Fighting the Good Fight

A Colorado contractor takes up the charge in an ongoing battle with tree roots using cutting and treatment techniques
Fighting the Good Fight

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Operating out of its Denver County facility, Guildner Pipeline Maintenance cleans about one million feet of sewer line a year, and televises at least 700,000 feet.

In the process, owner Jerry Guildner’s crews have to deal with root intrusion in about 100,000 feet of that line. No matter what the treatment, roots will grow back. For Guildner, root control has been an important service since day one. Most customers are municipal, industrial and commercial.

Crews attack roots mainly with two chain knockers from KEG Technologies (Super 150 and Super 200), two Warthog nozzles from StoneAge Tools, and assorted root cutters from UEMSI. In addition, the company’s rigs are equipped for RootX chemical root treatment.

With the right equipment on board, the next challenge is making sure customers receive the best and most cost-effective procedure for their needs. Guildner crews make sure that once the roots are cut, the debris is removed from the system so that it doesn’t go down the line, collect on more roots or grease deposits, and cause a clog or backup.

The battle line

In the Denver area and throughout the state, sewer pipes tend to be clay or concrete, although some are PVC. After several years of drought, roots are growing deeper to find moisture, and they find their way into pipes flowing with nutrient-rich water. In clay and concrete pipe, the invaders enter through joints or tap connections.

“We also see cases where lines were laid through a high-mineral area,” says Guildner. “There are mineral deposits that can be as hard as concrete that have built up to an inch or an inch and a half around the joint. We cut those deposits for our customers. The difference here is that the mineral buildup has taken place over 20 or 30 years and won’t soon come back. Roots will grow back within two years, or longer with treatment.”

Removing mineral deposits is especially important when a pipe is to be lined. Mineral deposits and roots rarely occur in the same joint. In any case, roots are the more prevalent problem. Crews also have to deal with hard grease deposits. “We have had to use the root saw in some cases and even the chain knocker to get rid of grease and minerals,” Guildner says.

Guildner Pipeline has three Vac-Con combination trucks. Two units (2007 and 2001) have 1-inch hoses, 2,000 psi/65 gpm water systems, and 10-cubic-yard debris tanks. The other (1999) carries a 3/4-inch hose and has a 3,000 psi/30 gpm pump.

The company also owns a 1998 Hot Shot Jet Rodder from Vac-Con with 3/4-inch jet hose, 2,500 psi/30 gpm water system, and 1,600-gallon water tank. Also in the fleet are two inspection vans from Aries Industries Inc. and one from RS Technical Services.

Lines of defense

Guildner likes to give customers options for dealing with roots. He prefers cutting and then treating, although two-thirds of customers prefer cutting only.

“People don’t always believe in the process of treatment, and I understand that,” he says. “We suggest cutting the roots and then giving them six to eight weeks to sap out and then scab over. Then we go in and give the treatment. We let the roots get the hurt out and then go in and apply the foam. You get a better kill that way. The roots will grow back, but it will be three or four years rather than two if we just cut.

“We explain the benefits of treatment, and that we need to get into the routine and stay on a schedule. It takes time and the willingness to let it work.”

Treatment is a little more technical in the application, and Guildner has technicians specially trained and equipped. They jet up through the line, attach the applicator to the jet hose at the upper manhole, load the applicator with the product, and pull back as the foam is applied. The operator has to know the rate of retrieval and how much to load into the applicator for the length of pipe being treated.

Guildner reports that one customer has used the company’s cut-and-treat regimen for 15 years and has not seen a root-related backup in all that time.

Putting it all together

Mechanical methods work, too. Guildner is satisfied with the way modern root saws are designed and says there is little risk of damage to the pipe during the cutting process. The chain knockers are another matter.

“You need a good operator on it who knows how the equipment works,” says Guildner. “They have to know how much pressure to run through it, as it moves around in the pipe pretty quickly. The tool can shatter clay pipe if improperly handled. It’s sort of a learn-by-feel thing. You learn by practice. You can’t run it up to full pressure and have it spinning at 1,800 rpm. If you rev it up, it will bounce around and do damage.”

On a job, technicians watch the chain knocker with a camera to monitor its performance. “We put the jet nozzle in, jet up the line to the upper manhole, remove the nozzle and attach the chain knocker and pull it back without water,” says Guildner. “As we pull it back, we follow it with the camera.”

The root saw does a good job with 6- to 18-inch pipe. In clay and concrete pipe, crews use a spiral bit. In lined pipe or PVC, they attack with a flat or concave blade. “The tolerance in the hydraulic motors is so tight,” says Guildner. “If rust starts working up in the unit, it can freeze. That is the worst-case scenario. If it starts slowing and wearing down, you will not have the power in the saw, and you can’t cut the roots.”

Having proper nozzles is essential. In Colorado, contractors often have to pay for the water they use, and the right nozzles help control water usage and save money.

Take no prisoners

There are options for removing roots after they are cut. “We position a combination unit at the downstream manhole to suck the roots up as they come by,” says Guildner. “Sometimes we put in a mesh screen at the downstream side of the manhole. It has a 3/4-inch opening and water will flow through, but the roots will be caught. We can also put in a trap with a 90-degree bend at the downstream manhole to catch roots.”

On one project, Guildner Pipeline was asked to find a manhole that had been buried for many years in a district where the company had done little work. After locating the manhole, the crew went down 6 1/2 feet and found three feet of roots, which they removed using a reciprocating saw.

While dealing with the challenges of root removal, there is one thing Guildner always guarantees his customers: No matter what action is taken, chemical or mechanical, the roots will eventually and aggressively grow back. The question is, how to fight back and maintain the upper hand. That’s the job of Guildner Pipeline Maintenance – and it’s a job the company continues to do well in the arid desert regions of Colorado.


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