After one Evanston resident ended up with a $45,000 bill to replace her sewer line, members of the city’s Administration and Public Works Committee looked Monday at possible ways for the city to help residents cover part of the tab.

Francine Allen, of 2727 Elgin Road, told alders she had to cash in a life insurance policy to pay the cost of the repair — which was substantially higher than average.

The cost soared because the sewer line on Elgin Road is unusually deep and work on the heavily-traveled street required extra traffic control measures.

Public Works Director Dave Stoneback said three main factors affect the cost of sewer repair — the depth of the sewer line, the amount of traffic on the street and whether the ground has clay or sandy soil.

(Sandy soil raises costs because it requires more shoring around the excavation to keep it from caving in.)

A map of sewer depths presented at Monday’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting.

Stoneback presented a map that shows locations in town where sewer lines are unusually deep and whether they also are on main roads.

Roughly a third of the about 14,400 sewer connections in Evanston have at least one of those issues.

Sandy soil, he added, is most common close to the lake, generally east of Ridge Avenue.

He said repair costs could range from $15,000 to $25,000 for a sewer more than 10-foot deep on a low-traffic street, from $17,000 to $30,000 for an eight- to 10-foot deep sewer on a high-high traffic street and from $30,000 to $40,000 on a sewer more than 10-foot deep on a high-traffic street.

Insurance policies are available for sewer repairs, but they typically cap benefits at around $10,000.

And while the monthly cost of the insurance is relatively low, insurance companies can only stay in business if their average customer gets less in benefits from the policy than they pay in premiums.

Extremely high sewer repair bills have been relatively rare in recent years. Stoneback said city permit records indicate there’ve been a total of only six that were over $25,000 in the past five years.

Stoneback said one possible solution could be to require that home sellers have the sewer line inspected and provide an affidavit assessing its condition at sale, so buyers would know what they’re getting into.

But council members expressed concerns about what that would add to the costs of buying property and whether buyers would pay attention to the report amidst the blizzard of other paperwork they’re expected to sign at a closing.

Stoneback also suggested that the city could develop a program to provide a mix of grants and or loans residents to help cover the cost of the repairs — and adjust the design of the program to provide more help to lower income residents.

He said that some communities do provide some assistance to residents faced with a sewer replacement bill, but that the vast majority, including our neighbor, Skokie, do not.

Council members asked staff to do more research on the costs and effectiveness of the potential solutions.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m a realtor in Evanston and advise all my buyers to do a sewer scope. We do it during the inspection period, long before closing, and it only costs $200–well worth it if you’re looking at a $15K sewer repair.

    1. As a responsible home buyer, I did a video sewer scope during my inspection, but this type of scope does not detect the problems that require tens of thousands of dollars to fix. High resolution or closed circuit TV scopes that can detect catastrophic problems start at $3000 to $5000 and higher; a price tag sellers or buyers are unlikely to pay.

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