DEAR BARRY: We moved into our home about three months ago, and this week we had a professional inspection of the septic system. The septic contractor found a large mass of tree roots in the tank and recommended that we flush about 10 pounds of copper sulfate down the toilet. He said this would eventually kill the roots. I'm concerned that the copper sulfate won't get rid of the roots, or that it might harm or kill the two large trees in my front yard. What do you recommend? --James
DEAR JAMES: Your septic contractor has advised you correctly. Tree roots can be removed mechanically, but copper sulfate is a lot simpler and much less costly. Copper sulfate crystals can be flushed down the toilet to destroy existing roots or discourage the growth of new ones. The effect is not immediate, but when copper sulfate makes contact with tree roots, it gradually kills them and causes them to break off and decompose. Be aware, however, that this is not a permanent solution. As long as trees are located near the septic system, roots will continue to invade. Therefore, periodic treatment with copper sulfate will be necessary to maintain a root-free septic tank. By the way, trees are not typically harmed by copper sulfate.
To protect the bacterial environment in your system, no more than two applications of copper sulfate per year are recommended. For best results, schedule the application to allow minimum dilution and maximum contact time. For example, you could flush the copper sulfate just before leaving on a weekend vacation.
The recommended dosage rate for copper sulfate is two pounds per 300 gallons of tank capacity. Since your contractor recommended 10 pounds of material, your tank capacity must be 1,500 gallons. Be sure to confirm this.
When using copper sulfate, try to avoid contact with chrome, iron or brass, as it tends to corrode these metals. For further information regarding septic system maintenance, visit the Web site at www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/C819-3.html.
DEAR BARRY: I hired a home inspector before buying my condo. He stated that the water heater was in good condition. Two months later, it sprung a major leak, damaging my unit and the one below. Is my home inspector liable for this damage? --Andrea
DEAR ANDREA: There are a number of variables that can affect home inspector liability when a water heater leaks. To begin, no one knows for sure when a water heater will eventually fail, although it usually happens when the fixture is 5-10 years old. If your water heater was five or more years old, this should have been pointed out by the inspector as an indication that the fixture might have limited life. If any aspect of the water heater's condition was not optimal or if it was not correctly installed, this should have been disclosed as well.
The fact that the leakage caused so much damage indicates that the fixture may not have had an overflow pan. When a water heater is installed in a location that is subject to moisture damage, a pan is required. If a pan had been installed, with an overflow pipe to the exterior, leakage at the water heater might not have damaged the building. The lack of a pan should have been disclosed by your inspector.
Regardless of whether the home inspector is liable, your homeowners insurance and your neighbor's insurance will hopefully cover the costs of repairing water damage to the building.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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