Spot Repair—Sometimes, Less Really is Less

By: Patrick Hooper

Mainline Inspection Services is an unbiased consultative company—not a sales organization. It is our job to visually inspect and objectively evaluate the condition of underground sewer and drain lines and advise our customers on the best, most cost-effective options for remediation.

We recently performed an inspection for a customer who already had their sewer line looked at by an estimator from a different company that provides excavation and repair services. The estimator recommended a spot repair be performed at an area of line at about 43 feet, which looked to be broken and collapsed (see below). According to my customer, the quote to perform the spot repair was about $4000 (which seemed extremely expensive for a pipe less than 5 feet deep).


However, the line had multiple problems throughout that indicate the likelihood of continued deterioration and possible collapse in other areas of the pipe (see below). Investing a sizable amount of money to repair just a section of pipe that will most likely continue to have issues, eventually requiring additional spot repairs and possibly a full replacement, in our professional opinion, was not a recommendation that was in the best interest of my customer. We have a term for this kind spot repair recommendation; we call it “Putting Lipstick on a Pig”, and is likely of greater benefit to the contractor looking to make a sale rather than a homeowner trying to correctly fix a problem.

It’s important to point out that there are good and bad players in every industry, the sewer repair business is no exception. Many estimators are skilled salespeople—trained to read customers and to recognize buying signals and opportunity. Often times spot repairs or other less expensive “band-aid” recommendations may be used as a “last-ditch” effort to make a sale.

This isn’t to say that spot repairs are never an appropriate recommendation. They have their place. Here’s the scoop:

With adequate daylight, an underground drain line less than 40 feet long and 7 feet deep likely can be excavated and replaced in a single day. Typically, the cost of a sewer line replacement is based on the cost of equipment, materials, and labor–with the cost of labor based on full and half days. Even though a spot repair replaces just a section of pipe (normally 5 – 10 linear feet), that repair will most certainly be quoted based on a full day of labor. So, the cost of labor and equipment between a spot repair and a full replacement in this case really shouldn’t be any different. The only additional costs should be for additional materials—namely replacement pipe and gravel. In this instance, depending on the contractor, the additional cost to replace a full line as opposed to just a section of pipe shouldn’t be much more than $1000 – $2000. At that price point, M.I.S. would recommend replacing the entire line.

So, when does a spot repair make sense? Even when a line is in less than perfect shape, if the length and/or depth of a line–or any other circumstances such as major obstacles (trees, driveways, etc..) makes a full replacement cost prohibitive, then yes, a spot repair(s) may make the most sense. A sewer line that is more than 100 feet long and/or 8 feet deep could cost more than $20,000 to fully replace. If 3 separate spot repairs can be performed at $2000 – $3000 for each, the cost- benefit is obvious.

Final Note: This article was written in general terms. It is important to point out that a sewer repair or replacement can be a very complicated and technical process. Like fingerprints, no two circumstances with a damaged sewer line are identical. There may be any number of variables not mentioned here that could make either a spot repair or replacement impractical. Additionally, other repair options such as relines or pipe-bursting are not addressed here. Our goal is to educate our customers, empowering them to make well informed buying/repair decisions.

The more you know……………