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March 30, 2021

How to Keep Tree Roots Out of Stormwater, Sewer Pipes & Drains? 

Let's face it; collectively, the world is a better place with lush forests, native trees, and, from a liveability standpoint - wonderful tailored household gardens.

Trees provide excellent protection against the intense Australian sun during warmer months and can even stabilize temperatures in cooler periods.

And, much like bringing home a new four-legged family member, a modest plant may grow into a rather substantial beast, or in some circumstances eventuating into something uncontrollable.

The Pied Plumber Sydney suggests conducting a relatively small amount of due diligence and brief research before planting trees.

Australian drought-stricken climate periods with nutrient-poor soils – Particularly in warmer months, trees will literally scour below ground in search of stable water nourishment. Given on average, a residing household family member will use 300 Litres per day split between:

  • All personal plumbing fixture use
  • Household cleaning
  • Dishwasher and Washing Machine use
  • Garden irrigation


  • Tree roots in pipes
  • Tree roots in sewer pipes
  • Tree roots in drains
  • Tree roots in Stormwater pipes

There's little wonder why a desperate tree root struggling to survive would look no further than a sewer line!

Even stormwater pipes can block and become perfect environments for roots to hang about. In contrast with sewer services, the fundamentals for root growth in stormwater lines remains prevalent. These include:

  • Leaf matter trapped within these pipes create perfect nutrient-based food for root absorption
  • Damp, moist and oxygenated airflow
  • Unobstructed, free reign for roots to grow!

So, you may ask – How the bloody hell did it get into my drainage?

Over the years, we've seen it all! To break this down, let's talk pipes!

Earthenware Clay:

These are pipes that 'back in the day' required some pretty impressive workmanship to install. Interestingly enough, such infrastructure is still widespread in Sydney. Earthenware plumbing operates on the premise of male and female joints that span an average 900mm pipe length.

Originally, what sealed these joints were what we refer to as 'doughnut' rings which are roughly 18mm thick round rubber gaskets. To complete the joint, cement was thereafter poured into their respective sockets.

But, how do roots get in?

Rubber does have a shelf life before chemically breaking down, and anything cement-based, just like us, never stops aging! In this case, it'll continue curing for the rest of its lifespan before eventually cracking apart.

After 30-50 years, both sealing points around the earthenware pipe are susceptible to root entry.

PVC sewer and stormwater grade pipe:

Most Australian properties constructed post-1980, and even some dating as far as 1960, will more than likely have PVC drainage pipework. Similar to their earthenware counterparts, PVC has a rated life expectancy of around 50 years; however, manufacturers have predicted that PVC-u resins can last up to 100 years in optimum conditions.

The advantage of PVC piping is that there's no deteriorable rubber gaskets or cement joints. PVC sewer and stormwater pipes connect through a series of fittings, and, in conjunction with correct installation methods – primer and glue allow a chemical reaction to occur that enables fittings to fuse as one.

In theory, PVC may not incur a single joint for 6-metre length spans.

Tree roots otherwise are susceptible to enter within a PVC pipe as a direct result of the following:

  • Incorrect installation method. This includes fittings that are not approved for use in Australia, poor plumbing design, and quality of workmanship.
  • Root growth below ground capable of lifting or crushing pipework
  • Ground movement or terrain shifting may split a PVC pipe or joint
  • Excessive use of corrosive chemicals capable of weakening PVC-u structure.

Most roots enter through joints, PVC wins the piping battle by having fewer of them

What can be done to limit root growth around your critical drainage pipework in two simple steps: 

tree roots in pipes

Step 1 - Mapping out your services:

Before planting a tree or shrub, it's usually a good idea to beforehand be in 'the know-how'. Most sewer services are outlined in your house sale contracts within your service sewer diagram.

If unattainable, these records can be purchased online through Sydney Water.

Meanwhile, stormwater can be tricky to ascertain plans as there's no legal requirement to have such documentation provided in-house sales.

Although, not to worry – Stormwater infrastructure is generally far easier for a plumber to layout and access.

Calling in a Plumber for repairing blocked stormwater systems and to assist in mapping your services once and for all before planning that dream garden is always our recommendation at The Pied Plumber.

Step 2 – Research, Research, and implement

Google is a fantastic tool, it's probably how to come across this page! You'll also find search engines to assist in the following questions.

  • What to plant?
  • Where to plant?
  • Plant species with deep root systems?

The general rule – lean towards shallow root shrubs if planting directly on top of your plumbing, and if planting nearby, research - slow growth shallow root trees.

Trees to absolutely avoid:

  • Maple Trees
  • All Willow Tree variants
  • Elm Trees
  • Fig Trees
  • The notorious Camphor Laurel, or as we'd like to call it – 'The death-star tree' – whilst common throughout the Sydney region, this introduced tree species may look the part from above; however, as they say – it's what's inside that counts. You'll regret this one!

Still, need a Plumber?

Reading a "how-to" guide on avoiding tree root intrusion within your plumbing may be an after-thought. Perhaps you are experiencing root invasion in your pipes; thus, researching what to plant is somewhat irrelevant.

At The Pied Plumber, we know clogs, gurgly pipes, trees, and roots! The key is to have this assessed in a timely manner, as these prevalent plumbing issues rarely fix themselves. Hire blocked drain plumbers for expert assistance. 

Our attendance can often save pipes from excavation and may even result in simple maintenance plans, protecting you and your property in the future.

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