Root excavation with air tools?


New Member
I have a large (40" DBH) Oregon white oak in good condition with no visible defects. There is a house proposed to be built within its critical root zone. I would like to use air excavation (air spade) to expose the trees roots to have a better idea of the impact the building will have on the trees health and stability.

I've heard some concerns about using an air spade within a residential zone due to it's noise and pollution. I have also heard concerns about how excavating the roots with an air tool could damage the tree and cause it to become dangerous.

Would a back hoe or a stump grinder be a more appropriate tool?

What do you think?


Well-Known Member
There are three main ways you can evaluate the roots: 1) excavation, 2) ground penetrating radar, 3) Rinntech Arbortom with root testing add-on. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Root excavation can be done by air spade or air knife (and vacuum) which is very dirty or hydrovac which is more money but cleaner. In both cases you need to be careful you do not strip the roots. This method has the advantage of being able to prune the roots.

GRP will give you a pretty good idea of the location of larger roots.

Arbortom with root testing add-on will map the locations of larger anchoring roots quickly.

Backhoes and stump grinders are great for killing trees not preserving them.
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Very stable member
A 185 SCFM diesel powered compressor in good working order makes less noise than just about any stump grinder or chainsaw, so I wouldn't be too worried about sound levels. If you irrigate the area to be pneumatically excavated to field capacity the day prior to the work being performed and put up a vertical mesh barrier like a stump-guard prior to beginning the excavation, and drape tarps over any nearby windows etc, the work can be done with minimal impact from aerosol soil particles.


Well-Known Member
Good advice so far. How far from the trunk are we talking about? Machines are wonderful, but shovels can excavate with minimal damage, if used with care.

I got to check out the root thingy on the Arbotom after Biomechanics Week.
Cool tool!


New Member
Its a small city lot so there is not a lot of wiggle room. I'm basically trying to see if the tree can be saved if we built with a pier foundation around the roots.

The Arbortom is a new one to me. I'll look into it.

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