pipe failures cause wastewater to flow out of the pipe and into the ground where it can threaten drinking water. Inflow and infiltration failures are the most common problem. Inflow and Infiltration occurs when rainwater or groundwater enters the pipe. This issue is so common that the excess water can overwhelm a sewer treatment system. Overflows and backups can happen when a system is overwhelmed. This can force untreated sewage into yards, streets, or nearby bodies of water.
How to Fix a Broken Private Sewer Lateral?
If there are sewage issues with your home or business but you’re not sure that your private sewer line is the culprit, a sewer video inspection is a good first step. The inspection diagnoses the line and can tell you if your line could pass a pressure test or not. To save time and money video inspection is done before you test the line.
A sewer line video inspection is the only way to confirm the condition of your sewer line. Video inspection identifies problems within the pipe. Blockages are a typical problem found by these inspections. The inspection will also determine if the sewer lateral needs to be replaced. Envirosight‘s Verisight or Jetscan equipment can be used to inspect and easily detect a blockage.
Lateral inspections are becoming more commonplace after long being overlooked. A city will complete a lateral inspection before they take over a new pipeline. This inspection is done to avoid responsibility for pipeline that’s already in poor condition. When a home or business experiences a backup, cities will perform an inspection to determine who is responsible for repairs. Some cities have even developed programs to clearly outline maintenance strategies and requirements for this essential underground infrastructure.