How to Prevent Tree Roots from Invading Your Sewer Line

Written by Angie's List staff
Updated January 24, 2012
Tree roots and sewer pipe
Tree roots can wreak havoc on your sewer system. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Hans L. of Mt. Prospect, Illinois)

Tree roots are a common problem for homes with a sewer lateral hooked up to a municipal sewer system. It can be a very serious and costly problem.

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As a homeowner, you probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about overgrown tree roots and their effect on your sewer system (if you do, might we suggest checking Angie' s List for alternative entertainment options like music lessons, cooking classes or personal trainers). 

But tree roots are a common problem for homes with a sewer lateral hooked up to a municipal sewer system. And it's not just a moderate inconvenience, but can actually be a very serious and costly problem for homeowners who don't take the proper precautions to prevent it.Even in cases where tree roots don't completely infiltrate the sewer line, they can cause small intrusions in the sewer lateral pipe and cause a back-up. A back-up often results in the threat of wastewater entering your home and potentially overflowing the drain pipes. Keeping these two serious issues in mind, it's important for homeowners to practice the following prevention techniques to ensure a safe and properly functioning water system.Agricultural experts at the University of Tennessee recommend that homeowners take the following precautions to prevent tree root damage to the home's sewer lines:1. Choose your tree wisely. Small, slow-growing trees are preferred for planting near sewer lines, since these trees are less likely to puncture a sewer pipe in general. Furthermore, if the roots of these trees do hit the sewer pipe, it will only cause minor damage and will be easily detected before the damage reaches a severe stage. Examples of small, slow-growing trees include: white fringe trees, Amur maples, dogwoods, redwoods, redbuds and Japanese maples.2. Choose different trees. If you prefer a large, fast-growing tree or already have one planted in your yard, it's recommended that you have this tree replaced about every ten years. Regular replacement will prevent the likelihood of roots growing too deep and will enable you to still enjoy your preferred tree. Slow-growing trees may also require periodic replacement, so be aware of this fact when planting any new tree.3. Consider landscaping. If you are building new sewer lines or upgrading existing lines, you can prevent contact of tree roots and sewer lines by considering how your landscaping is arranged and building the lines away from the route of growing roots. This will prevent infiltration of both tree roots and shrub roots. If you are hiring a professional for the project or building or upgrading sewer lines, they will most likely apply this idea when mapping out the project.

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