Our homes are one of the biggest investments we make in life, and protecting them is a priority. There are many ways we can reinforce the safety of our homes, but sometimes the things we can’t see—the hidden dangers below—can be the most harmful. Tree roots are often overlooked and put on the back burner, since we can’t see them, and they’re out-of-sight and out-of-mind, as they say.

Damage from tree roots can be expensive and extensive, damaging more than just your plumbing. Mature tree roots have the ability to spread beyond 2-3 times the diameter of the tree’s canopy. This means that a 30-foot tree can have roots that reach anywhere from 60-90 feet past the trunk. If a tree is close to your home, its roots are in prime position to interact with your home’s underground pipes.

Generally, most modern plumbing and septic systems use PVC pipes or other types of plastic, which aren’t as vulnerable to tree roots as older clay pipes. But even though root problems are more common in older homes, they can still wreak havoc on newer pipes if the pipes have been compromised or broken, and the roots have an opportunity to invade.

For many, the first sign of tree root issues are sudden, slow drains or recurring clogs. Tree roots cause these problems by blocking the flow of water in and out of your underground plumbing system. While the occasional clog is common, and usually nothing to worry about, it’s not normal to have frequent clogs that are difficult or impossible to clear completely. If you always seem to end up wading in ankle-deep water during your showers, or your sink holds water long after you turn it off, you may be dealing with a clog caused by tree roots.

Sewage backup is another common issue caused from tree root problems. When there’s a blockage somewhere in your sewer lines, sewage backup can occur. Sewage backup can result in foul smells due to leaking sewer gas. This might smell a bit like rotten eggs, spoiled milk, or other nasty smelling odors. If you notice any of these smells around your sinks or toilets, chances are your sewer lines are experiencing a backup that could be caused by tree roots.


Make sure you do landscaping research before you plan on planting trees or other plants in your yard, and check to make sure you’re not putting their roots in a position to impact your pipes. This may seem like a daunting task, considering pipes and utility lines are dozens of feet underground, and you may not have been involved in the construction of your house when they were placed initially.

Fortunately, all you need to do to get the inside scoop on where pipes are located in your yard is to dial the national 8-1-1 “dial before you dig” service. You can also contact a home inspector or your city’s sewer department to find out pipe locations. Once you have a clear map of where the pipes are, you can plant your trees accordingly.

If it’s not realistic for your landscaping to avoid all sewer line locations, you can re-think your landscaping choices to minimize your risk of root obstructions. Slow-growing trees that don’t reach more than 20-feet tall are a safe bet (this includes species such as Japanese maple, eastern redbud, and common fig trees). Cacti, the classic desert staple, also have a shallow root system and aren’t much of a risk to your plumbing.

On the flip side, avoid planting trees known to cause damage, such as willow, birch, oak, and citrus trees. Make sure you keep an eye on your yard; changes in your yard can be clear signs of tree roots invading your plumbing. For example, if an existing tree in your yard seems to be growing much faster than the others, or seems much greener than usual, it may be getting an extra nutrient boost from the water in your pipes.

Another warning sign to keep an eye on is the possible emergence of sinkholes. When tree roots grow into your pipes, they create leaks. These leaks allow for excess moisture to flow into your yard, creating potentially dangerous sinkholes. Signs of sinkholes include large puddles of water or mud and noticeable depressions in the landscape. If you notice the beginnings of a sinkhole in your yard, call for professional assistance right away.

Continued plumbing inspections and maintenance is very important to ensuring roots aren’t intruding into your home’s plumbing. Working with a plumber to keep your plumbing system in good working order helps to prevent many common plumbing problems, including those caused by tree roots. If you believe you have an obstruction caused by tree roots, a plumber can diagnose the problem with a simple inspection.

For more tips and warnings on tree roots or to have your home inspected please call Ohio Buckeye Plumbing today!