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Detecting & Preventing Tree Roots in Your Sewer Line

One cause of a sewer backup may be due to tree roots getting into your sewer line.

Tree roots can block the line and cause sewage to back up into your home, in addition to causing damage to your sewer line and plumbing.

Here are some of the things to watch for and ways to prevent tree roots from causing a sewer back up.

Why Tree Roots Grow in Sewer Lines

A big shady tree is a beautiful landscape feature, but the bigger the tree, the longer the reach of the roots.

Tree roots are drawn to a leak in a sewer line because it provides the perfect environment for the tree to grow. A leaky sewer line gives the roots oxygen, water and food.

While tree roots don’t initially cause problems with sewer backups, it’s when the tree roots grow and flourish over time that give them the potential to cause all kinds of damage.

Older homes or those surrounded by large trees are especially prone to this type of problem.

Signs of Possible Tree Root Problems

Here are some signs that you may have tree roots blocking your sewer lines:

  • Slow draining sinks and tubs
  • Frequent plumbing back ups in floor drains or tubs
  • Toilets that won’t flush or make gurgling noises
  • Gurgling noises from floor drains
  • Unpleasant, lingering sewer odor
  • Frequent clogs

Tree Root Fixes

There are a few options when dealing with tree roots that have infiltrated your sewer lines.

Mechanical Removal

Rent an auger, which is a piece of equipment you “snake” down through a floor drain or toilet to clear through the root blockages.

The upside of this method is that it most likely will clear enough of the roots to provide a temporary fix until the problem is properly corrected.

The downsides of this method are that it requires some sweat equity, may require several attempts, and may not be able to clear through the blockage. The biggest drawback is that it’s only temporary and those tree roots will grow back.

Chemical Removal

Using a foaming herbicide-laden root killer might do the trick and doesn’t harm your pipes.

The chemicals contained in these products kill tree roots on contact and prevents most new growth. These products are typically used directly in the toilet but follow directions carefully.

Prevention Measures

  • Identify where the sewer lines run through your yard. Digger’s Hotline can mark your property, so you know exactly where underground lines and utilities are located. A phone call requesting this service can save you a lot of money and headaches down the road.
  • When planting trees for landscape purposes, don’t plant the trees near sewer or water lines.
  • If you plant trees near sewer lines, choose smaller, slow-growing varieties.
  • If you discover where the sewer lines are located and large trees are planted nearby, you may want to have them removed now to avoid potential future issues with ever-growing tree roots.
  • You may need to hire a plumber who specializes in identifying and clearing clogs in sewer pipes. They can “camera” your pipes and verify whether you have tree roots or something else blocking your pipes.


If it’s too late and the damage after a bad sewer backup is done, call the Sonoma County water and sewage extraction specialists at RCS.