Private Sewers And Plumbers Drains In NYC Explained

New Sewer & Water Mains, Opinion & Expertise
September 17, 2012

by David Balkan

sewer connection

In some areas of NYC land was developed and built on prior to the City installing a public water main or a public sewer. Because the City is obligated to provide a public water main for a property in most of the above cases a public water main does exist. However in NYC the DEP is not obligated to provide a public sewer when a private builder decides to develop an area that does not have a City system fronting it.

For a number of years now when a builder or a developer has to construct their own drain system for new house connections it must be carefully designed, built, and inspected to ensure it meets the same code requirements as a City system would have to meet. However in the past high quality sewer installations and code compliance were most definitely not the case when a developer built their own drain line system. Plumbers drains and private sewers built in the past have continually created problems for NYC property owners, particularly in the Borough of Queens.

Plumbers Drains

The term ‘plumbers drain’ does not sound like a quality installation – and it usually is not. Unlike a public or even a private sewer a plumbers drain usually has no manholes. That means that there is no place to clean it out or maintain it. Having no manholes also means that these installations are hard to locate and frequently they are not mapped by the DEP or on any other available records. Many property owners have no idea they are connected to a plumbers drain until they suffer from a backup or other problem and begin to investigate the situation.

sewer connection
Broken clay pipe

Typical plumbers drains are not built to present day code and frequently not even to acceptable plumbing standards. The usual plumbers drain that was built was made from vitrified clay pipe that is 6″ or 8″ – frequently undersized to meet the demand of the flow of waste water. In addition these drains were installed on bare ground. There is no concrete encasement or concrete cradle on or under the pipe. As time goes on these pipes frequently settle or the joints begin to leak. As a pipe joint leaks it can wash away the ground supporting it and cause further settlement, eventually the pipe itself will break. Clay pipes encased with concrete or on a concrete cradle are far less likely to suffer from defects. In addition bare clay pipe is prone to have root infiltration. If no manholes are present on the plumbers drain there is virtually no way to clean out the roots or any other obstruction.

Nowadays and with good reason plumbers drains are not permitted in NYC. It seems likely that when these drains were built there was little or no inspection process or proper oversight. When a plumbers drain fails to function the affected property or properties must connect to a City sewer fronting the property. In almost all cases a pubic sewer would be present by the time a problem arises. If a City sewer is present in front of the property it is not legal to reconnect back to the plumbers drain. As a point of interest   plumbers drains are primarily found in the Borough of Queens.

Private Sewers

NYC ManholeUnlike plumber drains a privately built sewer does typically have manholes that indicate its exact location and allow for routine maintenance. In addition the NYC DEP usually has as-built records for a privately built sewer that are a great help when repairs, maintenance, or house connection information is required.

A privately built drain system means that an individual or private company paid for its installation usually because they were developing previously undeveloped land. Nowadays a privately built drain system is subject to a very careful approval process and is carefully inspected during various phases of its construction. Sewers that were privately built after 1963 become NYC DEP property after a period of seven years, and the DEP likewise takes over responsibility for maintenance as well. Ownership of private systems built prior to 1963 remains with the party that paid to build it. A point of interest is that when someone desires to connect to a system that is still privately owned they must pay a fee to the owner of the sewer that is based upon a percent of the estimated cost to install the line originally. The City keeps records indicating who owns the system and when it was built.

Back in the past a private sewer was subject to many of the flaws of a plumbers drain. Lax installation in terms of quality and workmanship was frequently matched with lax oversight and inspection. Many privately built drain lines from the past have been upgraded and made code compliant the NYC DEP.  In the case where both a public and private system both exist and front a property it is always advisable to connect to the public or city system. Plumbing installations built by the DEP are usually far more reliable that those built with little supervision by a builder. Another important factor is that because a public sewer is NYC property the City is responsible to maintain it.

Are there additional costs to connect to a NYC sewer?

sewer inspection
DEP site inspection form

One may think that disconnecting from a plumbers drain or a private sewer may entail plans or additional costs. Actually that is not the case – there are no additional filing or engineering fees. As long as the property owner has been paying sewer tax to the City it serves as proof of being connected at some point to the City system, so no plans or special permits are required. In all cases a plumbers drain or a private sewer are installed up to and connect to the NYC drain system at some point.

Because of the DEP’s understanding and allowance in these situations a property owner in distress can quickly correct and repair their house sewer without delay and without additional costs. All work can be inspected by the DEP house connection inspection staff using normal procedures.


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David Balkan

David Balkan is the CEO of Balkan Sewer And Water Main, the largest and most trusted service in New York City. David is extremely active in various NYC plumber organizations being the Chairman of the Subsurface Committee in the Master Plumbers Council, and Vice President of the Subsurface Plumbers Association. In addition David’s expertise is respected by officials of New York City agencies such as the NYC DEP, NYC DOB, and the NYC DOT. He frequently provides valuable input on a variety of industry related matters.

Dave Balkan

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