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How to Prevent Roots from Damaging Your Pipes

Move into a new construction home and you may find a wide open sky that stretches on for miles. Then, the planting begins.

With the tiny plants and seedlings you’ll find at your local nursery, it’s easy to want to buy more and fill in as you go. After all, that tree is barely taller than you are; it’s hard to imagine it growing several stories high and taking up just as much space in width.
How to Prevent Roots from Damaging Your Pipes
And can a four-inch potted plant really grow into a ten-foot giant? If you don’t already know, the answer is yes. 

Here in Portland, Oregon, we are called in all the time to deal with problems arising from situations just like this. Our tree service isn’t just for pruning and trimming; we often deal with problems reaching as far down as the roots.

And when you think about it, it’s only natural that roots from trees, bushes, and shrubs reach out to find sewer and water lines. The pipes are filled with water, nutrients, oxygen – everything that roots crave to help the plant grow big and strong.

When a root finds a leak, it wastes no time penetrating the pipe and taking all it needs to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, this can wreak havoc with your home’s water and waste systems.

Blockages, broken pipes, and other problems are just the start. If you’ve ever dealt with a sewage leak, you know the unsanitary problem can quickly escalate, causing not only repair to your home inside and out, but can also lead to health problems for you and your family.

But solving the problem isn’t an easy task for a tree service company.

According to a training manual published by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, root control specialists have identified four different categories of root control methods: cultural, physical, mechanical, and chemical.

Cultural root control is the simplest to implement and involves the least amount of work. When creating a plan for drain line placement throughout your property, take into consideration where plants and trees are placed and how they will impact drain lines under the ground in the long term. It’s too late to use this method once a problem exists. This is the only method that can be used in new construction as the overall layout of the land is being developed.

Once roots have found their way into the gaps and openings of pipes and sewer lines, you can fix the situation by replacing the pipes, realigning them to seal the problems, or removing the landscaping altogether. Replacing the pipes is often the preferred method because pipes that are under attack are usually old and in danger of collapsing after the infiltration of root systems. Only a certified plumbing technician can analyze the situation and help you make an informed decision.

In some cases, a seamless liner can be fed through the pipes if it is determined they are still in good shape. However, this method is the most expensive of the options and is usually only performed in cases where replacement or tree removal are impractical.

Mechanical control involves using augers and cutters to control the spread of root systems into piping and water lines. In some cases, root control specialists can also pull abrasive brushes or scrapers through the lines to further clean out the system from tiny roots that may be infiltrating the pipes. These methods can remove existing problems, but won’t prevent future problems from reoccurring. Root systems that grow back after being cut are often more resilient than the original intruders. For this reason, mechanical control is often paired with another type of control.

Chemical control is the harshest of all treatments as it will kill the plant as well as present potential problems to the environment. Copper sulfate, for instance, is a root control system that many areas consider safe for municipal waste systems. It’s poured directly into the toilet and flushed down to kill off any root systems that exist from home out to the main line. However, it flushes away quickly, so it is a process that may need to be repeated again and again. A metam-sodium and dichobunid foam may have more long-lasting results as it sticks to the sides of the pipes, penetrating into the roots and killing anything in its path. The foam can take up a year to decompose and wash away.

All have their own benefits. All have their own problems.

As a homeowner, the easiest way to avoid future problems is to take steps today to ensure your pipes are properly maintained.

Determine Where Lines And Pipes Are Located
Before you plant another tree, bush, or shrub, learn the layout of your land. You can call your local utility company to learn where your cables, lines, and pipes are buried before you ever stick a shovel into the ground. This will ensure you plant your landscaping far enough away from the water and sewer lines to reduce problems in the future.

Plant Sewer-Safe Trees and Shrubs
Living here in Portland, you know trees and plants are everywhere. But that doesn’t mean every tree and shrub will make a perfect addition to your yard. As a tree service, our job is to help you create a healthy landscape that complements your home’s ambiance inside and out. If you’re smart about the plants and trees you select before you dig a hole in the ground, you’ll avoid root problems before they ever occur. Limit the number of plants you place near sewer and water lines. Plant larger trees far enough from lines so roots are not within reach of the pipes. You can also select slow-growing trees that have a smaller root ball to ensure they don’t reach out.  

Know The Warning Signs
Clogs will happen in your home. But not all clogs are a sign of a potential problem farther down your pipes. If you have an infrequent clog, it most likely is caused by action within the house – too much food down the garbage disposal at one time, for instance. But if your drain clogs on a more frequent basis, it may be a sign of a bigger problem. Root damage often impacts one line on a regular basis, or you may notice more than one fixture impacted in your home. It can also cause your toilet to gurgle on occasion.

Rather than wait for a bigger problem, it’s important to take action when you first notice an issue. A tree service can be a part of the inspection process, keeping your trees in healthy shape from the moment they are planted. If you hear a gurgling noise or have consistent problems with your plumbing, call in a plumber early to have the pipes and sewer lines inspected. If severe problems are found and removal of a tree is your only choice, we can help with that too.