Should I cut down trees close to the house? Can removing a tree cause foundation problems?

One main reason growing trees close to a home is considered a problem is due to the interaction between the foundation and tree roots.

Trees Next to House

Tree roots are always spreading out in search of minerals and moisture. Having encountered solid, impervious surfaces, these roots redirect laterally or over obstacles.

Now foundations might have tiny breaches or cracks. These are enough to make tree roots explore further. In the end, they might cause significant damage to the structure.

To fully appreciate the extent of damage that could result, you need to understand that the weight of the building is evenly distributed across the foundation.

How Far do Tree Roots Spread?

Understanding this problem requires knowing the distance these roots can travel.

It’s widely believed that trees will develop root systems that go as broad as far as the tree is tall. That’s some significant distance you’ll need to be concerned about.

Also, certain trees are known to have invasive root systems. In other words, these roots will likely cause more issues to structures and other plants and mess up your yard.

Here, the type of trees you grow within your yard determines the extent of damage done to your foundation.

Avoid these Tree Species Around Foundations

To prevent damage to your home’s foundation, you must be cautious about the trees you grow around your yard. These tend to have invasive root systems likely to cause structural damage.

Examples of such trees are Japanese knotweed, silver maple, sycamore, and southern magnolia.

Other trees in this category include mint, hybrid poplar, willow, and American elm.

Here, not only is your foundation in danger of being damaged, but nearby installations like cracked pipes, sidewalks, and paved areas are also damaged by the root systems of these invasive tree species.

Certain Trees are Safe to have Around a Home.

Not all trees have invasive root systems like those mentioned above.

Some are safe to have around your home. These include Japanese maple, crabapple, flowering dogwood, American holly, American hornbeam, pawpaw, eastern redbud, rose of Sharon, and loquat trees.

More species include serviceberry trees, crepe myrtle, and dwarf fruit trees. Not only are some of these trees safe to have around, but they also are visually appealing due to the colorful flowers they sprout.

With these, there are fewer cases of root damage to foundations.

Further Understanding Implications of Trees Close to House Foundation

First, it’s important to clarify that not all trees close to buildings pose a problem.

In other words, tree root penetration in the foundation isn’t always automatic unless there’s a cause. Moisture is a crucial determinant of tree roots finding their way to your foundation. Let’s explain.

Homes built around areas with shrinkable clay soils are the most vulnerable.

Such vulnerability is more evident during extended periods of drought. Trees completely absorb any moisture left in the soil during this time through their root systems.

What results in a shrinking of the clay soil? This condition reaches its peak in late summer.

It’s popularly known as seasonal soil moisture deficit. With contraction or shrinking of the soil, there’s subsidence of the foundation, resulting in structural cracks.

With the soil getting drier, tree roots continue to seek other points of moisture. Continued shrinkage leads to further cracks. This further worsens the condition of your structure.

Worthy of note is the fact that tree roots won’t penetrate sound foundation footings. As mentioned earlier, only those with cracks are more vulnerable to tree root activity.

Trees Too Close To House: How far should a Tree and a Building be?

When growing trees around your yard, you need to note the distance between the tree and your structure.

The type of tree growing also matters as you’re better off planting non-invasive species. So, what’s the safe distance for planting trees around a structure?

Beyond the part of the tree you see above the ground, the root systems can be extensive. As stated earlier, the spread grows way beyond the diameter of the tree’s crown.

With this fact, it’s essential to pay close attention to how far these roots will travel.

Knowledge of tree height at maturity is necessary. In other words, how tall do you expect the tree to grow? Trees with maximum heights of 25 ft. will require a space of around ten ft. from any structure or building.

For trees expected to grow between 25 and 50 ft. tall, maintaining a distance of 15 to 20 ft. from the building is necessary.

Tall trees growing below 50 ft. will have to be planted 30 to 50 ft. from your structure. Here, it’s evident that knowledge of tree specie’s maximum growth at maturity is essential.

Speaking of the distance between your house and tree, why is this important?

Maintaining an ideal distance between your house and tree is vital for three reasons; to help the tree grow correctly, to prevent moisture soak-up of soils around your home, and to keep branches rubbing against your house or roof.

Let’s take a further look at these points.

  • To Help the Tree Grow Correctly

When trees are planted too close to a structure, it hampers proper development. First, there are likely obstructions to appropriate development and growth.

This may lead to uneven spread of branches, among other things.

  • Prevent Moisture Soak-Up

As earlier discussed, your foundation needs some moisture. With trees grown too close, drought conditions could lead to further drying of the soil around the foundation.

This leads to soil shrinkage, which could result in cracks.

  • Keeping Branches at Acceptable Distance

As trees develop, their branches need to be at an acceptable distance from the building.

These shouldn’t be rubbing on your walls or hanging over your roof as they could cause further structural problems. Overhanging tree limbs will likely shed leaves on roofs, which could clog gutters.

The preventive approach is the best way of dealing with trees close to the house foundation. We’ve seen the different ways root systems of trees can become problematic to a structure.

Involving professionals like landscapers, structural engineers, and arborists will go a long way in helping you prevent these kinds of problems.

One Comment

  1. I hesitate to buy a house because there is a tree growing very close to the house, approximately 3 feet. I was told it needs to be removed because it can cause damage to the foundation and interfere with the sewage pipes. I don’t want to cut it down, is there an alternative?

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