Tree Roots Can Damage Sewer Lines, Crack Foundations and Concrete Slabs – What To Do

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Published: August 6, 2014 Last Updated: November 29, 2020
Tree roots

Occasionally tree roots will crack, damage or block a sewer line, a yard drain line or crack a foundation or concrete slab. Different types of trees have different root systems, some may be more prone to clogging a sewer line, i.e. a ficus tree and others to cracking a slab or foundation, i.e. Willow, Oak, etc.

First – Don’t jump conclusions that a nearby tree root has caused the problem

Sewer lines may get blocked by:

  • Old cast iron sewer lines may have rusted through and that has caused the blockage.
  • Old concrete sewer lines may have simply deteriorated over the years and just needs to be replaced.
  • Soils that have settled or moved over the years may have caused the sewer line to be damaged and cracked.

1. Blockage in drain and sewer lines caused by tree roots

Are the roots blocking drain lines or have they found their way into the sewer line? This can be difficult to tell. Sticking a hose into exterior drains and checking for flow can be of some help in checking yard drains. For sewer lines, there are plumbing companies that will come out and run a small video camera though the lines looking for damage or roots. Some of these companies will even give you a CD of the process! (more about videoing sewer lines)


2. Roots pushing up on walks, drives & foundations

At times roots, as they grow and get bigger, will exert pressure on walkways, drives and foundations. When this condition exist, it is sensible to trim the roots back, remove the tree or do other things that will reduce or eliminate the roots from continued growth and stop them from causing future damage.

Remember that cracked drive ways, foundations and slabs may not be always be from tree roots of nearby trees. They may be from soils settling over time or from expansive soils, expanding or sometimes expanding and contracting over dry and wet seasonal changes.

What To Do

Consult an “Arborist.”  An arborist is a professional who is knowledgeable about plants and trees. They can provide meaningful information about tree roots, there growth patterns, the damage they can cause and what to do if a tree roots are causing damage to sewer lines, foundations, concrete slabs, driveways, etc.

Roots shields or barriers

Nursery’s, garden centers and home improvement centers often carry various root barriers and shield products. These products are designed to redirect or change the root directions and help prevent them from getting under walks, drives or foundations. Consulting with specialist at these businesses will often give you a variety of solutions.



Avoid cutting a neighbors tree roots without permission, since you do not want to kill their tree. In many states, killing a neighbors tree by cutting the roots on your property side may lead to some complicated legal issues.  Having a good relationship with your neighbor and getting his permission before you start cutting the roots or branches to his tree is best. Should this not work, then checking with an attorney before taking drastic actions could help keep you out of trouble.

Who to consult? Landscapers, gardeners and arborist

Trimming is usually done by gardeners and landscaping people. Under some condition an arborist are consulted when the health of the tree, safety or structural issues are present

Additional Resources

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