YOU’VE AUGERED the main line with both a retriever and root-cutting head; removed a bundle of tree roots; and you’ve convinced the owner to pay for a video inspection of his drain line from the home’s cleanout to the street. The color video image is crystal clear, and in it you can show the homeowner how well your sewer-cleaning equipment cut away the bulk of the tree roots.
A videotape will record the progression, with the on-screen footage counter indicating distance traveled from the camera’s entry point. All that’s left of the root intrusion are a few very short stubs — hardly enough to present an opportunity for snagging normal waste products — yet.
If your video inspection equipment purchase included a locator (May, pg. 40), you can accurately pinpoint the camera’s location and depth. Prior to having the locator, you were limited to general location by measuring the length of cables used to reach the clog, which was typically within a few feet of accuracy, and depth could be generally determined by removing the nearest cleanout (when they could be located). Kind of like doing surgery with a butter knife!
Homeowners today want more precision and they expect a bigger bang for their hard earned buck. The number of requests we’ve received from customers to provide video inspection service has mushroomed, which is what drove our decision to invest in this expensive technology.
The reality is that the tree has already begun sending out new root cells. You can almost hear them shouting, “I’ll be back.” Future clogs are a certainty unless you take preventive measures.
In the past, you’ve offered three primary solutions:
- Regularly scheduled line cleaning;
- Excavation and replacement of the affected portion(s) of the drain; or
- Chemical dosing using any number of “root terminator” products. Most contain copper sulfate pentahydrate at concentrations of 99%.
The MSDS sheet indicates great care must be exercised to protect exposed skin, eyes and mucus membranes. Some areas of the country prohibit the use of products containing this chemical. A survey of the plumbing wholesalers in my area found only products with CSP.
Generally speaking, the instructions call for a dosage to be flushed down the line using sufficient water to carry the CSP to the root infestation — not exactly an exact science!
Other products designed to kill off tree roots are available using alternative chemicals. A few include foaming action to ensure total drain line wall contact. Residual effects can last for a few hours or days, but as with CSP products, repeat dosages will be necessary.
Mark Eatherton, who writes the monthly hydronics column for CONTRACTOR, had an interesting idea for treating his own drain line with CSP. He has a condensing boiler (about 1 gal. of condensate is produced for each 100,000 Btu of gas burned in high-efficiency condensing appliances), and he’s planning on letting the condensate pass through a bed of CSP nuggets just as it enters the drain line. Instead of a one-time extreme dosage, his roots will be treated to a daily visit from the root police. His creative juices are always flowing!
Excavation with line replacement is one method that offers an almost permanent solution. Because it’s so expensive and disruptive, many homeowners elect to sign on for routine cleaning instead. Any excavation more than 4 ft. in depth requires the use of shoring, and no one younger than 18 years old is permitted to be working in a trench.
The problem with chemical treatments is that we’re attacking the problem after the roots have gained entry. The ideal solution would be to treat them before they get into the pipe.
I came across some interesting tools in the back of our 104-year-young warehouse that gave rise to an interesting thought. A number of augers, in a variety of diameters, ranging in length from a few feet to more than 6 ft., have sat idle for decades. I’m not sure what their intended use was, but I know what they’ll be used for in the coming years.
Now that we have the ability to pinpoint the precise location and depth to root entry points, we’ll use an auger to “drill” a hole wide enough to insert a PVC tube to within a few inches over the roots. Once in place with a threaded brass cap or plug at or slightly below grade, with the tube’s bottom remaining open, we’ll pour in some CSP crystals and follow that with a dose of water. Accurate mapping should enable us to offer a drive-by, low-cost treatment plan with a follow-up video inspection in a year to see firsthand if this method works, as logic would dictate it should.
This is an extended service you can offer your customers to maintain their peace of mind. Moreover, they now won’t need to keep or handle additional chemicals in their homes.
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler Inc., a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].
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