Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Tree Root Infiltration?

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Tree ring (Photo: @michie.gram via Twenty20)
The water in your sink swirls slowly, then eventually seeps down the drain. In the next room, flushing the toilet results in a messy overflow. It appears your drain line is blocked. If there’s a tree between your home and the street, there’s a chance its roots have clogged up your septic line.
How do tree roots enter the drain line, and what can you do about it? And does homeowners insurance cover the water damage or repairs due to tree root infiltration? Here’s what you need to know.

How tree roots infiltrate the drain line

Tree roots are drawn to moist, nutrient-rich soil. It’s in this soil that they can thrive, and the discharge from your home is perfect for them. If the sewer line has a small fracture or the joints aren’t completely watertight, vapors and fluids will attract roots from nearby trees.
What starts as a tiny tendril snaking through a microscopic opening grows slowly. The root can often force open a gap in the pipe and build a labyrinth of spindly roots inside. Over time, it can block much of the flow away from your home and, worse yet, act as a filter, capturing all the debris the water contains. That’s how sewer lines become blocked.

Not a covered repair with standard policies

A standard home insurance policy covers repairs that are sudden and accidental. Unfortunately, tree roots are neither. The damage they inflict on your sewer line is not likely to be covered for the pipe repair for tree root infiltration.
A select few insurers may cover the associated water damage due to water backing up, but most do not have that type of coverage detailed in the limitations. You could be on your own to cover expenses related not just to the water damage but to the pipe repair itself, totaling thousands of dollars.

A rider might be available

Some insurers, such as American Family Insurance, offer an extra rider for sewer line coverage. This type of endorsement or rider can cover you for the costs to repair the sewer line itself. Since the repair involves excavating a section of the pipe, fixing the break, removing the root infiltration, backfilling, and landscaping, it’s coverage that can save you huge unexpected costs.

How to prevent tree root infiltration

“The best offense is a good defense.” Rather than attacking the problem, address it before it becomes a major repair. These four tips can help prevent tree root infiltration.
Don’t plant trees near a sewer line. Plain and simple, don’t plant any trees within 10 yards of your sewer line. Consider moving any young trees that could pose a potential issue in the coming years.
Have slow drains inspected right away. If you’re experiencing a slow drain or strange noises from your plumbing, have a plumber inspect it sooner rather than later. It could be a plugged P-trap or buildup in your plumbing that can be easily fixed, or it could signal the early stages of root infiltration.
Kill the root structure. If there’s a chance you have tree roots infiltrating your sewer line, tackle it early. Using a product like RootX can kill the root structure and clear out the line.
Have a plumber clean out the tree roots. Catching the problem early can allow for preventative maintenance and root removal before it blocks the line. A plumber can auger out roots before they completely block the service line and backup raw sewage into your home.