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Old 09-02-2010, 07:38 AM   #1
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Finding where an exterior drain goes

I need to do some drainage work around my house but first need to locate where several drains run. They may be partly responsible for my water problems, or helpful in my drainage solution.

I have a basement floor drain I cannot locate its final destination. An outside PVC pipe that my sump pump and gutters drain into. I also have an outside drain pipe that I cannot locate its source.

What things can I try myself? If I need a pro, who should I be calling for this type of work? What type of technology should I be asking for? What can I expect to pay?


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Old 09-02-2010, 08:09 AM   #2
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I am not sure if this is applicable to your situation or not but I recently had a water leak between the meter and house in the main supply line. There was no wet spot in the lawn. The pipe was plastic with no copper tracer to detect so there was no "easy" way to detect where the line was even routed. I called a plumber who referred me to a company called american leak detection, or similar. What they ended up doing, after the "easy" methods failed was they disconnected, then charged the line with helium, and then used a sniffer to find the leak. This method may work for you. Cost was ~$300 (ouch) but they found the leak location.


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Old 09-02-2010, 08:58 AM   #3
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A decent drain-cleaning company may be able to help you, if you are able to open up the pipes to run a snake through. Well-equipped drain cleaning companies will have a camera they can feed into the pipe. The camera will also have a sonde (small radio transmitter) attached, so as they run in it through the pipe, they can detect the signal with a hand-held receiver from above the ground.

A dedicated utility-locating company could probably do essentially the same thing, by feeding a tracer wire through the pipe and putting a signal on it.

I'm not sure about the relative prices of the two options.
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Old 09-02-2010, 08:57 PM   #4
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As McSteve mentioned, most large service plumbing companies will have cameras and locators to find the exact location and depths of the drain lines underground. Most of them however, are typically more expensive than a dedicated locating company would be.

As my signature line suggests, that's what I do. Strictly sewer and septic line video inspections and locates. I do not do service work, excavation, repair, or replacement, thus unbiased in my findings.

Nevertheless, you probably won't be able to locate them all due to different sizes, etc. For instance, your floor drain in the basement is most likely 1 1/2" cast iron with a tight P-trap. A camera won't fit through. A wire or fish tape however, could be run through and then located with a 65khz transmitter. That's risky though, as it could potentially get stuck.

As far as what you can try yourself... probing or digging.

What you'll need to know before calling a professional:

- Are they accessible?
- Do they have cleanouts?
- What sizes are they?
- How long are they?
- How many turns?

Pricing can vary across the country. I charge a flat fee of $285/2 hour minimum, $135 each additional hour, no extra charge for roof vent or crawl space access, and no additional charge if I have to return to continue an inspection if it was not completed the first time due to an obstruction. That would also include a DVD copy if requested, lines painted and flagged to the clients specifications.

Unfortunately however, I'm in Idaho so can't do it for you. Hope this helps.
Brad Penske, Operations Manager - Coeur d'Alene, ID
CONCEPTS, LLC - Sewer & Septic Line - Video Inspection, Locating, Consulting
(208) 818-8241
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Old 09-02-2010, 09:11 PM   #5
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Yeah, I forgot to mention the low-tech solution: probing the ground. When we needed to find a septic line cleanout at our cabin, the plumber used a slide hammer probe to follow the pipe from the foundation wall.

This was basically a 4-5 foot steel rod, with a heavy length of capped pipe over one end. You slide the pipe up, and then down, driving the rod into the dirt with a good amount of force. I mention this in detail because it would be fairly cheap and easy to build this tool, rather than buying it. The one our plumber used was handmade.

Basically, the technique would be to locate where the pipe comes out of the foundation wall, and start probing in a more or less straight line out from the wall. You will be able to feel the probe hitting the pipe under ground.

I'm not sure if this works well in all areas; we have very loose, sandy soil at the cabin. Your mileage may vary.
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