Why did that Home Inspector say the trees near my house are a potential problem?

Many home owners and buyers seem confused why the inspector is advising that those beautiful trees are such a problem.  After all who can find fault with one of God’s own creations?

[tab: Introduction]

Trees are a beautiful addition to any property!  Trees provide shade for the Summer sun and help keep the home cooler.  Trees eliminate the barren look of your property and add character to it.  Trees attract wildlife in the form of singing birds and curious squirrels who nest in their branches and give us many hours of enjoyment listening and watching them.  Trees provide a place for children to grow and enjoy their childhood in the form of tire swings, tree houses, and blisters as they climb their height.  Trees also bring great pride and joy by planting them small and watching them grow over the years.

With all of the joy that trees can bring how can there possibly be any negative aspects of trees?  Unfortunately for all the joy that trees can bring they can also bring problems when they are not properly planned and cared for.  Whether you are planting trees yourself or buying a home with existing trees, you should be aware of the potential issues that exist.  Take a moment and read further to help you understand why that Inspector might have advised you of potential problems with that stately tree in your yard.

[tab: The Issues]

There are two main issues that occur with trees improperly placed on the property surrounding a home.  The visible issue with trees are the effects of tree branches in close proximity to the home.  Tree branches close to, or overhanging, a home can cause a number of issues.  If the branches are allowed to overhang the roof they can cause abrasion damage when touching the roof or being blown in the wind.  Overhanging branches also allow easy access to the home’s roof for squirrels and other animals.  This wildlife can then cause extensive damage to the homes trim and siding materials as they chew through for access into the home.  As a tree’s branches, leaves, and fruits/nuts drop on a roof’s surface they too cause damage.  Many times a tree’s branches are also allowed to contact the siding on a home causing damage to not only wood or vinyl sidings but also brick and stone.

There is yet another issue you can not normally see, and as such generally pay little attention to until a problems arises.  Every tree has a root system which serves multiple purposes.  However if left unchecked a tree’s root system can also cause damage to your home’s foundation (even a Pier & Beam foundation), the various underground utilities serving the home, as well as the sidewalks and driveway around the home.  To understand how this damage occurs requires a little understanding the purpose of a trees root system and how grows.  The tree’s roots are used to absorb water and nutrients needed for the tree to grow.  The tree’s roots are also used to anchor the tree to the ground and help it stay in place.  Without a good root system a tree will die from starvation and fall when large enough.  A tree’s root system is then its life!  One of the main controlling factors of a tree roots growth is its attempt to seek out sources of water.  If you were to read the various tips for watering trees they all come with one significant recommendation.  That is to water trees only once or twice a week with a “deep” watering cycle.  The reason for this is to keep soils moist as deep as possible so the roots will seek the water downward instead of outward.  If you have ever seen a tree with extensive root growth at or above ground then this is, for the species of trees we typically see, a potential sign of watering the tree lightly or not at all and waiting for the rains to water it.

Trees that are planted close to the homes foundation, utilities and sidewalks/driveways, as well as unchecked tree root growth, can potentially cause damage and issues.  As the tree’s roots grow they will seek water, the same water that your foundation needs to maintain its balance, especially in areas of expansive soils.  Trees will draw this water away from your foundation in a process called transpiration.  Trees can draw a significant amount of water from the soil and a mature Oak tree can draw as much as 40, 000 gallons a year from the soil.  Your foundation requires a balance of water moisture around it to prevent unwanted movement.  This stable moisture content issue becomes even more important in areas with clay soils subject to shrinking and swelling as the moisture levels change.  A tree near a homes foundation, sidewalks, etc., can easily cause significant moisture imbalances and movement of that foundation or sidewalk.  Even the perimeter wall of a Pier & Beam foundation can be affected by the transpiration process of a tree.

The other significant issue that comes with unchecked root growth is the invasive nature and power that a tree’s roots can display.  As the tree’s roots grow outward they can wrap around sewer and water pipes and literally crush them.  Roots will also find openings in pipes, concrete, and other materials.  The root will use the opening to penetrate the object.  As the girth (width) of the root increases, and as it grows, it has the capability to literally break and force holes larger or create separations in the object.  These two actions are what is commonly seen when tree roots invade a sewer line from the home to the street.  The result is damage and blockage of the lines requiring expensive repairs.  As tree roots grow under sidewalks and driveways they can easily lift these up and cause extensive damage to them as well.  Trees are very powerful in their beauty as well as their potential destructive forces!

[tab: The Solutions]

The solutions to the issues of overhanging branches might seem clear.  All you have to do is trim the tree branches far enough back so that they do not extend over the home, right?  Well that is not quite as easily and properly performed as spoken.  Every branch on a tree is just as important as the tree’s root system when it is time to take action on the tree.  Improperly cut branches, or sections of a tree’s trunk, can severely damage the tree and cause its early demise.  There are many precautions to take when pruning trees, especially large, mature trees which requires the knowledge and abilities of a true professional.

As for the issues with tree roots they too come with a set of their own additional issues when attempting to control or remove them if already disrupting foundations or other utilities and concrete objects.  One of the common corrections that homeowners are sold on for trees that are close to a home is to remove the tree.  General the homeowner is told that once the tree has been removed, and the stump ground down, their problem is magically cured with no further actions needed.  That is definitely a winning situation for the tree person being paid to perform the work, but not necessarily the homeowner or even the tree.  Tree roots can continue to grow for some time after the tree has been taken down and still cause problems.  Removing the roots can cause two significant issues.  The first is the hit your pocketbook takes as removing roots under a foundation can become expensive.  The other significant problem is if the roots are left in place, whether treated to die off or just die off naturally.  These roots can be very large in size.  As the roots decompose they begin leaving voids in the soil under and around your foundation.  These voids can fill with water and/or collapse causing shifting of the foundation.  Unnecessarily removing a tree is not only expensive but results in the loss of a potentially hard to replace tree.

Another correction that homeowners are offered for trees near the foundation, or other sidewalks and driveway areas, is the use of a root barrier.  Root barriers can be very effective whether the tree is young or even older and more mature.  There are many different types of materials and methods used for root barriers.  Root barriers can be placed around the tree as well as around affected parts of your foundation, sidewalks, etc.  Root barrier materials and installation methods vary from one tree species and situations to the next.  Improperly installing a root barrier can potentially be more harmful to the tree and home than cutting the tree down.  Unfortunately there are many so called root barrier installation people who feel that one size fits all and any material will do for the barrier.  Many times the materials used are not proper for any root barrier, generally won’t last, and many times do nothing to stop a root from damaging or destroying the barrier itself.  In other instances the root barrier is improperly installed at the wrong depth, incorrect distance from the tree, or without regard to unnecessary damage to existing roots.  The unnecessary root damage takes time to manifest itself in a dying tree making it a requirement to now remove it when it could have been saved if the root barrier was properly installed.

Tree roots that invade utilities such as sewer pipes are often treated with chemicals to kill the root inside the pipe.  In most cases this is a temporary measure until the roots again invade the damaged pipe in possibly the same or another location.  These chemicals are also allowed to leach out of the pipe into the surrounding ground and can have a long term affect on the rest of the tree roots and other vegetation nearby.  These chemicals flushed down your pipes might well kill the root but do nothing to correct the damage caused by them.  The pipe will still need to be repaired and a proper root barrier might have been installed at the time of repair to prevent further damage and save the tree.

So when your Home Inspector advises you that a tree might be a potential problem to that home please take heed.  Checking into the full extent of the issue with that tree(s) is best performed by a professional Arborist.  If you already own the home and want to save that stately old tree then any actions should only be taken after consulting with a professional Arborist, or other highly trained specialist in trees.  This professional should be familiar with your tree’s species and the various problems it can cause, along with the solutions to those problems.  If you are planning to plant a new tree then consult with these specialists for the proper planting, care and maintenance for that species of tree.  Remember that not every “Tree Man”, “Landscaper”, etc., is well versed in trees and their affects on your home.

The following tab provides additional references of interest to help you understand the importance of your home and the trees around it.

[tab: Links and References]

There is a great deal of information on the Internet regarding the problems and solutions associated with trees and their placement around your home.  As a help to you some of the better references have been placed here.

Geomembrane Applications
Geo-synthetics
Root Control Barriers – A paper from Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources
The United States Geological Survey site – Contains a great deal of information regarding plants, the earth, etc.
Settlement of Foundations On Expansive Clays Due to Moisture Demand of Trees – The Texas Foundation Performance Association presentation.
A Review Of Root Barrier Research – Arboriculture & Urban Forestry (formerly The Journal of Arboriculture)
Protecting Trees From Construction Damage, A Homeowner’s Guide – Great article from the University of Minnesota also discusses root issues.
Why Are My Trees Dying – An article from Purdue University explaining what happens when tree roots are damaged during construction or other activities.
A Buyer’s Technical Guide To Root Barriers – US Forestry Service

Knowledge is power, but sharing knowledge brings peace!

PS Inspection & Property Services LLC is a full service home inspection and light commercial inspection company servicing the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  We strive to for the satisfaction of our customers in everything we do.  Our services offerings include:

Buyer home inspections
New Home Warranty Inspections
New Home Draw Inspections
Home Maintenance Inspections
Home Remodeling Inspections
Investor Inspections
Rental And Renter Inspections
Infrared Thermal Imaging Inspections
Energy Audit Inspections
Whole Inspections Or Inspections Customized To Your Needs

If you have an inspection need we can customize an inspection for it.  Please visit our main site at PS Inspection & Property Service LLC.

PS Inspection & Property Services LLC is a full service home inspection and light commercial inspection company servicing the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  We strive to for the satisfaction of our customers in everything we do.  Our services offerings include:

Buyer home inspections
New Home Warranty Inspections
New Home Draw Inspections
Home Maintenance Inspections
Home Remodeling Inspections
Investor Inspections
Rental And Renter Inspections
Infrared Thermal Imaging Inspections
Energy Audit Inspections
Whole Inspections Or Inspections Customized To Your Needs

If you have an inspection need we can customize an inspection for it.  Please visit our main site at PS Inspection & Property Service LLC.

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There is a great deal of information on the Internet regarding the problems and solutions associated with trees and their placement around your home.  As a help to you some of the better references have been placed here.

Geomembrance Applications
Geo-synthetics
Root Control Barriers – A paper from Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources
The United States Geological Survey site – Contains a great deal of information regarding plants, the earth, etc.
Settlement of Foundations On Expansive Clays Due to Moisture Demand of Trees – The Texas Foundation Performance Association presentation.
A Review Of Root Barrier Research – Arboriculture & Urban Forestry (formerly The Journal of Arboriculture)

Protecting Trees From Construction Damage, A Homeowner’s Guide – Great article from the University of Minnesota also discusses root issues.

Why Are My Trees Dying – An article from Purdue University explaining what happens when tree roots are damaged during construction or other activities.
A Buyer’s Technical Guide To Root Barriers – US Forestry Service

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One Response to Why did that Home Inspector say the trees near my house are a potential problem?

  1. Mike Boyett says:

    Great information, thanks! I also like the ‘tabbed’ format. Makes the post very readable.