Keeping Tree Roots Out of Sewer Lines

Sewer line repair trucks seem to be a common sight these days. Spring/summer is the time when tree roots become a problem in sewer lines. This is especially true in an older neighborhood where we love our trees! We talked with Matthew Maxey, Assistant City Engineer with Wastewater Operations. He was a wealth of information on things homeowners can do to prevent and even fix problems with tree roots clogging sewer lines.

Whenever there is a sewer problem, the city checks the mainline…the large line in the street. Often, however, the problem is in the lateral running from the main line to the home which is the property owner’s responsibility, and usually a plumber is called. Here are some tips to keep in mind if this happens to you. A good plumber has a number of options to find out what the problem is. If they tell you a new lateral line is needed, ask for a video to insure that roots are indeed the problem and not grease or broken pipe. (Grease is more often a problem in the winter). Older pipes can crack and section joints slip. Roots don’t need much room to enter the pipe where the water and nutrients then cause them to grow even faster.

One option plumbers commonly use for clearing roots is a cutter which cuts the roots inside the pipe. This does not really solve the problem unless some treatment is used along with it, as the roots are actually stimulated to grow back faster and thicker. There are a number of products out there to choose from but the best treatment is a foam product. If there is any slope in your lateral line, granular or liquid treatments will just flush out before they can be effective. Foams will actually fill the pipe, reaching all the roots inside, causing decay of the roots which then slough off. If you are a DIY person, you can purchase self-treatment products at hardware stores. Get the foaming kind which will usually work for 6 months to a year. Treatment by a professional plumber will sometimes last a year or longer.

The city uses a company called Duke’s Root Control which uses foam and treats twice, followed with a 3 year warranty. RootX is one product often used by professional plumbers. It is stronger than what you can buy in retail stores and is often recommended yearly in areas where roots are historically a problem. These products do not harm the tree but application timing is important if used following cutting….they need to be used immediately after roots are cut so they can be taken up at the root ends. Otherwise, it’s best to wait until there is some new growth which can take up the product.

Whether you are using a professional plumber or going the DIY route, better knowledge of the problem and options can save you a lot of money. Depending on what the problem is, it’s much cheaper to get on a regular treatment program, even with a professional plumber, than to replace sewer lines unnecessarily. (Our thanks to Matthew Maxey for sharing this information and to resident Hilary Jernigan for bringing this issue to our attention.)

The use of trade names or advertisements in this publication does not constitute endorsement or discrimination by the North Main Community Association.

Keeping Tree Roots Out of Sewer Lines
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