10 Tips to Prevent Tree Roots from Getting into Sewer Lines

Stories and important information on tree services.

Root intrusion into sewer lines can cause blockages, sewage backup, and overflowing drains, which are all very inconvenient and cost you time and money to resolve. To prevent tree roots from getting into your sewer lines, keep these 10 tips in mind.

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1) Call a professional

Not all plumbing problems are DIY projects. When you see tree roots growing in your sewer lines, that’s a sign it’s time to call a professional. The good news is that since it takes years for tree roots to get so big they cause damage, there’s plenty of time to prevent expensive issues later down the road. Here are some of our best tips on how to keep those sewer lines clear and problem-free.

2) Clear trees away from pipes

Before a tree has a chance to grow roots near your sewer lines, trim it back so its branches are at least three feet away. Ideally, aim for five feet. (Bonus points if you live in an area with harsh winters; prune back branches that could fall on and damage your pipes in extreme weather.)

If you can see roots or know they’re growing close to your pipes, call a professional plumber. While it might seem like an easy fix—just cut off those pesky roots—it’s not always that simple and can be very expensive if you have problems farther down your line. Let experts take care of it instead. You’ll save money and avoid backups or other major issues down the road.

3) Avoid root growth around your house

If you have a sewer line, chances are it’s located close to your house. If you want to prevent tree roots from getting into sewer lines, there are a few things you can do. There are also simple ways to protect your drains. Here are 10 tips on how to prevent tree roots from getting into sewer lines

4) Seal off access points

Sometimes tree roots get so thick that they begin breaking through joints in your sewer line. This can be extremely difficult to fix because once you’ve found where a root is coming through, there may be multiple places where roots are growing. In these cases, it’s best to call a professional; if it’s not possible for them to access your sewer line without doing more damage, they may suggest installing an entirely new system. 

To prevent problems before they start, make sure any exposed plumbing is wrapped in wire mesh and seal off any unused openings. Tree roots like dark areas and finding tight crevices is part of their growth pattern.

5) Keep branches away when trimming

It’s easy to forget that tree branches may extend over your house, especially if you’re starting with a new tree. To prevent roots and branches from entering sewer lines, don’t allow trees near or overhanging your house. When trimming existing trees or planting new ones, keep branches at least three feet away from any house vents or drains. 

If possible, plant them so their root flares are at least five feet away. You can also buy products called root barriers that will protect exposed soil from intruding roots—just make sure they have been certified as sturdy enough for outdoor use.

6) Check regularly for leaks

Regularly check your sewer lines for leaks. If you find one, hire a professional immediately. Fixing damage caused by tree roots isn’t cheap and if your sewer line is clogged, it will be more expensive (and take longer) than if you catch problems before they get worse. For example, a simple-sounding clog can easily cost $1,000 in labor and parts if it turns out to require a complete replacement of sewer pipes that were damaged. 

Knowing what questions to ask when calling around for quotes is an important part of being able to prevent tree roots from getting into sewer lines. Even after installation is complete, knowing what questions to ask when calling around for quotes is an important part of being able to prevent tree roots from getting into sewer lines.

7) Use sewer line cleaning products that contain bleach

This will help kill any bacteria or roots that might be lingering inside. Do not use products that contain pumice, as these can leave behind deposits in your line. Check with your local public works department for guidelines on what you should use. 

While regular use of bleach is effective at preventing tree roots from growing inside sewer lines, it should only be used every few months, not every time you clean your lines—otherwise, you risk damaging pipes due to chemical corrosion and erosion. If it’s already too late and you have tree roots growing inside your sewer line, don’t worry!

8) In the winter, drain and open the mainline at least once a year.

As cold weather sets in, your line should be drained and opened for a few hours. It’s best to do so in late fall or early winter when there’s no water in your line. If you don’t have access to a drain box or manhole, you can use a portable hose with an open end and start at one end of your property, spraying about 10 feet on either side of your sewer line until you reach your house. The goal is simply to clear out any debris that might clog up an opening in the mainline.

9) Get a hygrometer to check humidity levels in your basement.

Like most basements, mine has a humidifier and dehumidifier. However, one year we forgot to empty our basement bucket all winter. The mold that grew in our basement was so bad that I had to replace nearly every surface in my house that year. Protect yourself by using a hygrometer, an instrument used to measure relative humidity (RH). If your humidity levels are too high, leave your dehumidifier on for shorter periods of time, or use it only when you’re sure no one will be living there for several hours.

10) Protect yourself during cold weather.

If you’re working outside when it’s cold, protect yourself by covering all exposed skin. Wear long sleeves, layered clothing, and insulated boots or shoes. Use hand and body warmers while doing heavy labor, especially if it is windy. 

Also, keep in mind that your extremities — hands and feet — are among your body’s most vulnerable areas during cold weather, because they don’t have as much natural insulation as other parts of your body. Keep them covered and dry. Cold weather can also aggravate certain medical conditions, such as arthritis pain in the hands or knees. 

Be aware of any symptoms that might indicate a problem before attempting major tasks outdoors in frigid temperatures.

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