Its fall, the leaves of the trees are changing, the nights are getting longer and cooler. If you are like some home owners you may suffer from what could be another seasonal occurrence far more discouraging and damaging than fall; a backed up sewer.
Tree roots in sewer lines can be a common occurrence, especially if you have an older home that still has the original clay tile pipe used as the building drain from the house to the city main. Tree roots can infiltrate any line if there is an opening to penetrate through cracks or separation in joints, but clay lines have far more issues because of the methods used to join the sections, usually in 1-1/2 to – 2 feet in length. Each joint would be placed with bald end into the hub of the next joint and filled with rope material, called oakum, and finished off by applying a good amount of thick mortar as a seal. Over time this method breaks down and allows the roots to penetrate these joints where the tree can access water and nutrients. During fall and spring just before going into or out of dormant periods the tree tends to concentrate its growth below ground on it’s root system. Although root problems can appear year round we note more service calls for roots during these times of year.
The amount of roots that can work their way into the line can be quite dramatic if left unchecked, as you can see in this photo the roots have totally filled the line making it impossible for anything to pass through it, and impossible to clear without exposing the line and replacing the section of pipe. That’s exactly what had to be done in this case, we had to excavate the line and replace it. The PVC Pipe has been removed from the roots that have completely overtaken it. The dark area is a perfect cast of the pipe formed by roots inside it.
Most cases are not this dramatic, but can still cause damage and back-ups to occur.
Even a small amount of roots create back up issues, usually the roots that penetrate the line are small and fine called feeder roots and can resemble long strands of hair that will lay in the line and absorb the water and nutrients as they flow by. Problems quickly arise when the roots start to impede the solids that also flow through the line on its way to the waste treatment plant. As these solids are held back by the roots the liquid waste for a time is allowed to continue on or seep through the crack in the line and be absorbed by the surrounding earth. Eventually the buildup of these solids becomes too great to let even the liquid pass through and the stoppage creates the back-up into the house that so many of our customers experience.
Many experience these root problems on a continual bases and have just come to expect the occasional backup as normal, and in a lot of cases a simple snake job will at least in the short term open the line and start the flow again, but if left unchecked these root intrusions can lead to more costly and damaging episodes, in future articles we can discuss what options are available for a more permanent solution.