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Getting To The Root Of Your Plumbing Problems: When Tree Roots Set Up Residence In Your Sewer Pipes

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If you have slow or sluggish pipes, you probably assume that the problem lies in your household drains. After all, nearly everyone knows that grease and food particles can stick to the inside of your drains and create clogs. But that is not the only reason for slow and sluggish drains. Sometimes the problem runs much deeper. The roots of nearby trees can work their way into your sewer pipes and block the flow of water as it leaves your home.

How do the roots get into the pipes?

Tree roots grow deep in the earth and can spread to a wide area. Because the main purpose for tree roots is to seek out water and nutrients, they are well-adapted to finding sources of water. The nutrient-rich water in your sewer pipes is a virtual feast for roots. The tiny root hairs will work their way into fissures or loose joints in the pipe to seek out the water inside.

How do a few hair roots cause a problem in the pipes?

There are two major ways tree roots cause a problem in your sewer pipes.

  • Clogs: Once inside, the roots begin to grow and expand rapidly as they absorb water and nutrients from your waste water. They often form a mass of fine hair-like roots that trap fat, grease and food particles as they pass through the root mass. This can create a clog in the pipe.

  • Burst Pipes: Over time the roots get larger and reach further. According to a report by KOIN 6 in 2014, tree roots can grow at a rate of 1 inch a day when the tree is thirsty and is actively seeking water. When the roots get too large for the pipe, they will exert pressure on the sides of the pipe and eventually burst the pipe.

How do you get rid of tree roots in your sewer pipes?

There are several techniques for removing tree roots from drain pipes. The technique used depends on the size of the roots and the location of the problem.

  • Root Killer: Fine hair roots that have not had time to expand and grow into a massive root system can often be treated with chemical root killer. This is typically flushed down the toilet where it goes to work killing the roots.

  • Cutters: Your plumber can often cut larger roots out of your pipes by inserting a special motorized cutter into the pipes and trimming away the roots.

  • Manually: Large roots may need to be manually removed by pulling them out of the pipe.

How can you prevent problems with roots in the sewer pipes?

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of tree roots in your pipes.

  1. Do not plant trees over the sewer line. Consider moving shrubs, bushes and trees that have been planted too close to your sewer line. Remember trees often have a root system as large as the canopy of the tree.

  2. Use a chemical root killer in your sewer pipes regularly. This will kill any new roots on contact, keeping the pipe free of roots.

  3. Have your pipes inspected and cleaned regularly. Your plumber can run a camera down the plumbing line to determine if any roots have breached the pipe and take care of them before they are big enough to cause a problem.

If you suspect that tree roots have entered you drain pipes, call a local plumbing contractor, such as those found on sites like He or she can assess the problem and advise you on the appropriate method for correcting the problem.