Root Management: Strategies for Preventing Pipe Obstruction

Sewer and water pipe in an excavated trench deep in the ground, close up. Sewerage and water system repair concept.
  • Author: Fazal Umer
  • Posted On: December 13, 2023
  • Updated On: December 13, 2023

Proactive Root Management: Strategies for Preventing Pipe Obstruction

If Earth had as much gravity as outer space, a plant or tree’s roots would grow in all directions. But bound by this invisible force, they’re forced to expand deeper into the ground as they absorb more water and nutrients. That may sound good, but it’s bad news for any pipe in the way.

Seeing that roots growing outward can bust through concrete and rock, it goes without saying that they’re strong enough to damage plumbing. Before you realize the full extent of the issue, your home may already be experiencing everything from low water pressure to a high water bill due to the resulting leakage. On that note, parts of your garden might flood or sink.

If you love growing a literal forest in your yard, keeping roots away from critical plumbing is necessary. Preventing pipe obstruction starts with awareness of the symptoms.

Learn key indications

Even though roots grow downward, they do so in a broad spread. Whether a young petunia or an old oak tree, their roots will cover so much ground that encroachment on the pipe is practically a guarantee. This phenomenon is essential for a plant’s survival, as it lets them reach out to more sources of water and nutrients.

The rate of growth is nothing to scoff at, either. Experts say roots grow the fastest during warmer months (between 20°C and 25°C, depending on the species), with two to three inches growing before the shoot. Within two weeks, their depth can reach up to six inches. In most cases, their growth peaks at around two feet.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to estimate how deep the roots have gone without digging holes now and then, which is impractical. The most viable method involves looking for subtle hints of possible root intrusion, which include but not limited to:

  • Drains and sinks taking unusually too long to drain
  • Undesirable odors emanating from the drains
  • Gurgling noises when draining water or flushing
  • Clogging problems recur far too frequently
  • Fluctuating water levels in the toilet

You can learn more about these from a plumbing service specializing in root management. Any of these signs manifesting should be enough to warrant calling a professional to resolve them before they worsen.

Enclose pipes in root barriers

Root barriers are walls planted underground to prevent roots from growing into critical building foundations. Taking advantage of the roots’ tendency to reach for their food, these subterranean walls are made from inorganic materials like plastic. Contact with such materials can dissuade them from growing in that direction.

Engineers generally plan the installation of root barriers in new constructions, especially when the site is close to huge trees. While the roots will eventually reach the bottom end of the wall and extend parallel to the surface again, gravity will force most future growth downward.

There are some arguments against the use of root barriers, insisting that they impede a plant or tree’s growth by keeping them away from their much-needed food. Certainly a downside, but unless they’ve hit the bedrock far below, the roots will keep expanding as long as there’s soil.

On that note, proper installation is necessary to protect the plant and plumbing. There’s almost no need for the barrier to reach beyond the two-foot propagation zone. Also, a barrier that sits too far below defeats its purpose, as it’ll let surface roots extend along the surface.

Prefer non-invasive plants (if possible)

This next tip won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For starters, what you choose to plant in your yard is a matter of preference. As such, you can’t be blamed for wanting to have a citrus tree whose roots are known for growing aggressively, but more on that later.

If you don’t mind having plants or trees with less aggressive or small rootage, it can help reduce the risk of overgrowth around the pipes. They can also be placed on planters to contain their root growth. Several examples include:

  • Amur maple
  • Crape myrtle
  • Crabapples
  • Hollywood juniper
  • Kousa dogwood
  • Red tip photinia
  • Star magnolia

That said, if you’re dead set on wanting an in-house supply of oranges or grapefruits, taking a few precautions is never a bad idea. Most citrus trees’ primary roots grow up to three feet, but some can reach up to 10 feet (18 feet on rare occasions). They would need to be planted quite a distance from the house and any underground pipes, preferably:

  • 15 feet for dwarf citrus trees
  • 20 feet for semi-dwarf ones
  • 40 feet for full-sized varieties

All this assumes your place has sufficient real estate to accommodate a tree. As this article has made clear at this point, placing a tree next to the plumbing or foundation is a recipe for disaster. 


Roots have no business being or creeping close to your water mains. If left unchecked, they can wreak serious havoc on your plumbing and deny much-needed water for daily use. Be proactive in ensuring this doesn’t become a major headache in the long term with these strategies. 

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Author: Fazal Umer

Fazal is a dedicated industry expert in the field of civil engineering. As an Editor at ConstructionHow, he leverages his experience as a civil engineer to enrich the readers looking to learn a thing or two in detail in the respective field. Over the years he has provided written verdicts to publications and exhibited a deep-seated value in providing informative pieces on infrastructure, construction, and design.