Tree roots in sewer lines are a property owners nightmare. If untreated they can result in very costly sewer repair or replacement work. Many property owners wait until the house drain is completely blocked with roots to take action. That may be too late to avoid costly excavation for a sewer line repair or replacement.
Even attempting to cut roots out of a blocked drain pipe by using a drain cleaning machine can be extremely costly and quite frequently does not work, or only provides temporary relief. A key to avoiding a distressful situation and expensive sewer replacement or repair work is to take action before the pipe is completely blocked and not flowing.
Controlling tree roots in sewer lines
Copper sulfate is an inexpensive compound available from most drug stores and garden centers. If used properly it can have spectacular results in controlling root growth in house sewer systems. The most advisable way to use copper sulfate is by placing it in a toilet bowl in regular small doses of about 1/2 a cup and flush the toilet a couple of times to ensure it flows through the house drain.
Never place the copper sulfate into a sink or shower – it may harm the plumbing. It is advisable to leave the house for the day after the treatment (always read and follow the label carefully).
Regular small doses of copper sulfate over a period of two weeks is a great and inexpensive way to easily control tree root growth in a sewer pipe. In addition copper sulfate does not harm the tree or plant creating the problem. Another positive result of using copper sulfate is that the organisms growing around the tree root blockage in the pipe are also destroyed lessening the intrusion – Yet the copper sulfate does not travel very to harm the plant or tree itself. Reports suggest that copper sulfate has never killed or harmed a plant or tree.
Read the Oklahoma State University Report on tree roots in drain lines.
What you save in sewer repairs
In many cases a sewer video camera inspection can pinpoint where roots have infiltrated a house sewer line. If roots have grown into a portion of the sewer line, a spot repair can be provide relief from the problem. In other cases where tree roots have invaded the entire house sewer line a sewer repair cannot be done in just one section of the line. Usually when roots infiltrate a drain line in multiple locations anything less than a full replacement will be futile and not a long-lasting solution.
Using modern day equipment that is now available makes a sewer repair increasingly more of an option than in the past. Full sewer line replacement work in NYC costs thousands of dollars. On the contrary 15 pounds of copper sulfate costs around $50.00. The decision between the two should not be hard to make!
How do tree roots get in sewer lines?
Many materials used for a house sewer line are not prone to tree root growth. However clay pipe, particularly when not encased in concrete, is prone to root growth. As roots are attracted to moisture and clay joints tend to leak over time, sewer problems frequently arise. Root infiltration typically starts with very small roots called hair roots entering into the joints of a clay pipe. However as roots remain inside the pipe untreated or cut out promptly they continue to grow and get larger. Over time roots can crush the sewer pipe, crack the clay pipe, or become so intrusive that they cannot be cut out using a sewer cleaning machine.
Sewer line materials such as cast iron and ductile iron pipe have a much higher quality joint and are not prone to root growth. Unless improperly installed the gaskets used to join these materials are not liable to fail and typically last for many decades.
Tips to prevent tree roots in sewer lines
The following two tips are simple, yet are routinely overlooked and result in future sewer problems. The first tip is not to plant tree directly over a house sewer line. While tree roots naturally seek out moisture, it is less likely to result in roots in a sewer line when a tree is planted some distance away.
The second and more important tip is to choose which trees you plant carefully. Some trees have deep root structures. Those types of trees are much more prone to result in tree roots in a sewer line. You may want to consult with your landscaper prior to planting, but a tree or trees with shallow roots may be advisable.
Some trees with shallow root structures are:
- Maple trees
- American elm trees
- Birch trees
Another advantage of planting a tree with shallow roots is that they tend to grow more quickly. Another consideration is that in areas where bed rock exists a tree with deep roots may not flourish. These two steps really cost nothing, but may save on an expensive sewer repair at a later date.