Clogged sewer lines? Check for tree roots
Professionals can diagnose any clog, but tree roots are common culprits in older neighborhoods. (Photo courtesy of Hans Lim)
by Leslie Benson and Diana Lamirand
Angie's List member Connie Bodner says a toilet problem in her Columbus, Ohio, home happened at the worst possible time. "It backed up on a Saturday night, when I had company, of course!"
After cleaning up the mess in her basement, and then cleaning up a second mess when they had a clogged toilet upstairs also, she called highly rated Columbus plumbing company The Waterworks, which identified tree roots growing into the main sewer pipe as the evening-spoiling culprit.
"The problem affected the plumbing system of the entire house, not just one toilet," Bodner says. And, ironically, the roots came from a "phantom" oak tree that she had removed from her landscape a few months prior.
"The tree was gone, but the roots were still there and had done the damage. The [Waterworks] technician said roots could cause problems for as long as seven years after a tree has been removed."
Older homes at risk
Clogged sewer lines caused by tree roots is a common problem in older neighborhoods, says David Specht, president of The Waterworks, a 10-time Super Service Award winner.
"Most homes built before the 1960s used vitreous clay for their main sewer lines," Specht says. "Roots can penetrate weak areas of the clay and grow large enough to cause the pipe to break or collapse."
Homeowners are financially responsible for any drain repairs from their home to the city sewer connection.
Bodner, whose home was built in 1924, feels fortunate that her pipes didn't break, which could have cost thousands to replace. Her bill to unclog the pipe was $208.70. "We were without water of any kind (including toilet access) from Saturday evening until Monday morning - a minor inconvenience when compared to what it could have been," she says.
But even homeowners who have no trees need to be aware of how invasive roots can be, says Todd Stewart, vice president of highly rated Benjamin Franklin Plumbing-Columbus, Ohio, an 11-time SSA winner.
If the underground portion of your downspout is near a neighbor's trees, the roots may spread that way. "Trees grow toward their closest water source," Stewart says.
Protect your pipes
Roots from a silver leaf maple tree clogged Katherine Lehman's sewer drain twice in the last four years, a common problem in her Upper Arlington [Ohio] neighborhood. "There is an abundance of mature trees," Lehman says. "Several neighbors said they have similar problems, and one even cut down her silver leaf maple to avoid the issue."
Most trees are spared in the root-clearing process, unless they're right on top of the piping, Stewart says. Root clogs also can be cleared without replacing the sewer pipe, if identified early, Specht says. Both contractors recommend annual or semiannual drain cleaning, followed by a video inspection.
Lehman, who hired highly rated Drain Connection in Columbus [Ohio] to clear her roots, says she donned "homemade hazmat gear" to clean every time the sewer backed up in her basement. The company, a 10-time SSA winner, also advised her to clean her drain every 12 to 18 months.
It's advice she intends to follow. "An ounce of prevention prevents a pound of poop," she says.