Tree roots can wreak havoc on pipes. Clay sewer pipes used in construction before about 1970 are particularly vulnerable to encroaching roots. Neighborhoods in Portland, such as Ladd’s Addition and Arlington Heights, are notable for old homes and tree-lined streets.

If your sewer is backed up and you live in a vintage home with nearby trees, there’s a good chance that roots are causing the problem.

How Roots Damage Pipes

How do tree roots get into sewers? Clay pipes are prone to cracking, allowing water to seep into the soil. Trees find the damp conditions irresistible. Tiny but determined roots poke into the fractures, enlarging the fissures. It doesn’t take long for roots to fill a sewer.

Once roots get a foothold in the pipe, the problem grows worse each year. Sewers are an ideal environment for roots, and the growth can cause a severe clog that backs up the system.

Drought, such as those that happen periodically in Oregon and Washington, can exacerbate the problem. During dry weather, thirsty trees send roots farther in search of a drink. Damp soil from a leaking sewer may be the nearest source of water. A pipe, out of range during years not affected by drought, may become a target during years with little rainfall.

Most modern systems using PVC and other plastic pipes are tightly sealed. These pipes aren’t as vulnerable as clay ones. But, if the sewer is damaged, roots will invade any pipe.

Rooting Out The Clog

Gurgling and a slow flowing drain are usually the first signs of a clog. The clog could be deep, or it might be minor. Roots might be causing the problem, or the blockage could be from something else.

Before you call a plumber, try plunging first. A simple plunger is useful for some blockages but won’t help with major problems such as tree roots. If your toilet or drain is still slow after plunging, it’s time to call Apollo.

How do we know if roots are causing a sewer backup? Short of digging, the only way to know for sure is by running a camera down the pipe.

We may start with a video inspection, or we might begin by sending a drain snake or auger down the pipe. We might recommend cleaning the pipe with a blast of water, a method called hydro-jetting. The process we use depends on the situation.

If we need to inspect the pipes, we’ll snake a camera into the sewer line. A video camera is attached to a cable. A technician watches the video on a monitor. The camera shows damage inside the pipe. We can see cracks, roots and other problems.

If we need to locate the depth and placement of a sewer line, we can use sonar equipment. With sonar, we can trace the path of underground pipes. With closed circuit video, we look inside the pipes. These two technologies, allow us to work on sewer lines without digging up the landscaping.

Repairing Root Damage

Plumbers use different methods to treat root clogs. They may use an auger or high-pressure jets of water to cut through the blockage. The best method for removal depends on the type of pipe and the extent of the growth. After removing the tangled mass, we may apply a growth inhibitor to slow the return of the roots.

If the pipe has suffered extensive damage, you may have to replace it. We can fix old pipes without digging up your property. Our certified technicians use CIPP, cured-in-place pipe, to repair sewers without digging. With this method, we insert a PVC lining through a small opening. The lining, coated with resin, hardens into place. The entire process takes less than a day, and the new pipe can last as long as 50 years.

Don’t Stick Your Head in the Sand

Ignoring early signs of a clog allows the blockage to grow worse. If your toilet backs up into your home, you’re in for a mess. Water and sewage will damage flooring and furnishings. If that happens, now you’re on the hook for plumbing repairs, new carpets, tile and who knows what else.

Apollo Drain & Rooter uses trenchless technologies to provide an eco-friendly solution to tree-root damage. Contact us to learn more about our services.

Updated Feb. 8, 2017. Originally posted Dec. 11, 2015.