Sewer Video Camera Inspections and Underground Locating

Sewer systems are one of the most crucial utilities in any residential or commercial building. These systems are comprised of a network of pipelines, which are responsible for conveying all wastewater from sinks, toilets, bathrooms, etc. to the municipal sewer mainline.

Considering the type of fluids that these pipes transport daily, it is usually not a pleasant experience when something goes wrong. Like any other piping infrastructure, it is not uncommon for sewer pipelines to develop issues while in operation. These issues, if left unmanaged, can lead to other problems which can result in costly repair and rehabilitation work.

Problems related to residential or commercial sewer systems often require the services of a licensed plumber or plumbing contractor. One of the most common techniques used by plumbers to investigate these pipelines is the sewer camera inspection. This method allows them to noninvasively determine the source, location, and nature of almost any sewer-related issue.

In this blog post, we will go through sewer camera inspections in detail and discuss their benefits and capabilities, as well as their limitations.

What Is a Sewer Camera Inspection?

A sewer camera inspection involves using a relatively small, high-resolution sewer camera attached to a cable fiber optic to view the inside of sewer pipelines. A professionally trained plumbing technician inserts the camera through an existing sewer access point and guides the tool in the longitudinal direction of the pipe. Both the cable and the camera are flexible, allowing them to maneuver through twists and turns in the sewer pipe.

As the camera travels along the pipeline, it transmits high-quality video footage to a monitor at the ground surface in real-time. This allows technicians to immediately assess the condition of sewer and drain lines and assists in the accurate diagnosis of any problems that may exist.

The sewer camera is also usually outfitted with a transmitter, or sonde, behind the camera head. This transmitter emits radio signals which are intercepted by an above-ground locator to reveal the physical location and depth of the camera in relation to the surface. This information helps the plumber determine the location of blockages or obstructions encountered in the line. The above-ground locator can also be used with the camera to map out the path of existing underground piping infrastructure.

Sewer inspection cameras are an extremely valuable tool in the plumbing industry. They can be used to locate and identify several problems which may lead to an improperly functioning sewer system. Some of the issues which are easily identified by sewer cameras include, but not limited to:

  • Tree root infiltration – Tree roots are naturally attracted to the moisture and nutrients provided by sewer pipes. Roots can gravitate towards and penetrate pipes through pre-existing cracks and joints. Once inside the pipes, these roots can cause clogging and, in some cases, exert enough pressure on the walls of the pipe to cause rupture.
  • Clogged pipelines – Foreign materials, such as paper towels and facial tissues, are not designed to disintegrate in water. These materials can, therefore, accumulate inside the pipe and restrict the flow of fluid through the line. This can eventually lead to backups, which are not only unsanitary but can also subject the pipes to undue stress.
  • Cracked sewer lines – Aging piping infrastructure, settlement, and overstress are just some of the issues that may lead to cracked sewer piping. These cracks can lead to leakage, which can give rise to unsanitary conditions and promote tree root infiltration.
  • Bellied sewer pipes – Bellying refers to a downward sinking of the pipe. This may be the result of unstable soil conditions and settlement. Bellying creates a low point in the pipe’s vertical alignment, which can cause the water to pool and obstruct flow in the direction of gravity.
  • Pipeline corrosion – Corrosion is a chemical or electrochemical reaction which can cause deterioration of the walls of the pipe. If left untreated, corrosion can lead to reduced pipe wall thickness and the eventual formation of cracks and leaks. In sewer systems, corrosion is usually due to the release of H2S and CO2 gases from bacteria.

Additionally, sewer camera inspections can also reveal as-built information about the existing sewer pipe, including, pipe material, sewer system connections, and horizontal/vertical alignments. 

Do I Need a Camera Inspection?

The short answer is yes! While many homeowners hope that they never have to deal with sewer problems, it is a real issue that must be dealt with, preferably proactively.

Sewer pipes are typically buried underground, hidden from view under several feet of soil and, in some cases, concrete. As a result, their maintenance is often neglected (out of sight, out of mind). What makes sewer issues difficult to diagnose is the fact that some problems can exist for a long time before they can be identified visually. For example, it is possible to have a leaking sewer system which continues to operate as intended.

However, untreated sewer problems can worsen and give rise to unpleasant, inconvenient, and unsanitary conditions on the ground surface. They can also encourage mold growth, attract pests, and can even cause property damage in extreme cases. The cost of repairing significant sewer piping damage can also be quite expensive and require extensive excavation operations. It is, therefore, crucial to identify sewer piping issues as early as possible.

Video camera inspections provide valuable insight into the internal condition of sewer pipes, allowing technicians to determine the presence of any potentially destructive issues. Camera inspections are, therefore, best used as a preventative measure to help stem the occurrence of potentially disastrous situations.

Benefits of Sewer Camera Inspection

Sewer video camera inspections are quickly gaining popularity among many homeowners, commercial business owners, and government agencies. This is attributed primarily to their numerous benefits, such as:

  • Diagnose problems without digging – Sewer problems or failures usually occur in areas that are not easily or readily accessed. Conventional pipeline inspections, which typically include trenching, can destroy surrounding landscapes and incur considerable costs.

 Video camera inspections can be done by inserting the rod and camera either through existing openings or by creating a relatively small, non-intrusive opening. This significantly reduces the time and cost required to perform sewer inspections.

  •  Remove the guesswork from pipeline diagnosis – Using digging or trenching to inspect buried pipes is usually a trial and error exercise. These methods lack the efficiency needed to determine the exact location of a particular sewer line issue since removing the soil exposes only the outer walls of the pipe.

 During video camera inspections, the camera returns real-time, high-definition images to a monitor which allows the technician to determine the root cause of sewer problems with a high degree of accuracy. 

  •   Minimal restoration work – Since no trenching is involved, sewer camera inspections can help preserve landscapes and minimize the costs associated with excavation and backfilling operations. This is especially valuable when sewer pipes are surrounded by infrastructures, such as concrete flooring, driveways, and roadways.
  • Prevent future damage – As mentioned previously, camera inspections are an effective tool for preventative maintenance. Licensed plumbing professionals can interpret the images from the camera to identify issues that may be in progress. As such, appropriate solutions can be recommended to resolve problems before they worsen.

Limitations of Camera Inspection

While camera inspections are highly effective for identifying several types of pipeline issues, it is important to note that this technique should not be used as a primary tool for detecting leaks in sewer pipelines.

A leak, by definition, is the escape of water through a hole or crack. Since the camera is located inside the pipe, the technician cannot view the condition of the pipe’s exterior. As such, it is not possible to determine if fluid is leaking out of the pipe.

Additionally, the plumber or technician is only capable of seeing what is displayed on the monitor. Therefore, he has to interpret the information presented. In cases where the pipeline is heavily coated with debris, corrosion, calcium, soap scum, or other material, it can be difficult to identify potential leaks based on the images on the monitor. For example, in some cases, it can be challenging for the plumber to determine whether any cracks or holes observed are on the buildup or the actual pipe.

Additionally, in thick-walled pipes, such as PVC or cast iron, it can also be possible that cracks observed by the plumber do not penetrate through the pipe’s wall thickness, resulting in no leaks. Therefore, it is highly recommended that sewer camera inspections be performed in conjunction with other techniques, like hydrostatic testing, to identify possible pipeline leaking.


Upon completion of a successful sewer camera inspection, licensed plumbers can determine the appropriate cleaning or repair operation needed to remedy the problem. Sewer cleaning may involve hydro jetting, where high-pressure water is used to remove clogs and obstructions. If repairs or rehabilitation is required, plumbing contractors will often opt for trenchless methods, such as pipelining, pipe bursting as appropriate.

Slater Plumbing specializes in using camera inspections to assess sewer conditions. We also employ a wide range of sewer and drain cleaning services to ensure that your wastewater infrastructure is restored to optimal performance. If you would like to know more about our drain camera services, and underground locating technologies feel free to contact our support team today.