Tree roots in sewer lines have various causes, but there are some sensible solutions. As you may know, there is nothing more unsanitary or messy than flushing your toilet only to have all the waste coming back up to from whence it came. It doesn’t sound nice, but we have all been there.

A clogged toilet is not uncommon; in most cases, the culprits are non-dissolved objects such as toilet paper, wipes, or hygiene products in the toilet. You can use a plunger or auger to tackle those items. Unfortunately, those are not the only possible causes of a clogged toilet or drain. Tree roots in sewer lines are an even worse issue. They are more difficult to detect, and can be even more difficult to get rid of.

tree roots

Surface roots do not harm sewer pipes

Tree roots in sewer lines – “It’s only natural”

Tree and shrubs require water and oxygen to grow. The growth rate is affected by many factors including water, minerals, temperature, soil conditions, and depth of the root structure. Roots can be divided into several major parts: permanent roots which provide stabilization or support, and small roots which absorb nutrients and water. Roots can extend to three or four times the height of the three. A very large old tree may have extensive root systems which reach hundreds of feet long.

During drought conditions, roots can travel long distance to find sources of water. A tree or shrub will search anywhere underground, including into a sewer line. If properly sealed and in good condition, a sewer line is not actually susceptible to root invasion. But a small crack or hole will allow moisture to escape from the pipe, or roots to penetrate. To provide nutrients and survive, the roots must try to get inside the pipe and find the source of the moisture. Once there are some small tree roots, known as hair roots, in the sewer line, more will grow to take advantage of the water supply. Roots will grow, increasing both length, width,  and depth inside the line. If left untreated, the roots will eventually entirely block the flow of  waste water inside the pipe.tree roots in sewer

Roots will continue to grow and expand inside a sewer line. What started as a small crack or hole will become a much more serious problem. Pressure inside the pipes also increases from heavy root growth, potentially leading to a total collapse if not treated properly. Frequently the only thing left to do is to have the pipes replaced. Certain pipes are more susceptible to root invasion than others. Clay tile pipe, known as vitrified clay, is relatively weak and easily penetrated by tree roots. In particular, the joints where clay pipe connect as a severe weak point. PVC and concrete pipe are vulnerable too, but they are at least stronger than their clay tile counterparts.

Tree roots in sewer line prevention

It is almost impossible to have control of the growth of tree roots and the direction they expand, or the depth they reach. You can try to remove all trees from your lawn, but you cannot make sure that your neighbor’s, or publicly owned trees will not penetrate your sewer lines. Some viable prevention methods are as follows:

• Heavy-duty pipes: You cannot control the trees indeed, but you can prevent cracks in the pipes. If you have quite a lot of trees on your property, using heavy-duty sewer pipes, particularly extra heavy cast iron, may help to prevent the problem. Tree roots in sewer line can only happen whenever there is a crack in the pipe. PVC may be acceptable alternative, but you must check local plumbing code to ensure PVC is a legal material.

• Barriers: Physical and chemical barriers to prevent the growth of roots near the sewer pipes are available. Potassium hydroxide and copper sulfate are slow-release chemicals and commonly used in residential buildings. You can spread those chemicals near the sewer lines to prevent roots from reaching the pipes. Wood and metal are excellent barriers, too. But attempting to place or bury objects to block tree roots may be a futile effort.

• Sewer-safe trees: If you do like trees, pay attention to where you plant them, and what type of trees you plant. If the tree is large and fast-growing, plant it far from the sewer line. If you have to plant trees all around the garden, choose small tress with small root balls. But more importantly, seek out trees which have shallow root structures. Trees with shallow root structure are much less likely to result in tree roots in sewer or drain lines.

Tree roots in sewer line solutions

tree roots in sewer line

Tree roots can literally burst a clay pipe

Smaller parts of tree roots in sewer lines will not cause a full blockage, but the problem gets worse if you fail to recognize the signs. Gurgling noise from the toilet and slow-flowing drains are one of the first warnings; regardless of the culprits, obstructed water flow is always worth checking to avoid expensive repairs in the future. When you do find tree roots in sewer or drain lines, here are some things you can do:

• Copper sulfate: This chemical is poisonous, creating a dead-zone in the soil. It is very effective in killing roots, but there are some consequences if improperly applied. Spreading it too close to the pipe potentially leads to corrosion which will cause further damage to the pipe. Also, direct exposure to a large dose of copper sulfate can cause health conditions including liver damage. This chemical is not an environment-friendly one, but it is an excellent solution in this case. Please keep in mind that copper sulfate is not an instant solution, meaning it can take weeks before the roots are all killed. Even more importantly, follow manufacturers directions explicitly when handling copper sulfate.

• Mechanical cutting tool: A more straightforward solution is a mechanical auger – a professional drain cleaning machine. This tool has a rotating spiral head, or cutting blade, that can cut like a saw blade. Because the roots are cut, the sewer pipe will be filled with root debris from the process, and may need to be flushed.

• Hydro-jet: A hydro-jet, also called water jet, can send powerful flows of pressurized water to flush out stubborn obstructions, including tree roots in sewer lines. The water flows with around 4,000 psi, containing up to 18 gallons per minute. In the proper hands, and coupled with specialty bits, roots can be completely cut clean away using a water jet.

• Sewer pipe replacement: The most obvious solution is to dig up the obstructed part of the pipe and replace it. This job requires professionals; to know the exact location of the roots inside sewer line, professionals can run sewer camera down the drain line. Once the exact position is determined, professionals can also check for other types of damage, and recommend the most appropriate repair accordingly.