Root Intrusions In Sewer Line
Have you ever looked at a big beautiful tree and admired it? I know I have, but do you know what else I see when I look at a large tree? I see an evil super-villain lurking in the dark. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic but work with me here, I’m trying to make plumbing interesting to you the reader, without grossing you out. Let’s face it, plumbing isn’t as interesting as most things and I’m doing my best here. There is more to trees than meets the eye and after reading this you’ll look at trees as evil villains too.
Let’s talk about tree roots and your drain line. If your drain line was a superhero it would be Batman (I’m going with Batman so I can say Robin later), then tree roots are the villain and we will call them Poison Ivy, (this is the villain I could think of that is closely related to roots and plant life) and while I love a heroic story of triumph over evil… tree roots always win when planted over your sewer line. Odds are you don’t know where your sewer and water lines run and you are probably not the one who planted the mature trees on your property. Nature is a powerful force and nature usually wins by sheer determination over time rather than a powerful windfall. Don’t believe me, let’s take termites for instance, termites cause more property damage per year than hurricanes. The persistence of water created the Grand Canyon and the persistence of tree roots will inevitably wear down and break your sewer line. In life, we should be as persistent in our goals as tree roots are, they never give up on their dreams.
If you have chronic stoppages, you have a problem with your sewer line. It isn’t always roots, some other common causes of stoppages are grease and sludge buildup, poor grade of the sewer line, belly’s in the sewer line, separations in the sewer line and misuse. Often when we run a cable through a main sewer line that has been backed up regularly we pull back roots on the end of our cable. You can see a small web of roots on the end of this cable after we ran the cable down the line to clear a stoppage. It is impossible to clear out all the roots, and even if we could, they would just grow back, often within days. Roots are the second sign that the line has been compromised by a nearby tree and the roots have penetrated the sewer line, the first sign is the stoppage.
Let’s Do a Project Together
Let’s go through a project together where a tree infiltrated a sewer line and won, until we came along – the Robins assisting Batman (I couldn’t resist). This condominium complex was having major stoppage issues, from this beautiful tree, I mean this super-villain. The tree provided ample shade for the building and improved the look of the landscaping but underneath the surface this tree had massive and thirsty roots. Wonder what the root system of a tree looks like? Picture the tree turned over underground or mirrored on a lake. What you see above is almost duplicated below. A single tree root is not strong, but like a team the more they work together the more they get done and a root system will conquer anything in its way. Roots naturally go for the closest source of water and nutrients – and that is readily available inside your sewer system. Time and persistence is all a tree needs to infiltrate your sewer line and wreak havoc on your home.
Cutting Down the “Big Ass Tree”
What happens next when a tree like this conquers a sewer line? We come out and show it who’s boss! I have no idea what kind of tree this was, if you know by all means comment and tell me. The HOA board named this one “Big Ass Tree” and they were more than happy to see it go after spending thousands of dollars in property damage after a stoppage flooded the downstairs condominium. Isn’t cutting the tree down enough? Doesn’t that stop the root infestation? Not even close! Does Batman telling Poison Ivy to stop being evil get her to turn a new leaf? (Get it? New leaf! I’m obviously having way too much fun with this blog). Absolutely not! She looks at Batman and gives an evil super-villain laugh and carries on with her evil deeds.
Cutting down the tree is just the first step, while sometimes it is possible to reroute the sewer line and leave the tree in place, this was not the case with this property and the tree was causing damage to the foundation, while I love trees and have been known to hug a few in my day, this tree had to go. If the tree was left it would have destroyed the foundation of the building, as you will see in one of the following photos. The tree roots were going under the foundation and were going to lift the concrete. Cutting down a tree does not kill the root system, it usually doesn’t kill the tree either, if this stump was left like this with the root system still going down the sewer line, in no time at all green shoots would be coming up from this stump as the tree began to show that it was still alive and kicking.
Web of Roots
Halfway through the excavation process you can see how encapsulated the sewer line is with roots. During the excavation process we had to continuously cut the roots with a sawzall to continue digging. Digging through roots is not the same as just digging. The roots create a compact web that is impossible to get a shovel through. Excavation through root infested soil often requires a jackhammer, though a backhoe is always the preferred method for excavation, especially since plumbers love to play with large toys. Seriously, plumbers love to run large equipment, they played with the miniature versions as kids and well, they don’t really ever grow out of that.
This Root Wins
Check out these photos! That is the root breaking through the glued ABS fitting. This little root triumphed over our superhero and found a happy everlasting water source. This photo trips me out, the time and persistence it took for that root to actually fight its way through the glue of this fitting and make its way inside is truly a testament of how powerful nature is. When this line was installed originally it was put under pressure and had to hold water in order to pass inspection from the City of Phoenix. We see pipe and fittings compromised by roots like this almost every day. After 21 years, it still impresses me.
This is a cleaned-up photo of the root penetrating through the glued fitting. It doesn’t seem like much but this root once inside the pipe grew and branched out filling the entire pipe with a web of roots. The interior of this pipe looked a lot like the root infestation around it. The roots continue to grow in length and oftentimes can come up the toilet flange causing even more damage inside your home creating the need to have your toilet lifted, the flange replaced and the toilet reset. Many clients don’t know they have roots around their flange until they go to plunge their toilet and water starts coming out of the base of the toilet and all over the floor. The flange and wax ring seal have been broken at this point and the only thing to do is pull the toilet and repair them.
What Can this Root Turn Into?
A common term in the plumbing profession is a root log. This is exactly what it sounds like roots that have been growing and have become so impacted that they form a log. You do not want a log down your sewer line. The picture on the right is a root log still inside the sewer line. You can even see to the left on the outside of the pipe the root that penetrated through the pipe to create this massive root log. Only a super-villain of epic proportions can do that. The image below is a root log that has been removed and is next to a section of pipe for size comparison. That pipe is 3” diameter.
Roots Can Lift and Break Concrete Foundation
This is a photo of the roots headed through the sleeve under the foundation of the property. These roots left unchecked will break the concrete slab and lift it. Have you ever walked on a sidewalk near a tree and noticed the sidewalk is lifting and cracking? That isn’t natural settling over time, that is tree roots rearranging the surrounding area to suit their needs.
Don’t ever think you can tell a tree what to do, they are a lot like teenagers and they will just do whatever they want anyway, until you cut them down – just kidding, I didn’t cut down my teenager, but I sure did want to some days (He will read this, and he will laugh because now he is all grown up and realizes what a jerk he was as a teenager)! I digress, back on topic, tree roots. We cut these roots out as far as we could reach and poured tons and tons of salt around them to stop them from growing, we of course prefer our salt on margaritas but sometimes we have to do what we have to do to ensure the job gets done right. Unfortunately, there were no margaritas on site on the project but I’m sure after a long day our technician wanted one when he got home.
What Can You Do About Roots?
You don’t have to be a victim of root intrusions. The super-villain can be outsmarted, but only with forethought. If the super-villain has already penetrated your sewer line there isn’t anything you can do but call a superhero like Robins Plumbing, but if you haven’t planted your landscaping yet there is still hope. Whether you’re planning your landscaping by yourself or with a professional, invest in a camera inspection and locate of your sewer line. Just like you wouldn’t start digging for a pool before making sure the sewer line wasn’t in the way, the same process should take place when you are getting ready to plant trees or shrubs, yes, even shrubs. Oleander’s are a plumber’s best friend. Oleander roots can travel 30+ feet to penetrate a sewer or water line. Most desert landscaping can. Drought tolerant desert landscaping is some of the most persistent and powerful plant life there is. They are survivors! Like us Arizona people who live here through the summer, we do what it takes to handle the heat and live to tell about it, I mean complain about it.
I told you that you’d never look at a tree the same way again after reading my blog. You might not see them as super-villains but now you know that they are wicked powerful and should be planted only where they can’t do damage to property, sewer lines and water lines.
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