Trees Can Affect Homes’ Foundation

Most homeowners give little thought to the trees in their front and back yards. If disaster does strike (like falling branches), these homeowners are usually covered by insurance.

But in fact, trees can do a lot more damage than you probably realize — even in the absence of falling debris. They can also help protect your home in surprising ways. And more often than not, this interplay happens underground, completely out of sight.

This article explains how trees can both positively and negatively affect the foundation of your home.

How Trees Can Hurt Your Home’s Foundation

Trees often have vast root systems that spread out two to three times farther than the above-ground branches do.

It’s not uncommon for smaller roots to eat into the concrete walls of the foundation. Left unchecked, the structural integrity of your home can become weaker with each passing year.

Far more common, however, are issues like subsidence or uneven soil shifting resulting from root expansion. These are serious problems in and of themselves, but they also lead to faster-than-normal water absorption under and around your home. Rapid fluctuations in soil moisture can cause the foundation to crack under pressure.

Some homeowners believe that removing surrounding trees will fix the problem. But many times, this preventative measure exacerbates the issue. Rotting roots can accelerate destabilization and increase the likelihood of foundation failure.

Before removing any trees from your property, be sure to consult with a licensed foundation expert.

How Trees Can Help Your Home’s Foundation

The extensive root systems mentioned above do offer important benefits, including:

  • Soil stabilization. They help to prevent erosion, especially on sloped areas surrounding your home.

But in order to optimize these benefits, you must be strategic about landscaping — both with new and old trees:

  • When planting new trees, overestimate the distance needed for each sapling. Research the maximum height for whatever species of tree you are planting, and multiply that number by three. This helps to reduce the likelihood of future root systems coming in direct contact with your home’s foundation.
  • With older trees that are already dangerously close to your property, consider installing root barriers between each tree and your home’s foundation. This is not a typical DIY job since improper girdling can cause some roots to rot. It’s best to call in a professional.

Periodic Foundation Inspections Are Essential

Proper tree management can help add years to your foundation’s useful lifetime. But even with a well-executed strategy, you’re not completely done. Trees grow relatively slowly, and it’s easy to lull yourself into a false sense of security.

From time to time, you should conduct periodic inspections to check the health of your home’s foundation. For tips on getting started, read How to Conduct a Home Foundation Inspection.

At the first sign of danger, call in a professional foundation expert ASAP. The sooner you catch and correct problems, the cheaper future repairs will be.

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