Is Buying Sewer Insurance a Good Idea?


You may have heard about sewer insurance and wondered whether you should invest in the protection. Indeed sewer line and sewer lateral repairs can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Why not get insurance and peace of mind, if monthly premiums are only around 15 dollars a month?

Well, like many things in life: It’s complicated.

First of all, check your current homeowners insurance policy. Most policies these days do not cover sewer repairs. However if your policy is more than a 20 years old, read it carefully. There’s a chance your home sewer system if covered. If this is the case, feel good and be thankful! You’ve got a best case scenario! 

If your homeowners insurance policy does not cover your sewer system, the situation is different depending on where your home is located. The City of San Francisco has vetted sewer insurance providers and has designated one company as an approved partner. The City collects the premiums and takes a service fee of nearly $4 per premium payment. But buyer beware: as with any insurance policy, there are plenty of limitations and exclusions on coverage. After all, insurance companies are focused on making a profit.

cleanout-backflow-prevention-diagram-1In Oakland and the East Bay, it’s a different story. While there are private insurance providers that offer sewer repair insurance, none are approved or vetted by the City of Oakland or any other East Bay public entity. Furthermore, homeowners must contend with “East Bay Mud.” We’re not talking about the mucky mess in your front yard when you have a plumbing leak – but instead about EDMUD, the East Bay Municipal Utility District. EBMUD is a public utility formed in 1923 under California’s Municipal Utility District Act, with the following stated mission:

“To manage the natural resources with which the District is entrusted; to provide reliable, high quality water and wastewater services at fair and reasonable rates for the people of the East Bay; and to preserve and protect the environment for future generations.”

EDMUD also serves as a regulator and sets the rules and responsibilities for homeowners when it comes to water and wastewater service in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties in California. For example within the jurisdiction of EDMUD, regulations require sewer pipes to withstand a pressure test, or they will be deemed defective and must be repaired. All property owners in the Bay Area, including the East Bay, must ensure the private sewer lateral (PSL) is watertight, free of defects, storm water in flow, and infiltration. From East Bay Mud:

“To address this problem, the Regional PSL Program requires property owners to obtain a Compliance Certificate from EBMUD indicating that all PSLs associated with their parcel have demonstrated compliance with applicable standards. It is recommended that the condition of each PSL first be assessed to determine what work is required. Then the PSLs must be repaired or replaced, as necessary, and pass an air or water Verification Test that will be witnessed by an EBMUD inspector in order to obtain a Compliance Certificate.

The program applies to property owners who sell their property, build or remodel in excess of

$100,000, or change the size of their water meter. The program requires that PSLs be repaired or replaced as necessary, and pass an air or water verification test.

When the PSL passes the test, a Compliance Certificate will be issued by EBMUD as proof that the pipe is free of leaks. Compliance Certificates are required for the property owner to transfer title, obtain final building permit sign-off, or have an EBMUD work order processed for a change in water meter size.”

Here’s the takeaway and our professional advice: The best “sewer insurance policy” you can buy is to hire a plumbing specialist to conduct a CCTV pipe inspection before purchasing a property. Even if you have sewer insurance, you will likely be left on the hook for thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses, due to arcane and restrictive exclusions contained in your sewer insurance policy documents. 

In addition, installing a service access point to the sewer pipe with an overflow relief valve – also known as a “sewer cleanout” – outside the house is the best and most affordable “sewer insurance policy.” An external sewer cleanout allows sewage to be relased outside the building and prevents damage to the interior of the home or structure in the event of a sewer backup.

Contact the East Bay sewer lateral experts at Pipe Spy to schedule your sewer pipe inspection and sewer cleanout installation. We’re here for you!