Let My Sewer Flow
October 13, 2012 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Home Maintenance Filter: When I purchased my home three years ago, during the inspection, the sewer lines were found to be clogged (not completely) with tree roots (5 mature elm trees on the 10,000sqft lot). The seller had the line 'rooted' and we did an inspection of the sewer line afterward. All good. My inspector told me the line would have to be 'maintained' for tree roots. How often should I do this?

It's been three years now and I'm wondering how frequently this will need to be done. The home was a foreclosure that had probably never undergone such sewer line maintenance (according to the neighbors) - at least not in the past 15 years.

1) Is it time to perform this maintenance again?
2) Should I wait until there's a clog or a problem or is there some advantage to doing this type of thing proactively?
3) Should I do the 'line inspection' too? I remember that being at least double the cost of the actual clean out procedure.
4) Should I be using any chemicals that supposedly prevent the trees from making their way into the lines?
posted by shew to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
posted by artdrectr at 1:46 PM on October 13, 2012

Response by poster: To clarify: there's nothing wrong with my pipes. I have no clog. I'm wondering if I should perform this maintenance in the absence of any problems.
posted by shew at 2:03 PM on October 13, 2012

You won't know how often till it backs up. If you can go five years between clogs then you should root it every four years.

The advantage of doing it proactively is your toilet won't clog up on Christmas Eve soaking your basement in sewage and then having to call out a plumber on double over time.

I'm fairly risk tolerant of this kind of thing so I wouldn't generally mess with scoping unless some problem warrants it. However I might scope just once at this time just to get a base line on how rapidly the roots are infiltrating your pipe. It might give you a better idea of how often you should be preventatively rooting the pipe.
posted by Mitheral at 2:14 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you just have to see how fast it clogs up. Ours is like every year or two. So in general you wait for it to clog, then pay the more expensive fix, then note how long that took and schedule the next clean out earlier than that.
posted by katers890 at 2:25 PM on October 13, 2012

In my experience, foaming root killer once a year works very well. The brand I use is Roebic. Another one I've seen is Root-X.

Copper sulfate works as a preventive, but some municipalities object to it.
posted by Bruce H. at 2:28 PM on October 13, 2012

Are your lines clay pipes or PVC? It makes a difference. Most places I used to live had clay pipes. They are fine, except that tree roots have a way of sensing the stuff inside the pipes via the joints, or even the pores in clay (more easily than PVC). The process is slow, but persistent.

Could be that replacing your lines with PVC would make the problem go away, or slow it down quite a bit. Even PVC can have microscopic leaks, through which roots can sense the stuff inside. Roots like to follow the trenches dug for pipes because it's often easier than tunneling through undesturbed ground. If you have a septic system, you may want to research the chemical aids before you use them. A municipal sewage system dilutes and filters these pesticides, where a septic system may let it percolate into your water table, causing issues with any nearby well.

Some people use a sort of "sleeve" to isolate sewage lines, but their use is problematic, since roots seem to be very good at exploring pipe layouts, for example, following a joint, and then insinuating themselves under the sleeve. Other tactics involve chemical barriers in the pipe trench. The favorite solution is to remove all the trees, then attack the soil with pesticides for a couple of years until the roots are all dead, dead, dead. Okay, that's mostly for cottonwood and aspen types, and anyhow, on your 1/4 acre lot I would be inclined to keep the trees, because, well, I like trees.

You have to be smarter than the roots, and sometimes that's a problem.
posted by mule98J at 3:04 PM on October 13, 2012

To get a definitive answer to your question, all you need to do is pay for an hour of your plumber's time to come out and run a fiber-optic camera down your line. You'll be able to see directly the condition of the line, how many roots there are, etc.

Otherwise, just wait for a clog to happen and assume that no clog means good news -- it may have taken 15 years for the previous clog to occur, so theoretically you could be years away from a problem.
posted by Forktine at 3:58 PM on October 13, 2012

In our area this is a constant problem, and the recommended course of action is either the nasty chemicals or the rotorooter once a year. This recommendation comes from everyone we talk to, plumbers, friends, etc. It also really depends what the cost of a clog is - if you think it's no big deal to have your sewer back up, then you can wait. If that results in sewage all over your whole basement (my situation), it's best to do it regularly. Perhaps you can ask your neighbors or people you know in the neighborhood, as there may be some local consensus on the timing.
posted by lab.beetle at 7:44 PM on October 13, 2012

I've read that flushing your like with baking soda and vinegar is a good way of maintaining your lines. Flushing rock salt at night before going to bed is also supposed to work. During high growth times in your area (spring and summer) you should do it more than in slower growth times.
posted by myselfasme at 8:29 AM on October 14, 2012

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