Sewer Roots Explained






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Drain Cleaning Special

Roots in sewer lines are one of the biggest problems you can have in a property. Roots are the arch nemesis of plumbers and their plumbing tools, and even plumbing companies have been named after underground roots in the sewer line for example (The Rooter Drain Expert). This article will be a detailed account of roots, how they intrude into your sewer line, and how to permanently keep them out.

Roots 

Roots are the parts of plants and trees that grow underground to anchor the pant/tree and absorb nutriment and moisture. Many small plants have thin hair like roots which do not go deep underground, grass for example has this kind of roots which are thin as hairs and stay very close to the surface. However big trees like palms and shade trees need big strong roots that go deep underground. Trees are the tallest living organisms on earth, and they need strong roots to anchor themselves to the ground and prevent them to fall to the ground because of wind or other factors in the surface. Another characteristic about roots other than providing a good grip is their importance in providing the tree moisture and nutriment. Roots are programmed to find waterbeds underground (moisture). Regularly underground waterbeds can be found hundreds or even thousands of feet underground, but in urban environments like Los Angeles, California or any other big city in the world; underground pluming of water and sewage are artificial underground waterbeds of easy access for tree roots.  A study made by UCLA found houses in the valleys around the Rocky Mountains with roots problems, even though the nearest trees were 2,500 feet away.

Many property owners are puzzled when a plumber discovers tree roots in their sewer line when they don’t have any trees on their backyards or there are any trees not even around the block, but the roots could be from a tree that is thousands of feet away.

How do they intrude the sewer line? 

In Los Angeles County properties have clay pipes, galvanized pipe, or ABS pipes for their sewer line, the two most important factors to consider a sewer line vulnerability to root intrusions are age and material.

Clay pipes are probably the most vulnerable pipes to root intrusions. Clay pipes come in segments of 3-6 feet in length and in a sewer line installation they are connected to each other using joints. Many of these joints have weak spots and roots have a big laugh intruding through them. Bad clay sewer pipe installations can be responsible for root intrusion, with time the joints weaken and the older the clay pipe installations the more vulnerable it becomes to root intrusion. Clay pipes are fragile; in areas like Southern California, we have earthquakes year round, and these seismic movements can easily brake or fragment the inflexible clay pipes, giving easy access for root intrusion.

Clay Pipe With Robber Joint


Cast iron pipes are often used for sewer lines, however, despite its popularity as a strong metal, iron when used in  plumbing can rather be very vulnerable and probably not the best option when it comes to keeping roots out. Iron oxidizes when exposed to humidity and with oxidation iron becomes weak and it can get so bad to the point where the iron just dissolves into rust giving easy access to root intrusion. Any segment of the pipe that has had some sort of welding is also vulnerable. A professional welder will do a perfect job and it will probably last for good years to come, but a bad welder will do a bad job and the welded part could detached, or break apart with seismic movements or water pressure.

iron pipe corroded and oxidized

ABS pipe is made out of plastic, it is very flexible and unless it has a leak, it will not register in the roots radar as a water bed. Because ABS pipes are made out of plastic they do well during seismic movements and professional plumbing companies have technology to fuse pipe together using heat instead of joints. However, with time ABS pipe can also have problems, because of bad joints, but overall are they are the best option for sewer lines.

ABS pipe

 

How to keep them out? 

Technology is providing plumbers with better tools to service their customers. One of the most recommended preventive maintenance a property can have is an annual sewer camera inspection. A sewer camera gives you an inside look into the sewer line, and can help you detect any problems from root intrusion to bad sloping or collapsed segments.

Snake Drain Cleaning Machine Root Cutter HeadThe plumbing industry has changed drastically in the last couple of decades and we now have better solutions to the roots in the sewer line problem. Back in the days roots where just trimmed with a plumber snake and the snake with blades attached would not do a very thorough job with big roots. Sometimes it would just bounce back out since roots can be very tough. The only salvation was full pipe replacement and that implies a massive excavation and destruction of the property’s yard or driveway.

Hydro Jetter NozzleThe Hydro Jet is another drain cleaning tool many plumbers use today, the hydro jet uses the power of water to blast off roots and anything creating a blockage inside the pipes. It works with pressurizing a jet of water at 4,000 psi, leaving pipes squeaky clean and free of roots. The Hydro Jet is the best tool to remove roots and after the roots are cut with the hydro jet, they will stay out for a long time, however, this is not a permanent solution.   

Trenchless technologies are new ways of fixing or replacing sewer lines with minimal excavation. These technologies can reduce excavation sizes by up to 95% percent and only require an entry and an exit point.

Pipe LiningChemist in England got busy trying to figure out a less disruptive way other than a massive excavation to replace the sewer pipe and keep roots out.  Enters the pipe rehabilitation technology commonly known as a liner, the liner technology uses absorbent sleeves together with a resin compound that can be installed inside a pipe, and the results is a pipe within a pipe. With the help of special tools the sleeve is inserted inside the pipe and the resin cures to the point where the sleeve and the resin become as hard as a regular ABS pipe with no joints.

trench-less pipe replacement - bursting headPipe bursting trench-less technology uses the power of a hydraulic pull, a steel cable, and a steel bursting head with blades to replace the old pipe. The brute force this machine has is compare to none and with the right air pump there is virtually nothing in its way that could prevent a pipe replacement. Replacing the damaged clay or cast iron pipe with a new pipe will keep roots out for decades to come.

In conclusion a respectable plumbing company should be able to help you resolve your roots problems. And property owners should have regular annual cameras inspections to prevent small problems to go bizarre and disruptive surprises. Remember to always hire professionals with proper licenses and equipment to take care of your plumbing needs. Plumbing has a lot of regulation and all work needs to be up to code. Failing to do so can jeopardize the safety of the building occupants. You can go to https://www2.cslb.ca.gov/onlineservices/checklicenseii/CheckLicense.aspx and check if the company you are hiring has the proper licenses. Professional plumbers will have their license number in their website or their marked vans, but if you cannot spot it there and you want to be discreet you can use their name and see if they have the corresponding licenses. Always put safety first over anything else. 

Sources:

California Deparment of Pesticide Regulation Website, University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management  Project, 1996 "http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/license/pubs/sewrline.pdf ".