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Question DetailsAsked on 1/27/2015

How much should it cost to replace or repair a sewer break from tree roots right below a toilet?

Regular plumber showed via camera the toilet clog is due to small tree roots in the sewer line directly below the toilet, possibly in the closet line or the slope line, but not in the main sewer line. The tree roots are not affecting an adjoining half bath toilet draining properly or the vent stack.

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3 Answers


Depends of course on your specific configuration. Hopefully he identified (with the camera) the joint that the roots are coming in through, and used a root cutter or full-diameter scraper to clear out the pipe so it will work for you until repaired.

Sometimes just using Root-X once or twice a year will control the roots for you if just coming in through a joint (typically in cast iron or clay pipe), as opposed to a broken pipe.

Tearing out concrete floor, repairing the pipe, and backfilling the pipe with sand and then patching the concrete hole typically $500 plus - rarely below $400 even if you know exactly where problem is. Can run closer to $1000 if problem area passes through/under wall or if in rebar reinforced slab which need rebar replacement after cut-out (as opposed to wire mesh, which is more normal).

Sometimes Plumber will do entire job, sometimes they want you to get in a concrete contractor to cut the slab and later come back and repair it. You want the plumber there during the cutting to specify if a longer run needs to be cut out because there is brokenn pipe.

If using independent concrete cutter, be sure plumber visit is coordinated, because once the slab is cut you may well hit a pool of sewage, and depending on your line slope and cleanliness (if not recently routed out full diameter) you can get backup through the floor when water is run/flushed in the house, so plumber needs to be there to handle it immediately.

When I said plumber - you might alternatively be talking a Sewer and Drain contractor who does repairs as well as cleaning.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


Thank you for the answer. Upon seeing the camera inspection, there is not a break, per se, in the pipe. The small roots infiltrated through the connection between the cast iron flange and the pvc closet bend.

If this issue can be controlled with clearing out the roots and maintenance with Root-X, why go through the tear-out?

The first quote was $1600, which is much higher than the information given in the answer. For an estimated 8 hr. job, the hourly rate of $200 is above market rates that I am finding on Angie's List.

Answered 4 years ago by Guest_9784758


The $1600 does sound high - but if that was a firm not-to-exceed quote as opposed to an estimate, and included repairing the concrete, then the contractor probably went conservative and quoted a whole day's work, figuring it would probably actually take 3-4 hours in most cases. The $200 per hour rate is high unless you are in one of the urban areas with very high plumber rates - some NYC, Boston, Frisco, West LA urban/suburban areas for examples. I would get another couple of quotes, explaining what was found with the camera.

Since this is NOT blocking your main sewer stack, just the one toilet, you have the option of trying to keep up with Root-X (at about $20-30/application for the material) once it has been routed out full diameter with a full-diameter scraper cutterhead. Sewer and drain cleaner contractors have these, some plumbers only have snakes which only punch a hole through the clog without cleaning to full diameter - you need full diameter cutting to have a prayer of staying ahead of it. You have to keep up with the applications because the Root-X kills the roots but does not dissolve them significantly, so if they get ahead of you and grow into the sewer even if you kill them they are still there to build up to another blockage. Therefore, until it starts plugging up again (so about $100-200 to remove toilet and scrape them back flush with pipe wall again and remount toilet) you don't really know if you are talking needing applications every 3, 6, 9, or 12 months. Commonly 6 months in bad cases, 12 in probably most cases. So - it might be a decision between try it and see and maybe pay the $100-200 every few years to get them routed back out till you find what frequency of use is needed - versus a permanent fix by digging it up, dosing the soil with copper sulfate (but NOT right up against the pipe to reduce corrosion from the sulfate), putting a metal-sleeved splice or pipe coupling in, then reburying. Of course - if redoing the connection, you do not need to scrape out the roots - they will be removed when the connection is taken apart.

If you do fix it, the question arises on how to do the connection - and the $1600 price may relate to this if the plumber who quoted you figured replacing the rubber coupling with regular pipe joints. Just using a Fernco or similar rubber sleeve connector over the joint will probably lead to the same root intrusion issue in the future, as mentioned above. What I would do, which is a fair bit more work and requires a bit more opening up of the floor, is to remove the existing ABS from the cast iron (cut back a foot or so), and install a cast iron stub threaded adapter section with compatible threads to join to the ABS, and connect them using an ABS glue-on threaded coupling to join them - eliminating the rubber coupling entirely. There are also hub adapters which are compression fittings designed to seal cast iron to ABS pipe, but I am not enamored of them - particularly on old cast iron pipe as it would have to be cleaned up well to seal right. The threaded joints can be made up with teflon-containing plumbers dope - regular type does not seem to work at all well with plastic to metal connections. A century-old plumber once advised me that ABS cement to seal the joint works better (which makes snese, because it is liquid so does not ravel out as the joint is made up), and probably makes a more leak-tight seal even though the bond to the metal is surface only, not chemically fused. I do know roots will go through teflon tape, which also tends to get shredded on cast iron threads. The downside to this solution is, to avoid the rubber coupling, is it requires a plumber who knows how to make a good quality leaded cast iron horizontal joint to put the threaded stub piece onto the existing cast iron pipe because plumbers with field experience doing leaded joints are a dying breed. You are likely to have to get either a 60 year old plumber, or one with highrise plumbing experience where cast iron is still more common.

One cost factor issue - if you dig up the pipe yourself and do the concrete patch yourself using sackcrete (NOT encapsulating the pipe - surround it with sand), that should cut your plumber cost in half or more. Just be careful not to break through into the sewer pipe if you can avoid it - though since this is not the main trunk that is nowhere as much of an issue as would lose only the use of this toilet, not the whole house system until the plumber can get to the repair job. Of course, if you DIY the excavation, do not arrange for him to come until you actually have the pipe opened up as much as he says he wants, so you don't pay for a needless service call if you don't happen to get it done by the appointment time.

And of course, if you don't know how deep your water table is and you do not have a sump pump or floor underdrain system opeating, when excavating start with a small hole through the concrete that can easily be plugged with a wood plug, just in case the water table is higher than the slab and you end up needing a pump to dewater during the work. Not common, but I have seen cases where a plumber broke thorugh a tightly sealed foundation slab and ended up with a 1-2 foot fountain gushing up. Wrecks havoc on finished basements.

One other reason people do not go the Root-X route is if you have any lowest-level shower or tub or floor drains, you generally have to plug them with rubber expansion plugs while doing the Root-X treatment, because when it foams it can push up through traps on the bottom level. Not a bit deal - plugs are about $5-15 each depending on drain size, and just a minute or so each to put in - but more of a hassle than many people want.

I would also be looking at where the tree roots are coming from - not only for this sewer but also with respect to your foundation integrity. I would try to locate the source and intercept them 5-10 feet out from the foundation and cut them off there, treating the soil at that location with copper sulfate to inhibit regrowth. Of course, while most roots are in the top 1-2 feet of the surface, large oaks, elms, sycamores, and similar large trees have been known to put out main feeder roots as deep as 15 feet below the surface, so you might do a bit of research on tree type and root depth. Of course, soil type matters too - if in shallow bedrock or nutrient-poor rocky or clean gravelly soil or you have a clay hardpan or caliche layer near the surface, the roots might be quite shallow. Ditto if water level if quite shallow.

And of course, cutting back a major root, especially if near the tree and with a large-rooted tree type that only has a few major roots, could risk the tree coming down in the next major windstorm. If roots are coming from a shrub like Azalea, Cottoneaster, Rhododendron or similar root-crazy bush planted near the house (some put out incredible root masses for up to 50 feet) it might take killing that off with a kill-all plant killer to stop the roots.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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