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MIKE'S LIFE: The root cause

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Mike Gibbons

As a general rule of thumb, I like to keep tree roots outside of my house.

So you can imagine my delight when we were having our flooring done and found that, in a corner of the den, we very much had tree roots growing very much inside of our house.

Now, it’s not like it was some massive thing the size of a baseball bat underneath the flooring. Rather, it was some spindly strands that would have never been seen had we not pulled up the flooring. At least not until they started growing toward the size of a baseball bat.

We saw they were coming through the baseboards through a small hole they had created slowly over time, like a Shawshank Redemption homage in the side of my house.

We went to the side of the house to see where the root was coming from. It turns out, there was a tremendous buildup of dirt behind our HVAC unit. Now, lest you think I was just negligent over routine maintenance, it’s pretty clear this had been that for a while. Probably long before we moved here. It’s not the thing that jumps out at you. Or at least not to me.

I started digging it out as best I could, until I quickly learned that I really did not fit well behind the unit, and neither did a normal sized shovel.

I went to the store and got a smaller trench shovel, hoping that would speed up the process. Based on the amount of dirt I was able to get out per shovel load, I estimated I would be finished digging everything out around the year 2620.

My wife soon came out and we began assessing the problem. Our neighbors, who are wonderful and often assist us with yard tasks, came over to lend a hand too. In short order, it was apparent the wives fit behind the unit, and the husbands definitely did not. For the next hour or so, the two of them took turns behind the unit, mainly using garden trowels and handsaws, slowly but steadily moving out bucket after bucket of dirt and handful after handful of roots. I felt very helpful and worthwhile by merely taking handfuls of roots that were being pulled out and piling them up. I did later bag them, which I will say was a mighty big task.

By the time we (they) had cleared it all out, we had removed about 8 inches of dirt all around the unit and enough roots to fill up 1½ bags lawn bags. At one point, we even removed a root that was approaching baseball bat size using an electric saw. Prior to cutting the roof, I said to my wife, “I guess it’s from that oak. Shouldn’t be a problem for the tree.” Based on the look my wife gave me, roots coming into the house took away any sympathy for what might happen to a tree that was invading us.

And, most importantly, we identified the origin of the entry. (It was not, sadly, a Raquel Welch poster, so that part of the homage was really lacking.)

In short order we had the hole sealed and the baseboards back in place, which should keep our house root free for the time being. I will also monitor the edges of the HVAC unit on a regular basis to ensure that the dirt is not building up again. And if it does, I will be ready to stand there and watch as other people who fit behind it get it out.

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