The joys of having an older home are numerous. They are often constructed solidly, in beautiful brick, brimming with old timey charm and character. But, as we have discussed many times on this blog, once you strip back that lovely exterior and look at the plumbing, there can be some problematic surprises waiting there for you. Lead and cast iron are just a couple of the popular offenders, but in this blog we will discuss a different one.

Most houses in Toronto – especially older houses – still have their old, original clay underground waste pipes. This is because 80 to 100 years ago, vitrified clay was the best material for drainpipes below ground level. Times, of course, have changed, and clay is no longer the best material to use, but nevertheless some of those pipes are in (more or less) good condition and perform their daily tasks.

Notice that we said some of them. Other homes aren’t so lucky, and the clay underground waste pipes can cause some real grief.Through our many visits and plumbing calls, we at Mister Plumber have come across numerous homeowners, who do not check their main drain often, with the same story: they have come one day to find sewage backed up and flooding the basement.

Sometimes, the homeowners just moved in, and haven’t had times to call a plumber for main drain inspection. That can be incredibly frustrating (not to mention costly) for a new homeowner, but the fact is that, while there are a lot of things checked by home inspectors prior to closing, the underground sewer line isn’t one of them.

That said, let’s take a closer look at the process behind inspecting your drain – how we inspect it, what we often recommend if there is a problem, and what we do if pipe replacement is necessary.   

Inspecting the Drain

The main drain and the sewer line are both located underground, so you need to get your drain inspected by experts with special equipment. The special drain camera we use here at Mister Plumber that is top of the line and can show us what kind of condition the buried pipe is in. The camera itself has LED lighting and sends back pictures to the monitor of the inner space of the pipe. A trained, eagle-eyed plumber knows exactly what they are looking for in these images – tell tale signs that the pipe needs unblocking or replacing.  

The picture below this paragraph shows a blockage inside of an old pipe that was detected by our camera after a customer’s basement flooded with sewage. It is a little difficult to see, but the monitor is definitely showing signs of blockage. You can think of us like plumbing detectives, looking for clues, and this right here is the smoking gun!

With the problem assessed, it is time to consider what must be done. Some issues can be solved with a process known as “drain snaking”, while others require either partial or full sewer line replacement – you can click here to learn more about the services we offer. For now, let’s take a quick look at the options.

Drain Snaking

Drain snaking is the process of using a flexible auger – essentially, a helical metal wire that we use to move through a pipe and break up soft debris. The drain snake knocks off excess build-up from the sides of your pipe, allowing for a better flow. If roots have made their way into the main drain, whether through small cracks or fractures, a snake might be temporarily effective at cutting the roots and solving the issue of a backup. As the leading drain cleaning experts in Toronto we have used this process many times, to good effect. But it doesn’t always work.


Some blockages cannot be cleared with the use of a drain snake, either because the settlements have become too rigid over time, or there is significant structural damage to the pipe. In these cases, homeowners will require pipe replacement. It may seem like a large undertaking, but a) it really isn’t that disruptive or expensive, b) it has to be done eventually (no pipe lasts forever), and c) it is completely necessary if you want to avoid costlier, unhealthy backups in the future.

What we do is replace the clay pipes with new PVC. A durable, cost-efficient and easy-to-work-with plastic, PVC is the top choice of any good plumber looking to partially or fully replace a main drain. You can see from the chart in this comprehensive study the relative water main break rates in North America for different materials; notice that materials like cast iron and cement have very break rates, whereas PVC has only a minuscule amount.

Mister Plumber provides both partial and full sewer line replacement, including the outside portion up to the property line. Also, in order to save some money for the homeowners we help, we combine the partial replacement with the installation of a backwater valve – a valve that protects against backflow. With this plumbing package, the homeowner gets a new PVC pipe,  a backflow valve and a rebate from city of Toronto.

The second picture, seen above, shows a backwater valve installed in place of a broken clay pipe. At Mister Plumber, we understand that some drain work can be expensive, so finding the best, most cost-effective solution for homeowners our top priority. That’s why we ensure that each and every one of our customers gets the fullest service we can offer, complete with professional, up-to-the-minute equipment and materials.

If you suspect you might have clay main drain pipes, or are experiencing blockages and backups, please do not hesitate to give Mister Plumber a call. Even if it happens in the middle of the night. At Mister Plumber, we understand that your plumbing doesn’t always work on a convenient schedule, and can sometimes malfunction at the least convenient times, which is why we offer 24/7 help. For more information, and to see pictures of our recent jobs, check out our website.

Share this content: