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Size Matters, how big are your tree roots?

Each homeowner is responsible for maintaining their sewer laterals-the pipe that connects the sewer pipes in the house to the main sewer pipe, which is usually in a street. Because the pipes are buried and out of sight, homeowners usually don’t have any clues to potential problems in their laterals until it’s too late.

The flow of warm water inside sewer pipes causes vapor to escape to the cooler soil surrounding the pipe. Tree roots grow toward the vapor to the point of its source. The source of the vapor is usually a crack in the pipes or a loose joint. Once the tree roots reach the crack or loose joint, they will grow through the opening to reach the plentiful nutrients and moisture inside. Once inside the pipe, the roots will continue to grow, and if not disturbed, they will eventually completely fill the pipe with hair-like root masses. These masses can act as a net as they catch household fats, oils, grease, grit (FOGG), tissue paper, and other debris discharged from the residence.

Slowly flowing drains are the sign that the system is having a problem from roots. Homeowners will notice the first signs of a slow-flowing drainage system by hearing gurgling noises from their toilet bowls. A complete blockage will occur if no actions are taken to remove the roots/blockage.

As roots continue to grow, they expand and exert considerable pressure at the crack or joint where they entered the pipe. The force exerted by the root growth will break the pipe and may result in total collapse of the pipe. Severe root intrusion and pipes that are structurally damaged will require replacement.

Homeowners should be aware of the location of their laterals and sewer cleanout pipe, and refrain from planting certain types of trees and hedges near the sewer lines. Trees should be located more than 10 feet from sewer lines to minimize root intrusion. Also, homeowners should choose small, slow-growing species with less aggressive root systems, and replace them before they get too large for their planting area.

What you can do if you have tree roots in your lateral

Once roots are in your lateral they will likely cause an eventual blockage. The best way to prevent this is to schedule regular cleaning of your sewer lateral. The common method of removing roots from sanitary sewer service pipes involves the use of augers, root saws, and high-pressure flushers. It is also important to keep your sewer lateral structurally sound. Any structural fault can allow roots a way into your sewer lateral. You may wish to hire a plumber to video your sewer lateral to determine its condition and if any repairs are needed.

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