You know that feeling of dread that you get when you flush the toilet, and instead of going down the drain, the water in the bowl rises, threatening to overflow? This could happen because of a simple clog that's easily dislodged with a plunger, but it could also be the sign of a much more serious problem—tree roots that have grown into your pipes. Knowing how to prevent this problem, or how to deal with it before it gets too serious, can save you a lot of time and money. Take a look at some tips that can help you protect your home's pipes from root damage.
Be Careful When Landscaping
One of the most proactive ways to protect your pipes is to be cautious with your landscaping. Start by learning where your underground pipes are located. There are a few ways to find out where these pipes are, if you don't already know. One way is to contact the previous owners of the house. You can find their contact information on the deed to the house or from municipal tax records. Or you can contact the zoning office in your municipality, where you may be able to look at a property map that has the sewer lines marked. If you have a sewer tank, your pipes should run in as straight a line as possible from your basement to the tank.
Once you know where the lines are, it will be easier to position trees and shrubs far enough away from them that you won't have to worry as much about the roots penetrating your pipes. This isn't a perfect solution—roots can spread very far away from the tree. Some experts say that the roots can spread to two to four times the diameter of the crown of the tree; others say that it's more like four to seven times the diameter. A lot depends on the type of tree you're planting. To make matters worse, tree roots will naturally grow in the direction of areas where the soil is moist and has the most nutrients, so even a small crack in your sewer line can essentially attract tree roots. In general, a root protection zone of one foot for every inch of the trunk's diameter is recommended. Being cautious about the placement of trees in your yard is a good start and can reduce your risk of root problems.
Know the Warning Signs of a Leaking Pipe
Because leaky pipes attract tree roots, and because tree roots can only penetrate a pipe if it already has at least a small crack in it, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the signs of an underground leak so that you can have it repaired before tree roots invade and cause a bigger problem.
Even though your underground sewer lines aren't visible, there are still visible signs that should clue you in about a leak. If you notice unusually lush, green patches of grass on your lawn, that's usually a good sign that you have a leak in that area—the additional water causes the lushness. You may also notice indented spots on the lawn where the soil has softened. You may also notice decreased water pressure inside the home, musty or unpleasant odors on your property, and a higher-than-normal water bill. All of these signs suggest that you have a leak that should be checked out and fixed before it gets worse, and before any roots have a chance to grow into the pipe.
Home Remedies for Minor Root Infestations
What if you already have a root in your pipe? This can cause problems even while the root is still small, because solid waste will collect around the root and cause blockages. If you're experiencing frequent drain backups and you've noticed signs of a leaky underground pipe, there's a good chance that a root has already invaded your pipe. However, if it's still small, you may be able to treat the problem yourself.
Copper sulfate is a chemical that can be used for DIY root treatment. It's toxic to tree roots, but can't be absorbed far enough to damage the tree itself. You can purchase copper sulfate at most home improvement stores. Beware that this chemical is irritating to the eyes and toxic to your liver and kidneys in large doses, so follow the instructions carefully and take all applicable safety precautions. Also, you should only add copper sulfate to your pipes through the toilet—it's too corrosive to be introduced to the pipes under your tub or sink.
If you've tried treating the root infestation yourself and are still experiencing clogs, then the problem may be too severe for home remedies. In that case, contact a plumbing contractor in your area. A plumbing contractor can remove larger roots and replace the pipes if necessary.