The Roots Of The Problem

by Josh on June 15, 2006 · 3 comments

in Basement,Journal

We had a visit from Sewergal yesterday to snake our drain which had once again clogged with roots from an old tree in the backyard and caused a backup in our basement. The first time we met Sewergal was Christmas Eve, 2004, when our sewer backed up the first time, just two months after we bought the house, and we should’ve seen the signs and symptoms of a troubled tree way back then.

On that first visit, Sewergal removed root knuckles over 1.5″ in diameter from the drain and warned us to have the line snaked preventatively every year. We meant to take her advice, of course, but we found a lot of other things competing for our money and attention around the end of December so we put off the sewer cleaning. Then we forgot about it altogether.

So after Sewergal removed over 15 pounds of roots from our drain line this time she gave us a warning:

You’ve got to have this line cleaned every 12 months. I’m going to put you on my schedule for a year from now. If you let it get this bad again, you’ll probably need to have the line replaced.

Apparently our son’s “flushable” wipes for potty training weren’t helping matters either, so Sewergal banned them and recommended we use only a quick-dissolving tissue.

Sewer backups are no fun, and I certainly don’t want to pay for replacing the drain line sooner than necessary, so we’re taking Sewergal’s advice to heart. I am also certain that the source of the problem roots that have broken through the drain is the enormous lilac in the front yard. Since I pruned the largest stalks (some over 3″ in diameter) last winter, the bush has sent up a huge number of suckers this summer. I expect there has been a proportional amount of new root growth, too.

I’ve never really liked the lilac. Now that I can blame it for costing me an annual sewer bill and eventual sewer line replacement, I want to just cut it all down, grind out the stump, and swear off lilacs for good. Fragrant lilac blossoms in my front yard in exchange for fragrant sewage in my basement just don’t seem like a fair trade.

I’ll probably agonize over this decision, like I always do, but really this is only a question of timing. There is a limit to the number of times I can forcibly remove roots that have penetrated my drain tile. Eventually the damage from the roots or the roto-rooter will require me to replace the sewer line. To replace the sewer line, the lilac will need to be removed.

If I take out the lilac now, I could risk damage to the drain, creating the premature failure I’m trying to avoid. Or I could accept lilac roots in my sewer line as just another charming old-house quirk to be managed with scratchy toilet paper and an annual visit from Sewergal. An estimate for the cost of replacing the sewer line would help with this decision– I think I’ll look into that.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Stuccohouse June 15, 2006 at 2:14 pm

You aren’t the only one. I’m also “on the schedule” of the local Sewerguy.


Josh June 16, 2006 at 7:36 am

You too, Stucco? Hmmmm… I see a pattern. Could the Sewerpeople be colluding with local garden centers and the Mpls Park Board to plant woody shrubs and boulevard trees across the city that grow to damage sewer lines thereby creating an endless cycle of drain repair and tree replanting? It’s a conspiracy as dark and putrid as the sewer itself.


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