The Trouble with Tree Roots and Your Home’s Sewer Line

Massachusetts trees are a thing of beauty; at least until they interrupt your plumbing.

The beautiful trees throughout Massachusetts serve many purposes. They provide natural wind breaks, offer cooling shade and add beauty to your landscape. But they have a not-so-secret system at work underground that can secretly wreak havoc on your plumbing.

Tree roots branch out incredibly far from the base of the trunk. For some larger, older trees, you might find roots halfway across your yard. They’re determined, too. They grow year after year. And they’re so strong, they can break clean through asphalt, concrete, and your home’s sewer line.

If you have slow-moving drains or notice an unpleasant-smelling area outside the home where the ground often feels damp, the roots from a tree might be the cause. The tree doesn’t have to be planted anywhere near the line. If there’s a tree (even a smaller one) in your yard or on neighboring property, it’s worth checking out.

Sorting Tree Root Myth from Reality

There’s a longstanding belief that the size of the tree branch canopy is a good indicator of the root structure. That’s not really true. Tree roots can and do extend much farther than that. What’s more, the majority of the root system is near the top 2 feet of soil.

According to the Morton Arboretum, tree roots often extend 2-3 times wider than the branch canopy above. And you’ll find more within upper 18 to 24 inches of soil than deeper down. Unfortunately, sewer lines sometimes share the same space.

Plumbing In some cases, a bit of digging is required to find and treat the problem.

Sewer Lines Might Attract Roots

Tree roots can naturally grow through a sewer line, causing a break or completely obliterating it. The sewer line might be in the natural path that the root wants to grow. Or the root might grow toward a sewer line that’s already leaky because it’s looking for moisture. After all, providing moisture to the tree is a large part of the root’s job.

Either way, roots are a major problem when they come in contact with your plumbing. Roots will push straight through sewer lines made of clay and other materials, and what you’ll be left with is a mess that requires some excavation and repair.

Rodenhiser Repairs Tree Root Damage

It’s never a happy day when you find out that a tree root has broken through a sewer line. They’re not the cleanest part of your plumbing system. And if yours are clay, as many older homes have, they’re inherently leaky. To make a repair, the plumber must first access the line. That often requires digging.

Fortunately, it’s not as enormous a problem as it might seem. Plumbing is a relatively straightforward operation, even under the worst of circumstances. We’ll assess the situation, determine whether a root is the cause of your problem and then set about making it right. The old line may be repaired, although this is relatively rare. More likely, the section will be replaced. There’s also a chemical treatment that can kill nearby creeping roots before they make it into the line again. In some cases, an auger is used to grind out the offending root to keep the plumbing system flowing.

Massachusetts homeowners who have a recurring tree root problem might want to reconsider the vegetation on the property. Trees are lovely and they benefit the environment. But they can also be the source of a lot of headaches if the roots refuse to grow away from the sewer line.

Call Rodenhiser today if you live in the in the Route 495 / 128 area and have slow-running drains or suspect that a tree root has made its way through your sewer line. Problems such as these don’t correct themselves. They only worsen over time. But we can find the real cause, make the repair and get your plumbing in good working order again.

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