A Landlords Guide to Inspection Chambers

Investing in property and becoming a landlord comes with a range of responsibilities, one of which is ensuring there is access to any inspection chambers on site, but what is an inspection chamber?

An inspection chamber is a small chamber that is installed in the ground close to a building. It allows for the checking and maintenance of the pipes and drainage system. The inspection chamber is connected to the main drainage pipe and has a removable cover on top.

They play a small, but important, role in plumbing systems and, if you have one, are generally found in the front or back garden of a property.

If you are a beginner at property investment, it is essential that you understand what they are and what they do. This article will provide you with a basic guide to inspection chambers.

What are inspection chambers used for?

They allow access to sewer, water, electrical, or other utility for inspection and maintenance. They are an essential part of any property and should be kept in good condition, as they play a key role in ensuring that the property is functioning properly.

The overall design is similar across the UK as it is governed by British building regulations.  While a typical chamber is large enough to allow an adult male access, there are also shallow inspection chambers, often with smaller covers, that give access to elements of a drainage system such as an external water meter.

They are usually located at surface level along the length of the underground pipework, and are typically installed:

  • where a pipe joins the system’s main drainage pipe;
  • where piping extending more than 22 metres;
  • Where a drain or sewer pipe turns horizontally by more than 30°.

The cover might contain a small access point that could be used to insert a small camera, rods, or jet hose without someone physically entering. 

Ideally every part of the system should be accessible using a drain rod, if you’re building a new property or making changes to an existing property keep in mind you may need to install additional chambers to extend drain rod reach.

An inspection chamber being installed.

In some cases you’ll find a smaller access for drain rods has been installed to cut costs.  This can be a huge benefit when looking to resolve blockage issues but does make it much harder to check other elements.

Where is the inspection chamber?

There is no standard position for them on a property and if you suspect you have one, you should consult any building plans you have.

The inspection chamber cover will generally be found where you’d expect underground pipework to be located and easily accessible, usually in the front or back garden.

The aim is to provide simple access, so it is unlikely you’ll find one inside, unless it is a very large structure with underground drainage directly below the property.

You’ll know if there is one on your property as it will have a heavy removable cover that allows access. 

To remove the cover you’ll typically need a pair of ‘keys’ that slot into the cover and allow it to be easily lifted.

How do I check an inspection chamber?

As they’re located underground you’ll need to remove the manhole cover using a set of ‘keys’.

Once lifted, you should be able to see the inside and a cursory visual check should reveal any urgent damage or defects. If there are any problems, you will need to have repairs made as soon as possible and I recommend calling a drainage specialist to not only deal with the visible issue but to also check for other problems you might have missed.

I wouldn’t recommend descending into an access chamber, while it’s OK to have a look in you run a risk of injury or damage to the pipes if you’re unsure what you’re doing, plus some internal dimensions can be rather small, you don’t want to get stuck!

Can you build over an inspection chamber?

It’s not uncommon for manhole chambers to be located in the back garden, right where you might consider building an extension, or a conservatory.

You shouldn’t build over an inspection chamber, they must remain accessible to serve as an access point.  Water and sewer companies require access points to inspect their systems. Building over these areas can cause issues and may lead to additional costs later on when they’re needed.

If you plan on making use of the land, it might be possible to move the chamber or drain pipes, but note this could be a very costly exercise, and you should consult an expert before preceding.

Is a catchpit the same as an inspection chamber?

A catchpit is not the same as an inspection chamber, they’re used to catch silt and other debris in sewage systems whereas an inspection chamber is used to provide access to underground utilities.

They form part of the drainage system and are used to collect sediment and other materials that accumulate in drains or sewers. Catchpits are usually located below ground level and may contain a trap door, used to gain access for inspection and maintenance. 

They’re not designed to give you an access point to check out the utility pipework of a property.

Final thought

Inspection chambers are a necessary part of the property world, fortunately, they’re not commonly found on properties and are most typically found on the street.

Remember, if you do have one on-site you’ll need to maintain the same level of access it currently has.  That’s especially important to keep in mind if you plan any changes such as an extension or a garden renovation.  

If in doubt it’s better to pay for an expert opinion to avoid potentially costly mistakes in the future.

Written by Julie Hanson

Julie is passionate about property – development, investment and portfolio planning. Along with husband Alec, Julie is actively building a property portfolio while helping others to do the same.

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