Troublesome Tree Roots and Sewer Pipes

We all love our trees but it is important to remember that underground, any tree’s root system can spread rapidly.


Typically tree roots are fairly shallow with the majority of the root system found in the top 60cm of soil and the roots can spread far beyond the spread of the branches as they stretch out in search of oxygen and nutrients.

Spreading tree roots can damage drains and sewer pipes. When this happens   it can cause blocked pipes, sewerage to back up in the home and reduce drainage; causing a problem for your own property and sometimes interfering with your neighbour’s system too.

Let’s check out some facts about troublesome tree roots and sewer pipes.

Who is responsible for tree root damage to drains UK?

The owner of the tree is responsible for tree root damage. So if this occurs in your own property, it is down to you to take steps to clear the blockage. You may be covered by your buildings insurance which covers underground services such as drains cables and tanks.

If your tree has damaged your neighbour’s property, you will be liable for damages under the law of nuisance.  This means that if your neighbour complains that your tree root is blocking their drain, it is important to keep them onside and deal with the issue as soon as possible.

grey down pipe blocked with tree roots

Will drain cleaner remove roots?

Although tree roots can block drains and sewer pipes, they rarely cause the initial damage. A tree root will only enter the drain or sewer pipe if it is cracked or damaged already. If the pipework is watertight and in good condition the tree root will usually grow round it without impacting the system. Therefore, the best thing to do to prevent tree root damage is to keep your drains maintained.

It is important to remember that if your drain has suffered a blockage because of tree roots, removing the tree is unlikely to fix the problem. In this case you need to consult a drainage expert to rectify the issues with your damaged pipe work such as by repairing the lining. If you do not, it is likely that other vegetation and other tree roots will cause a repeat of the problem.

It seems unfair that tree roots get the blame for causing all the damage to pipe work and drainage systems, but as the law stands, the responsibility of a blocked pipe comes down to the owner of the tree, rather than the owner of a defective drainage system.

Always get some professional advice about drainage before you act

It is important to get some professional advice before you do anything about your troublesome tree roots. Many trees are cut down each year in order to placate neighbours or remove a potential problem to your own property, yet in many cases the fault lies with dodgy pipework rather than tree roots.


Written by local arborist Andrew Edgar [Orchard Tree Surgery and Maintenance].


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