After you've built or purchased a house, planting trees can help provide shade, beautify the yard, and even lower some of your utility costs. However, trees can also be the source of serious structural problems, as they can lead to some types of foundation damage. The easiest way to repair this damage is to avoid it altogether. But how can you be sure that your newly planted tree won't spell thousands of dollars worth of repair costs later?
1. Choose the tree type wisely.
One of the main reasons why trees can cause foundation damage is that they displace the soil as the root system grows larger. Additionally, tree roots take in substantial amounts of moisture, which causes pressure changes in the soil and affects the ability of the surrounding ground to support the load of a building. Choosing the right kind of tree for your soil and moisture level can help prevent these pressure changes and moisture intake from becoming too severe.
Trees that are more moisture-hungry obviously put a greater strain on the soil. Therefore, if you live in a drier climate, you should avoid hydrophilic types like silver maples, weeping willows, aspens, and birches. It's better to choose trees that are less aggressive, like sugar maples, oaks, or buckeyes.
2. Consult a professional about your soil type and foundation.
Foundation issues caused by trees are more likely to occur in areas where soil has a high tendency to shrink and swell in the absence or presence of moisture. During wet seasons, the ground surrounding your foundation can swell, leaving cracks due to the pressure of the supporting soil. Then, if you plant many trees in your yard, the soil will recede as it loses moisture and the foundation will slide back into its normal place, but the cracks will worsen. This happens with even greater severity during drier seasons, since the trees will accentuate low moisture levels. Not all soil has this tendency, so after you have your soil tested, you can know for certain whether or not a tree will cause problems.
Furthermore, your foundation type is something to consider. For example, shallow basements or slab foundations are more likely to have tree trouble due to soil swelling or root pressure just because they are much closer to the surface -- the soil supporting these foundations is more prone to extreme moisture changes during dry or wet seasons. Deep basements, however, are more resistant to pressure changes in the ground simply because pressure changes are not as varied so far below the surface.
3. Check your planting location.
Small trees become big. Some homeowners forget this simple fact and will plant seedlings close to the house. However, root systems can reach much further than the width of the tree canopy in search of moisture, usually moving in a horizontal direction under the soil. Tree roots are not so invasive as to puncture a cement wall (your foundation). But when met with resistance, an aggressive root will start to grow downward, and these are the roots that can cause soil displacement problems that will harm your foundation. Before planting, speak with a foundation company about how far away you should plant your trees. If there already are trees close to the house and you notice cracking, you might have to dig to find the offending root and cut it off. Sometimes, the whole tree might need to be removed to prevent further damage.
Planting trees is an excellent landscaping choice for curb appeal, but it can spell disaster for your foundation if you are not careful. Be sure to speak with a foundation repair company, such as Pier Pressure Foundation Repair, before you plant to make sure you have the right soil, foundation, and tree type for the job.