Aug 8 2011

Your Sewer Line – a Ticking Time Bomb?

Private sewer laterals must be replaced by homeowners

A new requirement has been imposed on Piedmont homeowners when selling a home:  the repair or replacement of any leaking lateral sewer lines running from the owner’s home to the public sewer main at a cost of $5,000 to $10,000 per lateral.  The new requirement is also triggered when doing remodeling work over $100,000 or re-sizing a water meter, and may be imposed as a result of routine ongoing city inspections of the main sewer lines, at the discretion of city staff.

The new law requires a homeowner to hire a contractor to pressure test his lateral sewer line in the presence of an EBMUD inspector, proving it does not leak between the home and the main line.  A presentation on the new requirement is now airing on KCOM.  Information is also available on the EBMUD website.

Approximately 60% of Piedmont homeowners will find themselves responsible for replacement of “lower lateral” portion of the line below the clean-out, in addition to the “upper lateral.”   This will be required for homes where sewer rehabilitation work has not been completed by the City of Piedmont.  The depth of the lower lateral can affect repair or replacement costs.

Homeowners likely to have to replace clay and cast iron lines

In an informational presentation now airing on KCOM, a knowledgeable contractor who works in the Piedmont area asserted that clay and cast iron sewer lines in Piedmont “will leak” and fail the pressure test without repair or replacement work, even if the sewer line does not appear offset or broken in a camera inspection.  Staff did not dispute this and also acknowledged that a pressure test may be physically impossible on existing lateral lines in some older homes. Homeowners should plan to repair or replace lateral lines which are clay or cast iron.

This contradicted an EBMUD representative, who initially attempted to emphasize a homeowner’s ability to do an inexpensive $150 camera inspection, immediately followed (without any repairs) by a $150 EBMUD inspection verifying the pressure test, if “everything looks fine” during the camera inspection.  This may be a reasonable option for newer lines made of HDPE material, but not for clay or cast iron lines common in Piedmont.  Clay and cast iron pipes are unlikely to pass and the cost to set up a pressure test may be “half-way” to the cost of repairing the lateral line.

The cost to replace a lateral sewer line has been estimated at $5,000 to $10,000 per line for most homes by Public Works Director Chester Nakahara, although he points out, “Cost will depend on a number of factors, including the length, existing material [e.g. clay or cast iron], existing condition, number of turns in the lateral, and the condition of connection point to the City sewer main.”   Some homes may have two or more laterals.  Homeowners will be required to install a 2-way clean-out, as well*.  The cleanout cost will be nominal if done with lateral replacement or $500 – $1,000 if done independently.

The EBMUD representative did not estimate the cost of having a contractor set up and conduct a pressure test on an existing system.  Complicated systems may require multiple holes to be dug, increasing the cost.  Lines with multiple drains and connections may be difficult to plug for testing.

A realtor at the presentation raised concerns that no contractor can provide a guarantee based on a camera inspection – in all cases a pressure test must be completed when selling a house.  The pressure test and necessary work can be put off for 6 months after closing if the buyer or seller deposit $4,500 in escrow.  The EBMUD representative stated that if work is not completed the funds will be transferred to EBMUD, continued non-compliance may result in fines or shutting off water service to the home, and eventual compliance will result in the return of the $4,500 deposit to the designated party less administrative fees.  However, the EBMUD website warns the deposit funds are subject to forfeiture if work is not completed within the 180 days.  See Guidelines for Time Extension.

Lower lateral costs may shift from City to homeowner

Approximately 1570 Piedmont homes, or 40%, already have a new lower lateral and 2-way clean-out, while 60% do not. Approximately 1,000 homeowners have voluntarily replaced their lateral sewer line and installed a 2-way cleanout under a building permit.  Approximately 500 lower laterals and 2-way clean-outs have been installed by the City of Piedmont during Phase I – IV of the sewer main replacement program, funded by the City Sewer Tax.  Phases V, VI and VII of the sewer replacement program will be completed by 2018.  The new requirement may be triggered before the City completes its sewer program, shifting lower lateral costs from the City to the homeowner.  There is no provision to reimburse or compensate these homeowners.  Homeowners can contact the City to determine if their lower lateral has been replaced.

A City permit will be required for the sewer repair or replacement work.  EBMUD forms and appointments will be available online as of August 23 at  The homeowner is advised to insure his contractor performs a single pressure test with both the City and EBMUD inspectors present, to avoid costly duplication.  (An EBMUD inspection can be scheduled on the EBMUD website with a 3 hour window, while a Piedmont building inspector can be available within an hour of calling the city, according to Nakahara.)  The Compliance Certificate from EBMUD should be filed with the City of Piedmont. It will be valid for 7 years if the sewer lateral is repaired, or 20 years, if replaced.

The 2-way sewer clean-out

*The City sewer replacement program includes lower laterals, plus a 2-way clean-out when the cleanout is located in the public right of way.  The City work does not include a 2-way cleanout when the lower lateral ends in a side yard or back yard.

Link:  More EBMUD sewer lateral information

One Response to “Your Sewer Line – a Ticking Time Bomb?”

  1. The EBMUD program has 3 triggers for lateral inspection and most likely replacement. The City added a fourth unique trigger which lets the city inspect any time a city employee deems an inspection is warranted. I attended the meeting and was disappointed as no mention of state or federal grant money was discussed for individual homeowners, nor tax credits. Also the camera test is useless and will not be accepted by EBMUD. EBMUD stated they would help homeowners who had received notice, and asked for an extension to complete their work. The help offered by EBMUD is a series of compliance warning letters.

    The bottom line here is that if you have clay pipe, the entire line will have to be replaced. If you have cast iron, there is a chance it will pass the pressure test, most likely it will also need repair and possible replacement to pass the EBMUD test. If you have the newest seamless plastic pipe you should be ok if it was installed properly and within the time frame allowed by EBMUD.

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