Identifying, Repairing, and Preventing Plumbing Issues Caused by Tree Roots In Sewer Line

A plumber holding a bundle of tree roots that have been extracted from a nearby sewer line.
As Canada's capital, the city of Ottawa, ON, is brimming with history. Though there are plenty of new, modern homes and public buildings, many residents are proud to live in historical character homes. Unfortunately, whether your Ottawa home was built in the 1990s or 1890s, your plumbing system could be under attack from Ottawa tree roots in sewer lines. Plumbing systems aren't meant to last forever, and once pipes begin to show their age, tree roots are quick to exploit them.

To prevent a plumbing emergency such as a burst pipe or a sewer backup, a reputable Ottawa plumber can identify, repair, and replace your tree root-invaded lines. They can also regularly inspect your sewer system to catch issues early and prevent them from escalating.

How Do Roots in Sewer Lines in Ottawa Become a Problem?

Beneath the surface of your Ottawa property is an integral part of your plumbing system—your sewer lines. These private lines carry sewage away from your home and into Ottawa's city sewer system, called the city sanitary sewer. Ottawa’s city sewer lines tend to run beneath the roads. It is generally the property owner's responsibility to ensure that their private sewer lines are in good working order, and the responsibility of the city to take care of the city sanitary sewer.

One of the biggest threats to your underground plumbing system is tree root infiltration. If your Ottawa home is a few decades old and still has its original plumbing, tree root invasion is a serious concern. Over time, joints between segments of pipe can loosen, resulting in small gaps. Clay pipes also tend to become brittle over time, resulting in cracks not just at the joints but all along the pipe wall. When this happens, if there are any large trees on or near your property, you can bet their roots will find these points of weakness in your sewer system.

Contrary to popular belief, tree root systems don’t travel deep into the earth. Root growth tends to extend horizontally, to distances of up to two to three times the canopy's diameter. This is because tree roots seek out three key resources that tend to be closer to the surface: water, nutrients, and oxygen. As you may have already realized, these three resources are plentiful within sewer lines. Thus, if there is an opportunity for tree roots to enter sewer lines, they will do so without hesitation. Once the tree roots have infiltrated your lines, it’s common for a sewer line clog to develop. With an endless supply of water and nutrients, tree roots flourish and grow within sewer laterals. Once they get big enough, the line will become so clogged that one of two things (or both, if you’re really unlucky) will occur.

The first possibility is a sewer backup. When black water is unable to empty into the city’s sanitary sewer, it will have no choice but to go in the opposite direction—back up your lines and into your Ottawa home. Raw sewage cleanup costs can be astronomical, making this something you’ll want to avoid. And, as some homeowners find out, it doesn’t matter if the tree roots to blame belong to the city. Because it is very rare for tree roots to penetrate sewer pipes in good condition, you’re on the hook for costs arising from severe tree root damage, regardless of whose tree did the damage.

The second possibility is a burst pipe in your Ottawa home. As tree roots grow within your sewer pipe’s walls, they can exert a high amount of pressure on the pipe. With enough pressure, the structural integrity of your pipes may be compromised, causing them to burst and require immediate attention.

These two situations are costly and should be avoided whenever possible. While it may be difficult to prevent at times, there are usually warning signs of tree roots in a sewer line. Looking out for these signs can help you address sewer line issues before they get out of hand and cost you thousands of dollars.

Identifying Ottawa Tree Roots in a Sewer Line

Tree roots will often make themselves known before burst pipes, and sewer back-ups occur. Common signs of tree roots in a sewer line include:

  • Gurgling toilets: Blockages in sewer lines alter the pressure within your drains. This change in pressure causes air pockets to form, resulting in a gurgling sound when you flush your toilet.
  • Areas of bright green grass: If you notice one particularly lush area in your yard but have no idea why it might be healthier than the rest of your grass, you may have a plumbing issue right below this spot. Black water leaking out of pipes that have been compromised by invasive tree roots will hydrate and nourish the surrounding vegetation.
  • Unpleasant odors: If that patch of bright green grass also comes with a foul odor, it’s almost certainly caused by a broken sewer pipe. Likewise, bad smells inside your home may indicate a blockage that is preventing your black water from exiting your pipes.
  • Sinkholes: One of the many signs you have a cracked pipe is the presence of a sinkhole. If gone unnoticed, that patch of green grass can get so wet that the soil begins to erode, causing a sinkhole.

The signs above don’t necessarily mean you have tree roots in your sewer line. Rather, they’re indications of a sewer line leak or a sewer line clog. Both leaks and clogs can be caused by Ottawa tree roots, but they can also be caused by aging pipes, flushing corrosive cleaners down the toilet, and flushing anything other than toilet paper and waste.

The best way to identify the exact cause of your sewer line problem is by hiring an Ottawa plumber for a sewer camera inspection. One of the benefits of video plumbing inspections is that they allow your plumber to see the cause of the issue in real time. Rather than having to determine the problem through trial and error, a sewer video inspection will conclusively identify the cause and subsequently allow you to take the necessary steps to solve it quickly and cost-effectively.

Repairing Damage Caused by Tree Roots in Sewer Lines in Ottawa

If you’re fairly certain that tree roots are causing your sewer system problems, you can try a few different strategies for a temporary solution. Because the presence of Ottawa tree roots in your pipes means that your pipes are cracked, corroded, or broken, you’ll still need to get a licensed plumber in Ottawa to repair or replace these lines.

To kill and even prevent roots in your lines from continuing to grow, you can try one or more of these strategies:

  • Foaming root killers: Formulated specifically to kill and prevent root regrowth, this herbicide will speed the decay of roots and wash them away. Instructions for use will vary according to manufacturer and product, but generally, root killers are flushed down the toilet and left to work for several hours before the toilet is used again.
  • Sodium chloride: If you’d rather not use a root killer, you can also use approximately two pounds of rock salt. Like root killer, you’ll want to avoid flushing the toilet for about 8 hours after flushing down the rock salt. The salt will dehydrate the roots, causing them to die and break down.

If foaming root killers and rock salt don’t work, you likely have a clog made up of non-organic material, such as paper towels or other debris that has been flushed down the toilet. While you could use chemical drain cleaners to clear this clog, it’s not generally recommended to do so. Chemical cleaners are extremely harsh and can actually corrode not just the clog but your drains and sewer as well. As an alternative to chemical treatments, hire a professional plumber for sewer jetting.

Professional Repair Options

For a more permanent solution to Ottawa tree roots in sewer lines, a professional plumber should be called in. Licensed and insured plumbers have the tools and expertise to not only clear roots from your sewer pipes but also repair the damage caused to prevent leaks and future tree root invasions.

Whether your sewer line clog is caused by tree roots or something else, a plumber will remove the clog using one or both of the following methods:

  • Drain snaking: While there are basic drain snakes you can purchase from your local hardware store to remove clogs close to the opening of a drain, for deeper clogs, commercial snakes (also called augers) are required. Using a mechanical auger or a powered auger, your plumber will be able to break up a clog in your sewer lines and get your waste water flowing freely again.
  • Hydro jet cleaning: One of the most effective sewer pipe cleaning methods, sewer jetting uses highly pressurized water to blast all debris away. This leaves your pipe’s interior so clean that it’s basically like new.

After the roots have been cleared out, a professional plumber in Ottawa will get to work on your sewer line repairs. Due to the numerous benefits of trenchless water line replacement, a reputable plumber will likely recommend this service to you to help you save potentially thousands of dollars. Trenchless sewer line repair is much less invasive, meaning you won’t have to spend more money on any major landscaping work or home repairs after your plumbing service in Ottawa is complete.

Depending on the extent and type of damage that has occurred to your pipes, trenchless sewer repair may involve the following repair methods:

  • Sewer pipe relining: If your pipes are still holding their shape, this method may be appropriate. Pipe relining involves taking a flexible sleeve and soaking it in epoxy. Your plumber inserts the sleeve into the pipe and blows it so that it forms a tubular shape. Once expanded, it will stick to your existing pipe while it dries. Once cured, you’ll have a relined pipe that is completely watertight.
  • Hydraulic pipe bursting: If the pipe is too damaged to hold its shape, it may be replaced using hydraulic pipe bursting. In this method, a new pipe will be pulled through the existing pipe. Once in place, hydraulics are used to blast the remaining fragments of old pipe out of the way.

Preventing Roots in Sewer Lines in Ottawa

The problem with Ottawa tree root invasions is that if you get one, you may be susceptible to getting more in the future. Unfortunately, a standard Ottawa homeowners insurance policy doesn’t usually include sewer line problems, as it is generally understood that it is the homeowner’s job to take appropriate preventative measures to avoid needing the services of emergency plumbers in the event of a sewer backup. If you live on an older property and are surrounded by trees, or you’ve had tree root issues before, it’s in your best financial interest to conduct regular cleaning and maintenance for sewer lines on your Ottawa property.

Though many Ottawa homeowners only contact their plumber in the case of an emergency, one of the best plumbing services you can invest in is sewer inspection. Using a specialized video camera, your local Ottawa plumber can look for small cracks and clogs in your sewer line and identify any problems before they get out of hand and end up costing you an arm and a leg.

If you have a large tree on your property that continues to impact your sewer lines, it may be a good idea to get it removed or relocated. While trees are a lovely addition to any yard, some types of trees have less horizontal root growth than others. Look for ‘sewer safe’ trees at your local nursery and replace your current behemoth with one of these.

For Removal and Repair of Ottawa Tree Roots in Sewer Lines, Contact Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Ottawa Today!

At Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Ottawa, we’re proud to be part of a vibrant and professional community of locally owned and operated plumbing businesses. Due to our uncompromising values of customer focus, integrity, and respect, we’ve established ourselves as leaders in quality plumbing services, including removing tree roots in sewer lines. Whether you live in Ottawa’s city center or one of the surrounding communities, such as Nepean, Kanata, or Gatineau, we’re ready and willing to help.

To tackle your Ottawa tree root and sewer line issues, contact our team today. We look forward to hearing from you!