Everyone loves the look of a majestic tree in their front yard. They not only provide shade and beauty, but they also supply us with much-needed oxygen. But when they’re planted too close to the foundation, they can cause foundation problems.
Sometimes, tree root damage can mean thousands of dollars in repair costs to buildings, plumbing systems, and pavements.
However, not all trees pose a threat to your foundation. Pine trees, for instance, have almost no impact on your foundation. This is because their roots extend straight down into the soil.
Hardwoods such as oaks and elms are the most concerning trees. Unlike pine trees, oaks and elms have shallow roots which can potentially damage your foundation. They tend to grow pretty quickly – a trait that makes them extremely popular.
They grow quickly because they drain a lot of water from the soil. This then creates underground voids ultimately leading to stress on the foundation of your home. Without proper maintenance, this may require foundation repair. Don’t panic if your foundation is showing signs of damage. There are ways to remedy this.
1. Signs of Tree Roots Under Foundation
Your house slants towards a tree
Moisture loss can cause a house to slant towards trees. The side near the house settles because the tree draws out the moisture out of the soil. This causes the foundation to detach and shrink leading to its collapse.
Foundation damage near a tree
Most foundation damages are caused by adjacent trees. Some trees can draw as much as one hundred ninety gallons of water per day. This leaves the soil beneath your foundation without moisture leading to its collapse.
Foundation damage on the side that receives the most sunlight
Trees naturally require light to grow. Therefore, they get attracted to the area that receives the most sunlight. And the more trees there are in that area, the more roots they’ll produce.
2. Preventing and Fixing Tree Root Foundation Damage
To avoid foundation damage by trees, consider doing the following:
Don’t touch it
If a tree exists on your property and there’re no signs of damage, leave it be.
Do preventive landscaping
This is a cost-effective way to avoid damage by trees. Following are certain measures you can take:
- Trimming/cutting tree roots to prevent them from growing toward the foundation.
- Avoid planting shrubs or trees near the foundation
- Plant the right trees in your yard (those with non-invasive root system).
- Avoid planting trees that require a lot of water or those with roots that grow horizontally, ex: oak tree roots
Install root barriers
When you can’t remove a tree, the only option is to barricade it. Root barriers help avoid foundation settlement since they control the growth of roots near the foundation. Usually, root barricades are overlapping sheets of plastic. They help divert roots away from the foundation.
Install an irrigation drip line
Add water to the area around the trunk’s base if trees on your property seem to be sucking the surrounding soil dry. For an irrigation drip line to be effective, it needs to be installed several inches beneath the soil’s surface. Consider hiring professional services for this.
Get rid of it
If preventative methods fail, removing the tree would be the only option. Since tree removal can be dangerous and might cause damage to your property, it’s advisable to have professionals do it.
3. Can Roots Help with Your Home’s Foundation?
Surprisingly, they can. Trees often have vast root systems that spread out over a fairly long distance. Depending on where you live, the following are benefits of such root systems:
- Water drainage. Trees can help soak up extra moisture in regions with excessive heavy rainfall.
- Soil stabilization. If areas surrounding your home are sloped, extensive root systems can help prevent erosion.
These benefits notwithstanding, you must be strategic about landscaping – both with new and old trees:
- Consider installing a root barrier for tree roots that are already dangerously close to your house.
- Overestimate the distance needed for each sapling when planting new trees. Research the maximum height for whatever species of tree you’re planting, and multiply that figure by three. This’ll avoid any contact between future root systems and your home’s foundation.
4. Avoid Planting Trees with an Invasive Root System
It’s important to select trees that don’t have an invasive root system. Common trees with invasive roots include:
- Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) – Due to their shallow roots, avoid having Silver Maple adjacent to your sidewalks, driveways, and foundations. Also, it may suppress the growth of other plants, including grass.
- American Elm (Ulmus americana) – American Elms love moisture. Because of this, they often invade drain pipes and sewer lines.
- Willows (Salix sp.) – Similar to elms, these too are moisture-loving roots. The worst members of the willows include the Austree, Corkscrew, and Weeping. Due to their moisture cravings, they invade irrigation ditches and sewer and septic lines. They also have shallow roots that lift foundation, sidewalks, and other paved surfaces.
- Hybrid Poplars (Populus sp.) – These trees are popular because of their fast growth. Although they don’t make good landscape trees, they are valuable as a quick source of energy, pulpwood and lumber. The roots are shallow and they seldom live beyond 15 years.
5. Planting Precautions for Invasive Trees
Find out about the nature of a tree’s root system before planting it. As a rule of thumb, avoid planting a tree closer than ten feet from a home’s foundation. For invasive trees, experts’ advice planting them 25 to 50 feet of space away. Some tips to consider:
- Plant trees at least ten feet from patios, sidewalks and driveways and consider 20 to 30 feet for trees with spreading water-hungry roots.
- Plant trees with non-invasive roots
The perfect tree should grow to a manageable size, won’t burrow into the foundation or leave your sidewalk a mess. It remains attractive and provides shade for your yard. Such trees include:
- Bronze Loquat (Eriobotrya deflexa) – The bronze loquat (Eriobotrya deflexa) provides moderate shade and grows to 15 to 25 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. It tolerates highly acidic to highly alkaline soil and grows well in full sun and moist soils such as clay, loam or sandy soil.
- English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) – This tree grows to 35 to 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Also known as the “Big Bull,” it’s able to tolerate highly acidic to slightly alkaline clay, loam or sand. It provides dense shade with glossy oval evergreen leaves.
- Australian Willow (Geijira parviflora) – This tree grows to 25 to 35 feet tall. It is able to adapt to a range of soil conditions. It is resistant to oak root fungus and is fire resistant.
- Fraser Photinia (Photonia x fraseri) – This tree grows 15 to 20 feet tall. Also known as “Red Tip”, it provides a dense shade and bears small white flowers in mid- to late spring. It is able to tolerate acidic and alkaline soil.
- Olive Tree (Olea europaea) – This tree grows to reach 25 feet tall. It grows best in full sunlight and can tolerate drought. Though resistant to Texas root rot, it’s susceptible to verticillium, sooty mold, oak root phytophthora, anthracnose and scales. Olive trees can live up to 150 years.
Trees are a beautiful accent to any property and it’s important to understand the impact they can have on our foundation. Future foundation repairs can be reduced by planting the right tree and ensuring that proper maintenance is done.