Avoid Pipe Problems Caused by Invasive Plants

By Mike Madden

You probably know that trees and other plants require water and nutrients to grow, but did you know that when the ground lacks moisture, their roots will seek out any other available water source? This can result in roots infiltrating and causing damage to leaking or defective sewer pipes or joints.

Some trees, bushes and plants have a more invasive root system than others, so it’s important to know what’s growing near private or public sewer infrastructure. Soil condition can also affect how far roots will travel.

A number of factors can help determine if you might have a root issue. First and foremost: the age of the pipes. Sewer systems installed in the early 1900s were typically clay pipes in 3-foot sections mortared together at their joints. Over time, the mortar begins to crack and fall apart. In the 1960s, plumbers began using rubber gaskets when putting pipes together, but that didn’t address all root issues. It wasn’t until the arrival of PVC that root issues started to diminish. But even PVC isn’t fool proof – root problems can surface if the pipe was installed incorrectly or the joints aren’t glued correctly.

Recommended Trees and Bushes

Regardless of how old your sewer infrastructure is, it is a good idea to stick with trees and bushes that don’t have aggressive root systems if planting near sewer infrastructure. The following tree species could pose problems: ash, sweetgum, poplar and cottonwood, oak (usually lowland varieties), locust, willow, basswood, tulip tree, sycamore, and many acer species (red, sugar, Norway, silver maples, and boxelder). The following bush species also have aggressive root systems: boxwood shrubs, holly bushes and shrubs, and ivy plants.

Trees that are typically recommended near pipes include Amur maple, Japanese maple, dogwood, redbud, and fringetree.

Locating Water or Drainage Lines

Of course, before you can determine the best option, you will need to figure out if there are any water or drainage lines on your property. The first thing you can do it survey your property for manhole covers, water meter covers, and cleanout caps (used for inspection and access points for sewage lines). If you suspect you may have some pipes in areas near trees, you can request a map from public utilities or call 811 to have utilities marked. You can view a map of SD1 infrastructure at our GIS Maps page.

If you suspect your pipe could be affected by roots, you can have a plumber run a camera through the pipe to inspect for trouble areas. This service usually costs between $200 and $300, which may seem pricey, but keep in mind that if you wait until there is a problem, you may end up with two inches of water in your basement and spend thousands on cleaning and restoration.

A service line inspection will tell you where your line goes and what condition the line is in. This helps to avoid surprises and lets you address small issues before they become big issues.