Absolutely, tree roots in your yard can cause sewer backup. While trees may look beautiful and add shade to your yard and home, their extensive root systems can wreak havoc on underground pipes. This occurs because tree roots are naturally drawn to water and nutrient sources. When tree roots find their way into these pipes, sewer blockages, backups, and huge repair bills can result. As a homeowner, you are responsible for the pipes that lead from your home to the city sewage system (called lateral pipes). This means you are liable for any damages and/or expenses incurred by invading tree roots. (Exact rules will vary per city, and some Texas cities such as Irving may provide funds for certain drain cleaning procedures.)
How Roots Get Into Sewer Lines & Drains
While roots may seem fragile, they are actually incredibly strong, resilient, and determined. They act as a lifeline for the tree, sending out small feeder roots that seek valuable water and nutrients. These roots are drawn to the warm water inside sewer pipes that release vapor into the soil. This vapor typically escapes through a small crack in PVC piping, or through a loose joint in older pipelines made of clay, concrete, iron, Orangeburg, or other less resilient materials. When the roots detect this warmth and moisture they begin growing towards it. When a weak spot in the pipe is discovered, the roots invade and grow inside of it. Once inside, they will continue to expand, which in turn causes the opening in the pipe to grow larger and allow for more vapor and moisture to be released. Hair like root systems then continuously grow within the pipe, completely filling it and blocking the flow. These systems will stop anything trying to make its way through the pipe, including tissue paper and other debris. This essentially acts as a fertilizer, turning the pipe into a literal food pipeline for the tree. As a result, the roots grow larger to deliver more and more nutrients to the healthy, growing tree.
As roots increase in diameter, they put a strain on the pipe joints and gradually break the clay, concrete or other materials, leading to a total collapse of the pipe. (Note: this article is about sewer lines which concern the drainage of water away from your home. Water lines bring water into your residence, and can experience similar problems as galvanized pipes break down. This is why the City of Arlington recommends having old water lines replaced.)
Common Indicators of Root Problems
A slowly draining system signaling time for cleaning is a common indicator of root problems. If gurgling sounds are coming from your toilet bowl, it may be a sign that there is root blockage in your drain pipes. If the shower or sink drains slowly, even after they have been cleaned out, it is a possible sign of root blockage. If this problem goes unattended, it may lead to water backing up into your home, which can cause costly water damage or burst pipes. Conversely, if you notice drainage issues suddenly disappearing, a thorough yard inspection may reveal wet areas around sewer laterals that are the result of collapsed pipes.
Check out this video of a sewer camera that shows tree roots present in the drain:
2:45: You can see tree roots beginning to cause damage around this mark. This is what it looks like early on as roots find and seek water.
3:54: You can observe just how destructive tree roots become and why when unchecked, they can severely damage your sewer drain.
How to Protect Your Pipes
To prevent major blockage and unforeseen expenses, schedule a regular cleaning of your sewer lateral pipe from All Masters Plumbing today. Our professionals will inspect your entire underground pipe system to ensure that no damage is occurring and take the necessary precautionary steps to keep your pipes safe, and your wallet happy!