When Trees Attack: How Tree Roots Damage Your Foundation
Everyone loves the look of a majestic tree in the front yard or supporting a tree house for the kids out back, but might that tree pose certain risks for your home? Under certain circumstances, an otherwise desirable tree can pose a significant threat to your home’s foundation.
Here’s what you need to know about the risks, and what you can do to prevent problems down the road.
How tree roots affect the soil
Tree roots are very powerful — even small, newly forming roots. Because they are driven to find more sources of water and nutrients, tree roots constantly extend themselves in the search. What happens as a result of these movements depends on the kind of soil the tree is planted in.
There are two primary types of soil that will can be substantially affected by tree growth, and the effects are different for them. The first is soil composed primarily of clay. Clay soils compact easily, and become more densely packed as tree roots push through them.
Soil that consists of loose dirt and rocks, on the other hand, simply tends to shift and become displaced, which allows roots to move through it more easily. It’s highly useful to know which type of soil your home sits on because that should tell you the kind of damage that tree roots may have in store for your residence.
Another way that trees can affect the soil beneath them relates to prevailing weather conditions. During droughts, roots may shrink as clay soils dry; during heavy rains, the roots may expand as they absorb water. Both shrinkage and expansion can damage the structural integrity of soil.
Concrete settling and foundation damage
To be fair, tree roots themselves are not the direct cause of foundation damage, though many homeowners believe they are. Instead, the changes in the condition of the soil are what actually cause most of the damage to home foundations.
This most often manifests itself in the form of concrete settling. In many situations, concrete settling is only unsightly, but sometimes it can also be dangerous.
When concrete settles, it is more likely to shift and crack. Depending on how significant the movement is, the overall structure of your home may be affected. If concrete only cracks due to root activity, homes — especially newer homes — may not be disrupted at all.
When concrete shifts because of settling, residential foundations may be more substantially impacted. In extreme cases, particularly with older homes, the entire house structure may suffer damage.
Support beams may shift, walls may sink or crack, and ceilings may become uneven. Though concrete settling is not always a hazard, too often it can cause basic structural damage in older homes.
Other causes of foundation damage
It’s all too easy to blame trees for causing foundation damage because industrial societies regard them as invaders in developed areas. But there are many human interventions that can cause foundation damage.
Such factors include poorly insulated basements, gardens planted by homeowners, and drainage pipes. All of these can cause soil dehydration and concrete settling.
How to prevent root-related damage
If you’re concerned about the potential for roots damaging your foundation, you can take a number of steps to protect yourself. In most cases, concerns arise after the foundation has been laid and nearby trees have already been long in place.
One way to address the issue is to build a root barrier. In order to do so, you may have to dig all the way down to the base of your home’s foundation. You can cut away roots that are approaching your foundation while you’re digging for the barrier.
The process can be a hassle, but it’s better than merely trusting that your home will be left undamaged by weather cycles and root growth.
If you’re determined to plant a new tree in your yard, another way to subvert the threat of root damage is to select a slow-growing tree species that has less aggressive rooting tendencies. Steer clear of willows, silver maples, and elm trees that spread deep and insidious roots, and go for oak or sugar maple trees that grow more slowly.
Another way to prevent tree roots from causing damage is to reconsider your plans for tree planting in the area around your home. One of the main issues to consider before planting a tree is how large your yard is.
It’s a common belief that a tree will develop roots as broad as the tree is tall, but this is a misconception that underestimates the facts. Actually, a tree can develop roots that are two to three times its height.
If you can’t provide adequate space for the tree’s roots, then you should think about trying something smaller or a different landscaping option altogether.
If you’re building a new structure, you can take a number of steps to prevent root damage in the future. One of the most common causes of foundation damage is an insufficiently deep foundation.
This is why homes with full basements are far less vulnerable to root damage and concrete settling than older homes built on shallow foundations. Those shallow foundations are far more vulnerable to dried-out soil conditions and shifts, whereas full basements offer significant structural protection.
Don’t start cutting down trees immediately if you’re worried about invasive roots. This is often unnecessary and it can be avoided by using such strategies as a root barrier.
An analysis of your soil type and foundation status can also demonstrate that roots are not a major threat to your home. Cutting down trees should only be a last solution to a potential root problem.
Get foundation repair assistance
If you’ve noticed foundation damage and suspect tree roots, soil changes, or concrete settling, contact Edens Structural Solutions today! Our team of professionals can help you assess any concerns you have about your foundation, and we offer a variety of repair options.
Contact us for your free consultation. We will examine your property, foundation, and any potential damage, and develop a suitable plan of action for your home or business. Don’t let tree roots rock your foundation; Edens Structural Solutions can keep your structure standing strong!