You’ve got trees! Maybe you have a bunch of trees near your home or just a couple, but you have some questions about their effect on your foundation. Specifically, you’re *pine-ing* for answers about prevention. Is there anything you can do to keep your home safe from tree-related foundation issues? You’re wondering things like:
Should I be worried about my foundation with these trees around?
How can I prevent my trees from affecting my foundation?
Trees are beautiful, needed for oxygen and air purification, and add value to your property. You want to keep them around of course, but you don’t want them to cause costly foundation problems for your home that you could have prevented.
At Anchor Foundation Repair we have been repairing Brazos Valley foundations since 1985. Most properties we work with have trees on them and we see how trees interact with and affect foundations every day.
While we are not tree experts, we love trees and see the value that they contribute to our homes, your home, everyone’s home. Keeping trees is important for many reasons, but so is keeping your home free from problems. We have a few suggestions that you can try out to keep trees from negatively affecting your foundation:
- Original Placement Planning
- Proper Tree Watering
- Monitoring for Leaks
- Thoughts on Root Barriers
As a concerned homeowner, it’s *natural* to want to find out if there are any preventive measures you can take to counteract potential foundation problems. Let’s check out a few options for you . . .
Preventing Trees from Causing Foundation Problems
There are a few preventative actions you can take with trees around your home to minimize the effects of the dryness and drought that lead to foundation settlement.
In our last tree-related article, “Do Trees In My Yard Affect My Home’s Foundation? When to Be Concerned,” we talked about how our expansive clay soils shrink when the climate is dry. Trees can multiply the drying effects during times of drought.
We have 4 discussion points that homeowners can consider when thinking of ways to protect their homes from tree-related foundation issues. Some take forethought and others take a little logic and effort.
1. Original Placement of Trees Can Prevent Tree-Related Foundation Issues
If you get to decide where trees are located around your home when it is being built, this is a great opportunity for preventing tree-related foundation problems. Make sure trees are far enough away to help mitigate their impact on your foundation.
If you are buying an existing home with existing trees (or are already living in a home with trees), then this option won’t work for you unless you are planting a new tree on your property. So if you are able to choose the placement of a tree before it gets in the ground, here’s what can be done.
First, you need to know how large a tree’s canopy is likely to get. This information can be found on the tree tag at the hardware store, by asking the almighty interweb, or your local tree nursery expert. Once you know how wide a tree gets at full growth, plant the tree at least half that distance away from your home.
According to an article by Steve Houser on Texas Tree Tips on Neil Sperry’s Gardens – The Definitive Word In Texas Horticulture website, “A large-growing shade tree should be at least 25 to 30 feet from a foundation. It will need a large amount of open space for root growth (not under concrete or non-permeable surface). An ornamental tree can be as close as 10 to 15 feet, depending on the species and its size at maturity.”
I found further detail in Neil Sperry’s book, Lone Star Gardening, which says to plant trees at least 15-20 feet away from a one-story house, 20-30 feet from a two-story house, and 25-35 feet away from other trees. Don’t forget to also keep in mind that measurement of half the full-grown canopy distance as well along with this information.
2. Proper Tree Watering Can Minimize Foundation Settlement
If you keep your trees properly watered at all times but especially in times of drought, they will not feel the need to suck the clay soil dry. While this can’t deter all foundation settlement from drought, at least you won’t be able to blame the trees.
I learned all the following tree watering information from my husband, who is the son of Bluefford G. Hancock. Bluefford was a renowned Texas A&M Horticulture expert on fruit and nut trees, and a Texas Agricultural Extension Agent who was a key mentor to the aforementioned and now-famous Neil Sperry.
So while it is third-hand information passed down from my father-in-law to his son and then to me, I think it’s darn reliable info.
How to Water Trees the Way They Were Designed to Water Themselves
Trees “water themselves” by allowing rainwater to drip down along and out to the edges of the canopy where the edges of the root system can drink up the water. This is called the dripline of the tree.
Like flowers in a vase, people might think that watering a tree at the trunk is what you do to get the tree the water it needs, but it’s actually at the dripline. So when you need to water a tree, the best way to water is long and slow around the dripline.
Watering a tree at the dripline is done by simply placing a slow-flowing (the lower and slower the better) hose under the outer edge of the tree’s canopy. Let the hose water overnight or for as long as you can and then move it to another spot around the dripline circle.
You can also use drip irrigation lines pointing down towards the ground in a circle around the tree, but a hose seems way easier to me.
This method gets water deeper into the ground where the roots can reach it easily. It then encourages tree roots to grow deeper into the ground and provides water at the exact location that trees are designed to receive moisture most efficiently.
Sprinkler Systems Do Not Water Trees Properly
Most people also think that lawn sprinklers or their lawn irrigation system is good enough to water trees, but it’s not. Lawn sprinkler systems are designed to water grass, not trees. Water is sprayed on the surface of the lawn where it benefits the grass but does not have the opportunity to soak into the ground.
Long-term sprinkler system watering actually creates some telltale signs and problematic issues for trees as they grow. You won’t notice the effects at first, but over time and as the tree matures, some signs become visible but by then it’s too late to pivot.
Only providing a tree with lawn irrigation-style watering creates a shallow root system in trees, which makes them less stable. The roots will grow closer to the surface of the ground because that is where they are getting moisture that gets sprayed on the grass, rather than getting water from deeper in the ground.
You can imagine that roots growing on the surface will not hold a large tree in place as well as roots that are growing deep into the ground. Deep roots create more grab on the earth and more dirt on top of the roots gives more grab as well. The larger a tree grows, you want its roots to grow as deep as possible for the best stability.
So this shallow watering creates shallow and exposed roots where the roots are showing above the ground rather than below. Not only does this affect tree stability, but it also doesn’t make for a very nice smooth lawn for enjoying games or picnics in the shade.
Tree roots showing above the ground are tripping hazards. Not only do they get in the way of fun, but also in the way of work like lawn mowing. It makes it harder for you to mow the area under the tree. Lawnmowers can also damage the exposed roots repeatedly causing stress to tree health.
3. Monitoring for Leaks to Prevent Foundation Problems
We know that trees need water. So if you have a leak under your home and a tree near your home, then where do you think that tree’s roots are going to go? While it is important to make sure trees have enough water, you don’t want that water coming from your drain lines.
Leaks under your home can cause foundation settlement and then foundation problems. When trees start to get involved then you also wind up with problematic plumbing symptoms that show up inside your home as well.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to watch for leaks under your home. You know, since you don’t have x-ray vision to see through your foundation. But keeping an eye out for a few signs might stop a drain line leak from becoming a major foundation problem. Watch for these signs:
- A caved-in area near the home that creates an unexplained hole
- An area that stays soggy near the edge of your home even when it hasn’t rained
- A tree that usually looks okay suddenly begins looking fantastic and growing more
- Recurring slow-draining showers/tubs/sinks
- Gurgling and recurring low flush strength on toilets
For more information on leaks under your home, check out “Top 5 Signs Your Plumbing Problem is Foundation-Related.”
4. Can Root Barriers Help Prevent Tree-Related Foundation Problems?
We know that tree roots can grow under foundations, especially if the canopy overhangs your home. People often ask us for our opinion on root barriers but we’re not totally sold on their usefulness. They sound good in theory, but when you put them into actual practice some problems pop up.
A root barrier is where you dig a trench just past the drip line of the tree and bury a rigid piece of plastic in the ground to block the roots from growing past the trench. Sounds like this would theoretically help the situation, right?
There are a couple of problems with this root barrier idea. First, the chances that your tree’s dripline is perfectly placed beyond your foundation is slim to none. So you really can’t do it right if the tree is not in the exact right place or you might do it wrong and kill your tree by compromising the root system.
Also, inserting a rigid and impermeable barrier in the ground can create other water flow/drainage problems or water pooling on the wrong side of the barrier. Poor drainage and standing water can lead to foundation issues. So then we’re back in the same boat again with potential foundation concerns . . .
So I guess this last suggestion is really a “something not to try” instead of a “something to try” for preventing trees from affecting your foundation.
If you want to try the root barrier route anyway, we strongly recommend consulting a professional tree service for input and installation. Don’t rely on a foundation repair company, your lawn guy, or DIY methods to install something so critically important to tree health.
For More Ideas on Preventing Foundation Problems
Now that you have a handle on how you can prevent trees from endangering your foundation, maybe you want to know about a few more prevention methods for foundation security.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been repairing foundations for the Bryan, College Station, and Brazos Valley communities for 35+ years. While we can’t guarantee that trees or other preventative measures will work in all cases, that doesn’t mean you can’t try to minimize opportunities for foundation settlement and ward off problems in the home you love.
As a conscientious homeowner, you might want to check out another article covering more prevention tips, “Can I Prevent Foundation Problems in My Home? 3 Ways to Try.”