Give a root an inch, and it’ll take a mile. Tree and shrub roots need only a tiny opening to work their way into a pipe. Once started, they can turn a hairline fracture into a significant fissure. And that’s when the real problems begin.

Like an inconsiderate dinner guest, roots settle into pipes to eat, drink and overstay their welcome. A thick tangle of roots can fill a pipe, causing blockages, backups and headaches for Portland-area homeowners.

Why Roots Like Sewer Lines

Tree roots crave water, nutrients and oxygen. When a sewer pipe leaks, it provides two of those elements and can be an irresistible temptation to thirsty and hungry plants.

A pipe may release moisture even if it doesn’t have a crack. Old clay pipes, the type buried in some of Portland’s older neighborhoods, are notorious for attracting roots. Water can seep through the walls of clay, moistening soil that pulls in thirsty plants.

Being a Portland, Oregon homeowner has its trials and tribulations. Tree roots clogging your sewer pipes definitely constitute a nuisance. The trees and shrubs planted near your house may be wreaking underground havoc on your home’s plumbing system.

They can cause extensive damage to the sewer system. Many varieties of trees and shrubs need a lot of moisture and nutrients to grow. During drought years, in particular, plants will send out roots in search of moisture.

Many trees can send their roots quite a long way on this quest. The roots detect moisture from the cracks of your sewer system and will grow into the pipes at any point of entry. The roots can completely block the sewer lines with their hair-like root masses. The clog then snags debris and grease that flows from the home to the main sewer line.

The Problem With Old Pipes

No type of sewer line is immune to roots. Clay pipes are the most susceptible. Roots will penetrate any crack, hole, or poorly sealed joint in a sewer line. Connections, where one length of pipes joins another, are at increased risk.

Roots can intrude on concrete and PVC pipes, though these materials aren’t as vulnerable as clay. Once roots penetrate, they can exert considerable pressure on the line. A root-filled pipe will often break, requiring costly excavation for repair or replacement.

Roots can cause extensive damage to your home. All types of problems can occur when a sewer line is compromised. The water supply can be interrupted, or a floor drain or toilet can back up.

Sewage leaks caused or exacerbated by tree roots can be expensive to repair. Homeowners have no choice but to call a plumber once roots have infiltrated the system.

In the city of Portland and most other places in Oregon, it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to repair sewer leaks and breaks that occur between a residence and the street or sidewalk. You can learn more about the city’s rules of repairing broken sewer and drain lines here.

Portland homeowners aren’t completely at the mercy of the city’s many trees. There are ways to avoid problems before they begin.

Here’s how:

Safety First: Locate Sewer Lines

Any solution starts with locating the sewer line. Find your sewer and other utility lines. In Portland, the number for Call Before You Dig is 503-246-6699. You’ll need to know where pipes are before you can apply any of the following deterrents. Knowing the location of underground utilities also helps prevent accidents and determines the best placement of trees and shrubs.

Don’t Plant Close to the Sewer Line

If you’re starting from scratch or adding new plants, be mindful of sewer location. Avoid planting trees near the line. Select species with a small root ball. Ask for advice at your local nursery.

Try a Physical or Chemical Barrier

Some chemicals can slow or stop the growth of roots. Apply these substances near the sewer line. Look for these products at a home-improvement store and follow the directions on the package. You can also bury metal or wood barriers, though this is a solution that requires help from a professional.

Be Aware of Warning Signs

If the drains in your home clog frequently, it may be a sign of a serious problem with the system. Roots inside a sewer line cause clogs, slow drains, overflows and gurgling noises from the toilet. But, there are other sources of sewer line problems.

Professional Inspection and Maintenance

A plumber can inspect your sewer by snaking a camera down the pipes. They will be able to see if roots are growing. If they see a mass, they’ll use a cutter at the end of a cable to remove it. They may also apply a product to inhibit growth. If you’ve had a problem with trees, it’s a good idea to ask your plumber for a yearly maintenance plan.  Regular cleaning keeps problems in check.

Contact Meticulous Plumbing for problems with your Portland-area sewer line. We are a full-service, family-owned business. Call (503) 208-2812 today.

Updated on Nov. 30, 2016. Originally posted May 2015.

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