Plumbing accidents and blockages happen for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean the cause ends up being obvious. Unfortunately, because most drain lines are hidden behind walls, in the house foundation or underground outside, getting to the problem can be difficult. So, for decades, the general approach has been to run a tool or water pressure down the line, dislodge the problem and finally identify it when released. Fortunately, technology caught up with the unknown plumbing scenario and provided a solution: the camera inspection.
Applying Camera Technology to Plumbing
A camera works by pointing it at the target to be captured and activating the device. However, inside a pipe, there’s no room for a regular camera, much less a person’s hand in most cases. And even in large pipes, the human arm can only reach so far. So, some kind of a remote approach is needed instead. The plumbing camera ended up being a combination of camera technology and another plumbing tool that already existed, the plumbing auger or snake.
The inspection camera uses the same reach mechanism as the snake. It comes on a cable reel and unrolls as the plumber inserts and works the camera through the pipe line. Used on drain lines to see what’s going on inside and why there is a blockage, the camera line can go in as far as the plumber can push the cable and as far as it can fit. The key component is the small camera at the end. It comes with a combination of a light to display the inside of the pipe and a small lens unit. From that apparatus, a video cable runs all the way back up the line to the plumber, and the image detail is displayed on a portable camera. The whole process can be recorded as well for later reference.
Plumbing camera inspection equipment “see” regular use in any kind of situation where people can’t fit but need to see what’s going on. Similar, smaller versions are used in healthcare and exploratory surgery to see where there is a problem inside a patient. Archaeologists use cable cameras regularly to see what’s inside underground chambers before disturbing anything (one of the most famous being explorations of newly-discovered pharaoh tombs in Egypt). Even law enforcement use similar equipment when they need to find evidence or confirm a dangerous situation before entering.
While not quite as exciting, plumbing applications are incredibly useful, both for problem identification before lots of energy and money are spent on an unnecessary repair, as well as helping confirm a plumbing problem that may be elsewhere than the drain line itself too.
Benefits of a Camera Inspection
Aside from helping identify the direct problem at hand, a regular camera inspection can also identify growing problems in a drain line before they turn into a big headache. Again, because the camera displays the internal aspects of a pipe with good detail, early concerns can be captured and located. Whether a growing problem turns out to be a small lost toy slowly capturing more and more material, or a more serious issue is showing up with a root breaking through a drain line, the camera will see it.
The inspection doesn’t take long, an hour at most, and the documentation can be very useful for homeowners if it turns out that the “hidden” plumbing in a home wasn’t installed correctly by the building. Construction mistakes have been becoming more and more common as home builders have been under pressure to build faster and keep operating costs down. And what’s hidden from the homeowner isn’t really known until it fails. A camera inspection can help reverse that sitting timebomb in a home’s plumbing, at least while the home warranty is still active.
Systems Needing Camera Treatment
Old plumbing lines in old homes might seem the most likely candidate for a camera inspection, but unknown causes of house flooding make for a good evaluation as well. Figuring out whether a laundry drain hose failed or the drain line backed up makes a big difference in the repair needed (10 cents for a zip tie versus a much more expensive routing of the laundry drain line itself). A camera will confirm which one is needed for sure.
Camera inspections are great both for maintenance as well as trouble-shooting, and they really help control repair costs for what is actually needed. Feel free to request one with a drain problem; it can do a lot for your next plumbing visit.