Are Tree Roots Blocking Your Drains?

Are Tree Roots Blocking Your Drains?

If you have ever had any external draining issues, then there’s a good chance that a tree root was the root (no pun intended) of the problem. Trees are excellent in terms of adding privacy, shade, and aesthetics to a property, but when we plant trees, we don’t usually think about the potential damage they can eventually do to underground pipes.

The truth is, tree roots are one of the most common causes of cracked pipes and blocked drains. Tree dependant, a root system can spread as much as two to four times the span of the tree’s canopy. So, even if you are cautious in planting a tree away from known underground pipes, chances are, you won’t have planted it further enough away. And, in most cases, you’ll have no idea of the location of your underground pipes! You could be planning a tree right on top of them!

Today, we discuss everything you need to know about tree root infiltration. We’ll look at why and how tree root infiltration occurs, how you can prevent it from happening, how to tell if tree roots may be blocking your drains, how to remove tree roots from your drains, and why you should call iSpecialise for blocked underground pipes and drains.

How Tree Root Infiltration Occurs

Copyright Walter Siegmund

Copyright Walter Siegmund

Tree roots don’t instinctively say, “Oh look, there’s a pipe, I’m going to break and infiltrate it.” In most cases, if a tree root does grow near a drainpipe, it will simply grow around it, not breaking it or infiltrating it.

Tree root infiltration occurs in pipes because the pipe already has a minor crack or breakage, not caused by the roots. When a crack is present, water from the pipe escapes into the soil, and it’s the water that the tree roots seek out. The roots sniff out the water source and make their through the crack into the pipe, which is a very favourable environment. Sewer pipes are even more favourable to roots as they contain water, oxygen and nutrients. In most cases, sewer pipes are made from terracotta, which is more susceptible to cracks and breakage due to age or damage from heavy machinery above.

Once root infiltration occurs, it takes little time for the root to engulf a pipe, consuming the total diameter completely. The root continues to grow, blocking more and more of the line, sometimes metres long! The longest we have seen was 10 metres long!

How To Tell If Tree Roots May Be Blocking Your Drains

Server root infiltration will block water passing stormwater drains and material clearing the sewer pipe to the main sewer line. You may not know you have a problem until it’s too late.

Infiltration to complete domination of a pipe doesn’t happen overnight. It can take weeks, months, years in some cases. Often, we’re called to a job because the homeowner has noticed pooling of water on the ground’s surface, indicating an underground leak. It isn’t until we reveal the pipe to repair the leak that we find the mass root infiltration. And, in such cases, if we weren’t there to fix the leak now, we would be called on soon after because the root infiltration will soon consume the pipe’s total diameter, causing apparent issues.

Let’s discuss these apparent issues.

If a tree root is blocking a stormwater drain, you will notice two things; an overflow of water from your downpipes and no water exiting the stormwater drainpipe to the curbside gutter. One way to test this if there is no rain is to place a hose down your gutter downpipe connection and run out to the road and see if water is escaping as it should. If you find no water running into the curbside gutter from your stormwater drainpipe, you have a blockage, and it’s likely from a root infiltration.

If a tree root is blocking the sewer pipe, you will know about it! When you flush the toilet, waste leaves the toilet, connecting to sewer pipes that run into the main sewer line. If there is a blockage somewhere in your sewer pipes, your waste won’t reach the main sewer line due to the blockage and will have nowhere to go. Your toilet will fail to flush, and you’ll have a very unpleasant scene on your hands.

If a tree root is blocking general drain pipes, such as those that take water from your bathroom, kitchen and laundry, server things can happen. Your kitchen sink, laundry sink, basin, and shower wastes can be slow to drain due to the limited space left to pass through the pipes due to the root infiltration. Drains making a gurgling sound when draining water through them is also another sign of a blockage. This gurgling is the sound of the water trying to pass the blockage in the pipe. This paired with slow draining, is a strong sign of a blocked drain.

Another way to tell whether tree roots may be blocking your pipes is an unpleasant sulphurous stench coming from your drains. This smell results from waste being trapped in the pipes, caught in the tree roots, essentially rotting over time. And, the smell only worsens over time.

The other telltale signs happen outside the home. For instance, if you find a tree showing untypical rapid signs of growth, it is likely because its roots have penetrated the drain and are now feeding on that favourable environment I spoke of earlier; water, oxygen and nutrients — everything plants need to flourish.

The other sign to watch out for outside is sinkholes. Where there’s a root invasion, there’s a broken pipe, which is an escape route for backed up water. In severe cases where the root has caused mass damage to the pipe, leaks will be more apparent and cause more damage. When water or sewer materials break free from the damaged pipe, it escapes into the ground causes instability. Eventually, the ground will begin to sink, causing a sinkhole.

How You Can Prevent Tree Root Infiltration From Happening

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to prevent tree root infiltration from happening. In most cases, your underground pipes and landscaping came long before you bought your home, so you won’t know where the pipes are or whether a tree with a large root system is nearby. More importantly, you won’t know the condition of the pipes.

You could have a specialist plumber like iSpecialise, who offers CCTV drain inspections to inspect the pipes for due diligence. With a CCTV drain inspection, not only can we see if there is any root infiltration in your pipes, but we can also determine whether any cracks or damage to the pipes exist before root infiltration occurs. By identifying and fixing cracked or damaged pipes early, you can have peace of mind and avoid all the unpleasant side effects that you may have otherwise had to face.

Of course, if you are building a new home and have no landscaping, you have a little more prevention control. You will likely know the location of your pipes, so you can choose not to plant trees with large root systems near them. You can research online to find trees with small root systems or ask your local nursery.

How To Remove Tree Roots From Your Drains

If you have all the tell-tail signs of tree roots blocking your drains, then you’ll want to get them removed fast.

You can have a crack at fixing general drain pipes, such as those that take water from your bathroom, kitchen and laundry, and stormwater pipes yourself if you know the exact point of the blockage. You will only know this if there is water pooling on the ground surface.

If you have no idea where the blockage is or have a sewer blockage, it’s best to call iSpecialise or your local blocked drain specialist. We have all the right equipment to locate the precise location of the blockage and repair it effectively and professionally.


Tree roots are one of the most common causes of blocked pipes. It takes only a tiny crack in a pipe for roots to sniff out a water source and make their way to it, eventually consuming the total diameter of a complete, and often growing within the pipe for metres and metres before causing any problems.

However, when problems occur, they are severe and need repairing fast. When a sewer pipe is blocked, your toilets become backed up, and waste won’t flush away. When a stormwater pipe is blocked, gutters overflow and water won’t flow from your curbside gutter, and when a general internal drain is blocked, water is slow to escape, and you may smell an unpleasant odour or hear a gurgling sound coming from the drains.

If you suspect you have a blocked pipe due to a tree root invasion, pick up the phone and give iSpecialise a call. We’re your local blocked drain specialists and have the tools, equipment and experience to fix your problems swiftly and professionally.

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