Fantastic voyage down the sewer
Tiny camera system can find blockages in pipes and avoid unnecessary, and costly, repairs
Bill MahThe Edmonton Journal
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Colin Samuels shoots videos unfit for viewing in polite company.
His cameras go where few others dare and his subject matter often belongs in the sewer, quite frankly.
But viewing his videos could save his audience from unwittingly buying a house whose manicured lawn hides a clogged or collapsed sewer line.
Or he could solve a mysterious odour or basement leak plaguing a home.
Samuels is owner of Hydro-Physics Pipe Inspection Services, a year-old home-based Edmonton franchise of a Colorado parent company.
While other companies use closed circuit television to inspect pipes, Samuels says he differs because he doesn’t fix the problem; he only finds it.
Samuels, or one of his two employees, snakes a cable attached to a miniature spotlight and a camera whose head spans less than three centimetres through pipes as narrow as three or six inches.
He then burns a video CD of the pipe tour – looking like one of those health channel documentaries where a camera inches its way down somebody’s digestive tract.
Samuels watches for breaks in the line, tree roots and other blockages. “Recently, I had a lady calling me who’s in her house for seven months and she’s experiencing slow drainage from her tub and her toilet.
We went in and it was a tool that a contractor left inside the line,” said Samuels, a mechanical engineer by training.
The tool was a hammer.
“You will meet up with all sorts of stuff underground there.”
Samuels says his service costs around $185, compared to the $20,000 cost of replacing an underground pipe.
He touts it as a precautionary complement to a home inspection.
His high-resolution, colour footage can also identify Orangeburg pipe, a sewer-pipe product used in some homes starting in the 1940s before PVC pipes.
The tarpaper pipes are deteriorating and prone to collapse.
It’s not just faulty sewer pipes that can cause serious problems.
“A lot of times, we run into situations where we have odour problems or mould or a certain number of things happening in the basement of a home,” said Brian Sanders, of Health Matterz Inc., a home inspection company.
“Of course, the only way to tell is to get the weeping tile and sewer system cameraed.”
He suggested homeowner Diana Richardson hire Samuels to shoot the insides of her home’s weeping tile to check on its condition because the house suffers problems with poor drainage, dampness and mould.
The video will give Richardson and her husband a better idea of whether the weeping tile is damaged.
“Otherwise, we’d have to go in and replace all of it, which is a really huge expense,” she said. “And if it’s just clogged or crushed in certain areas because it wasn’t installed properly, we can just fix that specific area rather than spending $15,000 to fix the whole thing.”
Andy Bowen, director of drainage operations for the City of Edmonton, says a video pipe inspection would be useful for homeowners who have had past plumbing problems.
“If they’ve had to call a plumber to
release a blockage, it would be a good idea to put a camera down to see if there’s any problems with the pipe,” Bowen said.
City crews also use camera equipment.
The city responds to about 4,500 homes every year for drainage problems. “They’ll go out and determine what the problem is.
They’ll auger out the blockage and then they’ll put a camera in to get a picture of the pipe.”
If the blockage is on private property, the city charges $171 for the crew to
Bowen said many blockages are caused by fat, oil and grease residents pour down the drain.
City officials launched an education campaign in March recommending people dump their grease into a container and store it in the fridge to harden, until they have enough to put out with the garbage.