Tree Roots and Your Sewer Line – Not a nice mix

Many a homeowner has gone into their basement or bathroom to find a nasty mess caused by tree roots.  How?  First you must know what a “sewer lateral” is.  A sewer lateral is the stretch of sewer pipe that extends from your foundation to the municipal sewer line under the street.  Most municipalities will not repair or otherwise take responsibility for clogged or otherwise damage sewer laterals.  In most towns and cities, homeowners are even responsible for maintaining and repairing the portion of the lateral that is under the street or sidewalk.
How can you even know if the problem you’re experiencing involves the mainsewer line or your own sewer lateral?  OK.  Manholes overflowing = overwhelmed municipal sewer lines.  Sewage backed up into your basement = could be the lateral or the main line.  If other houses on your street are having this problem, call the city.  If yours is the only one, call a bonded sewer contractor.  Regular plumbers aren’t usually licensed to dig underneath the sidewalk or street.  But bonded sewer contractors are.  If the work is only on your property (not on the sidewalk or street) a licensed plumber can do the work.
Older lines were often made of clay and can crack more easily than newer plastic or metal pipes.  Which brings you to tree roots.  With the drought we’ve had here in the mid-west, trees will naturally be seeking water and more aggressively than usual.  When a lateral line cracks, water seeps out.  Because tree roots are always in search of water, they will grow toward the source, eventually entering the pipe through the crack and grow inside the pipe. 
So now what?  Let it be known here and now that auguring your home sewer line is actually a DIY job and is one that will make you feel extemely tough and competent.  And replacing the cracked pipe helps your local economy.  While that may be true, I’m sure it doesn’t take the sting out of having to pay a sewer contractor to dig up the yard and replace the pipe.  But it’s reality and facing the facts is less stinky (and dangerous) than a basment full of sewage.

Contributer:  Chaya Kurtz writes for

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