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Droughts and Household Flooding

By Rise
Sep 28, 2020

The driest season of the year is when plumbers often report an increase in home flooding occurrences. Although it sounds impossible, it's true. Sewer lines are susceptible to back-ups in periods of drought, often resulting in localized household floods, which cost homeowners thousands of dollars in cleanup and repairs. From Roto-Rooter, Paul Abrams has provided insights and tips on the surprising instances of home flooding during drought periods.

Tree Roots

What Causes Home Flooding During Droughts?

Most sewer lines back up because tree roots amass inside the pipeline, preventing drainage. Tree roots are most active during seasonal droughts as a matter of survival. When trees get thirsty, they send out tiny feeder roots in search of moisture and nutrients. 

Eastern Cottonwood National Park Service
Eastern Cottonwood Tree. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Underground root growth generally extends outward from the tree to a distance of two or three times the tree's height. However, root growth can extend as far as seven times the tree's height during a prolonged drought. Large, mature trees have thousands of feet of root system searching in all directions for moisture. Unfortunately for homeowners, the roots follow underground water vapor trails along the path of least resistance, usually leading them into the sewer pipes beneath our front yards.

Basement Restoration Five Valleys Restoration
Basement Restoration. Photo Credit: Five Valleys Restoration

Tree roots are remarkably adept at working their way into poorly sealed pipe joints. Once inside, they'll fill the pipe with multiple hair-like root masses at each entry point. The root masses act like nets and soon catch toilet tissue, grease, and waste flowing from the toilet and sink drains, resulting in reduced flow and slow drains. A complete blockage will eventually occur if the roots aren't removed or impeded. Once a complete blockage occurs, households can experience water and sewage damage from overflowing toilets, sinks, and especially from appliances like washing machines and dishwashers. The water must go somewhere, and if it can't go down the drain, it'll flow out of the appliance or plumbing fixture and onto the floor.

If left unchecked, roots inside pipes continue to grow and expand, putting pressure on cracks or pipe joints. This slow, deliberate force will further damage the pipe. It may result in a total collapse, requiring repair or replacement of the sewer line. Unfortunately, homeowners are usually responsible for the cost of repairing a broken sewer pipe beneath their yards. Cities and municipalities are only responsible for the sewer mains beneath streets, which residential sewers flow into.

Broken Clay Pipes Mister Plumber
Broken Clay Pipes. Photo Credit: Mister Plumber

Which Types of Pipes are Most Susceptible to Root Damage?

Older homes with clay sewer pipes are more likely to experience this kind of damage. The newer PVC pipe with its tightly fitted joints is also susceptible to root intrusion, but to a much lesser extent than older pipes made from cast iron, concrete, Orangeburg (fiber conduit), or clay.

Plumbing or drain cleaning service can effectively clear pipes of root masses and other clogs. These firms use powerful electromechanical machines that feature cutting blades on the end of a stiff rotating cable to clear any blockages found. This equipment will cut away roots or retrieve root masses when the cable is withdrawn from the pipe. Amazingly, the largest root mass ever recovered from a line by Roto-Rooter was 201 feet long and weighed 1,500 pounds! The removal took ten hours to complete at Soquel, California, in 1997.  

Tips to Avoid Household Flooding during Droughts 

  • Pay attention to slow household drains. If two or more drains are slow, the problem is probably in the main sewer.
  • If you have slow drains, maintain a watchful eye when the washing machine is operating to minimize the risk of localized flooding caused by backups.  
  • Treat slow drains with a plunger and over-the-counter or DIY clog-clearing products. If drainage doesn't show significant improvement, you probably have a main sewer clog. 
Sewer Drain Cleaning By The Book Plumbing
Sewer Drain Cleaning. Photo Credit: By The Book Plumbing
  • Hire a sewer & drain cleaning company to clean your sewer line mechanically.
Century Products Root Barrier Panel
Root Barrier Panel. Photo Credit: Century Products
  • If you have slow drains, regularly treat your sewer with a root-killing product like RootX. To use this product, flushed it down any toilet in your home. The product targets any roots in the plumbing on its way through your system. Some chemicals are harmful to the whole root system, and others only target specific roots and thus have minimal effect on the overall health of the tree. If you're interested in a chemical-free solution, consider using a root barrier system. These create physical barriers that redirect root growth downward instead of horizontally. So, with these, trees can be planted near sidewalks, driveways, and hardscapes that might otherwise be damaged by extensive root growth. If you aren't sure which option to choose, consult a plumbing technician. They will recommend products that are safe, environmentally responsible, and legal for use in your area.
  • Root killing chemicals take up to nine months to eliminate heavy root infestation, so they are most useful as inhibitors to re-growth after a professional cleaning.
  • Some plumbers can inspect your sewer main using an in-line fiber-optic video camera snake. This service is a cost-effective way of determining whether your pipes have already sustained damage due to root intrusion. 
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-09-30T13:38:59+0000