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How To Protect Your Plumbing From Tree Roots

How to Protect your Plumbing from Tree Roots

Trees are a great addition to any landscape as they help regulate temperatures, increase wildlife habitat and provide shade when mature, but their roots can be a big problem. Left uncontrolled, they can quickly encroach on your home’s main drains, which offer the perfect environment for growth. With time, the inside of your pipes may become completely full of roots, leading to costly repairs or even a full drain replacement. While the intrusion of tree roots is one of the most common causes of plumbing obstructions, there are steps you can take to prevent this from happening.

First, let’s talk about how these roots get into your drains. Homes built before the 1950s used a variety of underground drainage piping materials, the most common in Toronto being clay. The clay piping underneath these older homes is approximately three-quarters of an inch thick and installed in five-foot lengths. Each of these sections has a pipe end and a hub end. During installation, the pipe end was pushed into the hub end and then joined with a cement-like grout. Unfortunately, in the time since these homes were built, many of these joints have shifted, cracked or broken completely. It’s in these joints that not so nice tree roots find their way into your pipes.

The best way to prevent root buildup is to schedule regular maintenance. This involves having a plumber come and clear any roots in your drains every one to two years. A plumber will use what is called a C-cutter, which is a circular saw blade that works its way down the length of the drain, cutting the roots along the way. What’s left behind are small pieces of debris that will wash away into the city sewer system.

Though less effective, an enzymatic drain cleaner specialized for tree roots is also a good option. The enzymes or bacteria that are in these cleaners feed on organic materials. There are quite a few products on the market that you can find at your local hardware or big-box store. However, if you go this route, make sure to use it before the drain shows any sign of obstruction. These types of products rely on the flow of water to disperse the cleaner within the drain. If the drain is already blocked, it won’t work.

If the drain can’t be cleared by an enzymatic cleaner or professional snake, the problem portion of the drain will likely need to be dug up and replaced. Should you have a finished basement, an alternate option is what plumbers call ‘pipe bursting,’ whereby a pneumatic or hydraulic head is pulled through the existing drain. This ‘bursts’ the pipe and allows for the replacement of the defective portion with new pipe in the same path as the existing pipe without any substantial damage. The plumbing service is expensive but still usually cheaper than refinishing or replacing your basement’s floor.

Geoff Burke is owner of Watermark Plumbing Services Inc., which provides residential and commercial plumbing services across the Greater Toronto Area. Geoff can be reached at 416-587-4302 or

Clare Tattersall and disclaim any warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or currency of the contents of this article and disclaims all liability in respect to the results of any action taken or not taken in reliance upon information in this article. The opinions of the writer are their own and are in no way influenced by or representative of the opinions of Clare Tattersall or