Sewer Lateral Lines – Problem

Lateral Line

The sewer lateral line, often referred to as the lateral line, is the pipe that connects your residence to the sanitary sewer main pipeline that runs down the center of your street. Every water drain in your residence empties into the lateral line, including the sink, bathtub, dishwasher and toilet. Each house and townhouse has one lateral line connection to the sewer main, condominiums and apartments often have several units sharing a single lateral line. The lateral line is usually owned by the property owner, not the city. Consequently, maintenance, repair and replacement of the lateral line is the responsibility of the property owner.


The lateral line is a pipeline typically 4 to 6 inches wide, with an average length of 75 feet. It exits at the lowest point of the residence, and is usually located 4 to 8 feet underground. The older lateral lines are constructed of several different materials; cast iron, terracotta, and orangeburg (compressed tarpaper) being among the most common. Today’s lateral lines are generally a plastic pipe, such as PVC.


The lateral line is constructed of pipe sections 1 to 20 feet in length, connected to create a continuous pipeline from the residence to the mainline sewer in the street. It is at these joints where problems commonly appear. Shifting earth, erosion, or deterioration of the joint sealant result in the eventual separation of the joint, allowing wastewater to leak out into the environment. This in turn attracts tree roots, which work their way into the pipes to get at the source of the nutrients upon which it feeds, further destroying the lateral line. Wastewater flowing out of the joint break begins to erode the ground underneath the next section of pipe, causing it to sag, and eventually crack or separate at the next joint downstream. This process will continue until the pipe collapses completely, or is repaired.

How Would I Know If This Is Happening?

If your residence is over 15 years old and you notice your drains “gurgling “ or bubbling as they drain, smell sewage odor or have experienced a sewer backup, your lateral line probably needs repair. Often, a plumber is called and the lines are “snaked”, “jetted”, “rootered” or otherwise cleaned out and pronounced fit for use. Perhaps the tree roots were cut out. What has happened is that the plumber has temporarily removed the matter that had collected at the problem site and was causing a backup. The break is still there, the tree root will grow back, the pipeline will continue to deteriorate, matter will collect at the same site, and you will experience another backup within the year.

The best way to assess the condition of your lateral line is to conduct a Closed Circuit Television Video (CCTV) examination.  Lateral Liners, LLC. will run a camera down the lateral line and examine the entire pipeline, assessing flow rate, pipeline integrity and repair options. A DVD or flash drive is made available to our clients so that you can see exactly what is happening inside the pipe, and determine a proper course of action.