The popular misconception that roots commonly smash through floors is a bit of a stretch. In reality, the most troubling aspect of a tree planted near your home is the roots’ tendency to absorb water in the soil. Keep reading for more information on how trees affect your home’s foundation.
Ever Heard of a Thing Called Subsidence?
Subsidence, the gradual caving in or sinking of an area of land, is the most common source of damage from trees. Due to the region’s highly elastic clay soils, homes in the Dallas Fort Worth area of Texas are especially vulnerable to subsidence. The soil on your property shrinks and expands according to moisture content. If the fluctuations are too extreme, the concrete slab can crack and doors and windows may begin to stick or jam. Concrete sidewalks commonly buckle due to roots growing beneath the structure. It is incredibly rare, however, for a root to be strong enough to penetrate or disturb a home’s concrete slab foundation.
When assessing the likelihood of a tree affecting the foundation of your home, there are a few factors that must be considered.
- The species of tree.
- The distance of the tree from the home.
- The soil composition of your property.
“The Kew Root Survey”
A 1981 study known as “The Kew Root Survey” noted the various types of trees involved in building damage and documented the distance of the trees to the buildings.
A more recent 2011 study, “The Relationship between Trees, Distance to Buildings and Subsidence Events on Shrinkable Clay Soil,” confirmed that the 1981 findings still hold true to this day.
However, these studies were performed on shrinkable clay soil, so the kind of soil you have must also be considered to determine what, if any, affect the tree may be having on the home’s foundation. Note: In North Texas, the majority of our homes are built on clay soil.
Common Remedies for Offending Trees
According to experts, there are several options available:
- Don’t touch it. If a tree exists on your property and there are no signs of damage, leave it be. The presence of the tree has already affected the soil.
- Have the tree removed. If a tree appears to be too close to your home, you can cut down the offending tree. This may be the best course of action, especially if it is a small or young tree. This can be dangerous though, as it may also cause damage to your home. Make sure to consult with an arborist before cutting down any trees.
Install an irrigation drip line. If trees on your property seem to be sucking the surrounding soil dry you can minimize the impact by adding water to the area around the trunk’s base. Consider hiring a Licensed Irrigator to design a custom drip irrigation system to fit your property’s needs. However, be aware that water applied at the surface level will only penetrate about six inches into the soil.
- Install a foundation watering system. Foundation watering systems are highly recommended to mitigate damage caused by Texas’ problematic clay soils. By hiring a professional to install a foundation watering system around the perimeter of your home, you can give the roots what they seek (water), before they travel to your home’s foundation. Note: An effective foundation watering system is installed several inches beneath the soil’s surface.
- Install a root barrier. You also have the option of installing an underground root barrier between the tree and your home. You will need an expert’s opinion about this since this may cause some damage or even kill the tree.
We don’t blame you one bit! Trees greatly affect your home’s resale value. Not to mention, the tree in question could be providing significant shade during the scorching summer months in Texas. Cutting it down might mean a spike in utilities. If you are unsure if trees are affecting your home’s foundation, it is best to consult an expert. Tommy LaLonde, P.E. is not only a soil expert, he has decades of experience examining the structure of homes across Texas.