Getting to the Root of the Problem

In every home, clogs in drains can happen. Fixing the clog can be as easy as using a plunger to unclog the drain. However, if a plunger is just not fixing the problem the issue could not be in your home, but in your yard. Trees are almost in every yard. They complement the home by offering shade to reduce energy costs and help with privacy in close quarters. The downside to trees in your yard is that they may cause issues underground with your sewer lines in the early spring, when nutrients and water are vital to the trees spring growth. Let’s get to the root of the problem so you can properly identify the issues, know how to fix them and be prepared for future problems with tree roots and your plumbing.

How do roots grow?

Tree and shrub roots require oxygen and water to grow. Their growth rate is variable and is affected by the soil depth, water supply, aeration, mineral supply and temperature.

Root systems are made up of large, permanent roots for support and stabilization, and many small, temporary feeder root and root hairs. These small roots are the primary water and nutrient absorbers. Most roots can be found in the top 6 to 18 inches of soil, where water, nutrients and oxygen are found.

Roots generally extend up to two or three times the height of the tree, but can extend as far as seven times the height of the tree. Large, mature trees may have thousands of feet of root system searching for nutrients. Roots will be less extensive in clay soils than in sandy or well-drained soils.

How does weather impact root growth?

During drought conditions (especially here in Colorado) and in the winter, roots will travel very long distances in search of water. Typically, the reason you find tree roots in sewer lines and drains is because when trees and shrubs are desperately looking for moisture, they follow the trail of moisture vapors escaping from small cracks, holes, or poorly sealed joints in pipes, where they fine nutrients and moisture.

What happens when roots get inside lines?

If not disturbed, the roots will completely fill the pipe with multiple hair-like root masses at each point of entry. The root masses quickly become clogged with toilet tissue, grease and other debris flowing from homes and businesses to the main sewer, resulting in reduced flow and slowed drains. A complete blockage may occur if the roots are not removed and root growth impeded.

Once roots have entered the pipe, they continue to grow and expand, exerting considerable pressure at the crack or joint. The increased pressure often breaks the pipe and may result in total collapse, which requires repair or replacement.

Some pipe materials are more susceptible to root intrusion than others. Clay tile pipe is easily penetrated and damaged by tree roots. Concrete pipe and PVC pipe may also allow root intrusion, but to a lesser extent than clay pipe. PVC pipe usually has fewer joints and because those joints are tightly fitted, they are less likely to leak as a result of settlement around the pipe.

Plant “Sewer-Safe” Trees and Shrubs

Being smart about how you plan landscaping is the best way to avoid problems and expensive repair bills. Limit the amount of plants you place close to sewer lines. Plant larger trees far enough away from sewer lines so the roots are not within reach of the pipes. If you do plant near sewer lines, select slow-growing trees with a small root ball.

Inspection and Maintenance

Drain clogs happen. For infrequent clogs, there are easy solutions to clear a drain that most homeowners can try. When drains in your home are constantly clogging, are hard to clear, and make a gurgling noise, you should call a licensed plumbing professional to have the drain and sewer lines inspected. A plumber will inspect the drainpipes in your home by running a camera probe through them to locate damaged areas. Tip: make sure your plumber shows the external area of the entrance to your pipe to ensure it is actually your pipe and not a recording of a damaged pipe. Once the inspection is complete, the technician will make the appropriate recommendations depending on the amount of damage, if any. For areas with major tree-root damage, the lines may need to be replaced.

To avoid major sewer repairs which in most cases are costly, clean your sewer lines regularly and have a professional inspect the structure of the pipes annually. Regular maintenance and clearing the lines prevents additional root growth inside the pipes. Sewer-line maintenance involves threading a cable through the sewer pipe that cuts through any clogs or tree roots and cleans the sewer pipe to the inner walls. If you suspect you may have an issue with your sewer line, feel free to contact us to set up an appointment or click here to schedule online.