Drain Inspection: A few things to think about when using this equipment
This is what happened back in the good old days. The plumbing professional spent a few hours digging around in a home’s landscaping or a business’ parking lot until the cause of the clog, backup, leak or water loss was detected.
Then came the fun part: telling the homeowner or commercial customer just what that problem was, what it would take to fix it and how much that was going to cost. If the customer had doubts about what he was being told, all the plumber could do was say, “Trust me. This is the problem. I know how to fix it.”
Enter video drain inspection equipment. Ah, technology.
Inspection pros say that drain inspection cameras and jetters go together like peanut butter and jelly. Without a camera you don’t know what kind of job you’re doing with a jetter; you don’t know how great a job you’re doing unless you look at it afterwards with a camera. On the other hand, you can’t really get a good look down the pipe unless you hydraulically clean the inside of the pipe. They complement each other. What you’re really after is the before and after. The images will be an amazing sell job for doing a routine, preventative maintenance with your jetter. It will look like a new pipe afterwards, where before it looked disgusting.
It becomes a marketing tool when you have solutions to the problem you’ve discovered. This is why there are recording devices built into inspection systems so that you can walk the homeowner or business owner through what the problem is, why they have titles and voiceovers, if the customer isn’t standing there looking over your shoulder at that moment when you are doing the pipe inspection, you make a recording which is essentially a commercial for your plumbing company, drain-cleaning company, for your piping or pipe-lining company. The core customers for the top-of-the-line equipment are people who are in the pipe lining or pipe replacement or repair business.
The only time it’s recommended to down the pipe first with a camera before cleaning out the pipe is if you are trying to sell preventative maintenance contract jobs. Let’s say I‘m a plumber and a run a service organization of some sort. I want to sell the customer on my service, so every six months I would take my camera and push it down the drain 10 feet or so until could see how greasy it was, how obstructed it was, how disgusting it was. Then you pull it camera and clean it off, followed by then going through the pipe with a high-pressure water jetter. After jetting, go back in with the camera.
Learn how to use it
Talk with folks who manufacture pipe and drain inspection equipment and they can tell you sobering tales of plumbers, inspectors and drain cleaning crews that use the gear incorrectly. Some users manage to damage or incapacitate the equipment as soon as they get it onto the truck. More conscientious users keep inspection gear on the truck for years. While any equipment can and does break, handling sensitive electronic with the finesse of wielding a pipe wrench can lead to disaster.
So, first do some homework and field testing before you buy this kind of equipment, whether basic or high-end. Wholesalers, company reps and guys manning trade show booths are there to demonstrate the right way to use the equipment as well as the growing number of features. You can even hit the internet to view YouTube and other demonstration videos before you write that check. The people who sell you this equipment want you to buy the right equipment for the scope of the work you do and they want you to know how to work the equipment to do the exact job you want it to do.
What’s happening in that pipe
When using the camera/monitor combination, what are some signs to look for that the drain line is getting old and in need of replacement/relining in addition to clearing a clog? The list of what can happen down a drain line is a long one. Any plumber who’s checked out the inside of a pipe knows. Inspection equipment can detect cracks, leaks, corrosion root intrusion, subsidence or upheaval, or plumbing that was done incorrectly, illegally or not up to code.
There are obstructions that typically begin as an accumulation of fats, oils and grease, mixed in with soap and hair. There’s the admixture of food and cooking waste that finds its way from the kitchen down the main line to the street where it joins the bathroom waste water, which includes paper and whatever members of the household flush down, from toy trucks to family pets, live and deceased.
Use it correctly
There is a relationship between how you use the equipment and how often it breaks. There are people out there who never break a camera and there are people out there who always break it, and some who break it the first time they use it because of how they use it. The reason? They’re not careful. They don’t treat it like it’s theirs. They don’t follow common sense. They push too hard. They use long sweeping motions to try to get it around bends instead of short, quick motions. They see an obstruction and they go barreling right into it.
But, on the other hand, there’s good news. Somebody can learn to use the equipment in a way that doesn’t break it. They can change their evil ways. Sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes just telling somebody that there’s a relationship between how you us this equipment and how often you break it can help. If you do it this way, you’re less likely to break it. If you do it that way, are more likely to break it. Sometimes that can be an eye-opening experience: “Oh, really? I didn’t know that.”
Document your work
One sure way to remove any doubts from the skeptical client is to use the recording function of the inspection equipment to provide a record of the job. As we said, there’s nothing like a little before and after storytelling to reassure even the least convinced customer that (1) there really was something wrong (2) you went in with all of your professional skills and repaired the problem, and (3) this is what the pipe looks like now.
Do you really want to see what’s inside a typical clogged drain in full living color? Black and white images will suffice in most situations. If you’ve cleaned out the drain and have a pretty good light source and are looking for a crack, or inflow into the pipe, having the definition of color is helpful because cracks may be a slightly different color; it’s also useful if a dye is being injected to pinpoint cracks and leaks or to detect of the pipe is plumbed incorrectly.
If you believe that color images just look more professional than black and white, that option is available on most of today’s equipment along with the capacity to record the images the scope is seeing, add titles, add voiceovers or transfer the “scoping” to almost any medium desired, including your — or the client’s — Smartphone.
In any case most people are finding they can’t do without it. It’s a required tool. If you don’t have it and inspection is required, the customer will go to a company that does. They may get the resulting project instead of the plumber who took the initial call. And you do have to be able to check your work and document it for the homeowner.