I had a problem with my sewer line last winter and the serviceman “rootered” it out and gave me some copper sulfate crystals to keep it clean. However, I told him at the time that I thought the problem was bigger, that I had had some raw sewage leaking down the wall where the sewer pipe in the basement passed through the basement wall. It goes under the porch (no access to that space), through the porch
foundation wall and out to the curb. Throughout the summer, we had recurring sewage smells near the basement wall, tho’ I didn’t see any more brown drips. But it could be smelled in the living room above the wall and in the porch and more than occasionally could be smelled everywhere in the front yard. I was unable to do anything then due to family medical issues keeping us hopping. Now I’m getting anxious – I suspect the line is leaking under the porch. When it freezes under there, it just gets worse, and water starts forcing its way through the concrete wall and into the basement. Today, I dug outside the porch down to the line (only 2.5 feet below the soil, in New Jersey!!) to look at the condition of the pipe. It appears to be a solid brown 8 or 10 inch pipe with a very shiny surface. Would this be clay or concrete? I was hoping to find plastic – why else would the former owner replace the sod over the line, and only over the line? And it’s definitely sod – not the same type of grass as anywhere else on the property. Do they still replace with clay or concrete? New Jersey uses a pretty new code, I thought everything had to be replaced with plastic. But there’s a junction at the front of the house where the pipe goes under the porch. So I’m assuming he replaced the line from the porch to the street but not under the porch. All new plastic lines inside the basement, BTW.

My question – how hard is it to replace a pipe? At that depth, I’m thinking I can dig it out myself, hoping and praying that I won’t open up the porch floor to find an impromptu cesspool, of course. And if I find such a disaster under the porch, how to clean it up? But coupling the pipe to the other pipes on either end, are there universal couplings? Anyone have any familiarity with this process?

Yes that is old pipe. I am not sure about where you live, but here we replaced all that with plastic. We are on septic tank, and we replaced our pipes for the drainfield from the old clay to the new plastic pipes ourselves. it was no big deal, but it was also in the open yard.

The roots you originally had removed from sewer had to get into the pipe someplace and Once you develop a leak you will always have a leak. Until you fix the problem you’ll always have some leakage.

Technically I doubt if you are allowed to do this yourself. You should really have a permit which in most state requires a licensed plumber. But its not really that hard of a job since your sewer lateral isn’t that deep. Sounds like you have VCP Pipe which is a form of clay pipe under your porch area. Also sounds like the previous owner had the majority of it replaced already but didn’t bother to do the portion under the porch, due to cost. Its going to be very labor intensive and costly to remove the porch and replace it. You might want to look into one of the newer Liner systems that are available. They basically insert a plastic liner thru the existing pipe and it seals it up. Do a search for sewer pipe liners and you’ll come up with all kinds of hits. but here is one to give you an idea how the system works. http://www.lateralliners.com/ This will stop the leaks but won’t solve the problem of the saturated ground. That will have to be dug up as much as possible and replaced with new fill if you want to get rid of all the smell.

The easiest way to address his would be to talk to a couple of plumbers – Usually they’ll give their opinion for free. Usually the expensive part of a repair like this is the labour to dig up the pipe. If you tell the plumber you’re willing to dig it up yourself where required, or willing to find some cheap labour to dig it up, then the repair likely won’t be very expensive. The plumber may come out, give you his opinion, ask you to do some digging, then come back again once everything is dug up and do the work. As for the cesspool, I’d just dig a downstream hole, let the mess drain into it, and then cover it up with some dirt.