Ask an Austin Plumber: Tree Roots FAQ

How much do you know about tree roots in your sewer line?

As Austin’s local team of drain cleaning experts, we tend to get a lot of questions from homeowners about how they can better maintain their plumbing and prevent clogs in their homes.  Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and our professional responses.

Q: What is the most common cause of sewer line damage or clogs?

A: Tree roots, by far. These sinister, creeping tendrils will strangle your vulnerable pipes until they’re so squeezed and overgrown that nothing can flow through. Even the smallest crack or fissure in a sewer line will send out signals to tree roots that they will follow, forcing their way in, even if it takes weeks, months or years. Tree roots are the sewer line’s most relentless enemy. In the right conditions, spidery roots tendrils that manage to force through pipe fissues have the potential to grow as large as the sewer line itself!

Q: What about tree roots makes them such pipe pulverizers?

A: Because they’re opportunists! Tree roots are most likely to penetrate sewer lines that were already damaged and rest in the top 2 feet of soil. Try to avoid planting large trees that grow quickly anywhere near your sewer lines. Also try to keep the root systems of existing tree in check through careful pruning and landscaping.

Q: What types of trees are my sewer lines’ biggest enemies?

A: There are no “safe” trees when it comes to protecting your sewer lines. But be sure to steer clear of the following at all costs: ash, sweetgum, poplar, cottonwood, lowland oak, locust, willow, basswood, tuliptree, sycamore, box elder and many maple varieties such as sugar, red, Norway and silver.

Q: How can I protect my sewer lines through landscaping efforts?

A: Well, first off, water seeking trees like the ones listed above should be replaced every 8-10 years before they can grow into pipes and sewer lines. In addition, plant only small, slow growing trees near sewer lines. When replacing old sewer lines or installing brand new ones, do whatever you can to ensure root infiltration won’t be a problem down the road.

Q: What if it’s too late and I’m already dealing with root intrusion? Is there anything I can do to minimize the damage?

A: Don’t panic! There are still a couple of things you can do to take some stress off your sewer lines. First, you could try using chemical root killers that slowly release chemicals to stop root growth. You can also try naturally compacted layers of soil to make it harder for roots to penetrate. This involves laying down chemical layers of sulfur, zinc, borate, sodium, salt or herbicides. We’ve also seen some success with folks creating underground air pockets using large stones which encourages roots to grow in that direction rather than toward your pipes.

Q: Ok, but what about root killer? Would that stuff work here?

A: Some of our clients have reported success with foaming root killers. You can pick this stuff up at your local hardware store, but it is pretty harsh and we would probably try a more environmentally friendly method first. But, hey, everyone has their breaking point… If that oak in your front yard just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, by all means break out the poison! Bonus root killing tip: tree roots get in most of their annual growth in the spring and fall, so use these months as your ‘root hunting’ season! Good luck.

Q: This all sounds like a lot of work. Is there any chance, the roots will simply miss my pipes?

A: Not a chance. Trees are clever creatures; survivors through and through. If you want my advice, take yourself out of the equation—a tree can be a remarkably formidable opponent. Really the best way to save your root tangled pipes is to contact a drain or sewer cleaning specialist like Radiant Plumbing ASAP!

Tree roots ‘stumping’ your pipe system? Get the Radiant drain and sewer cleaning experts on the job today!

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