The root of potential problems
There’s no doubt that trees look beautiful and enhance any garden, but it is important to remember that they can occasionally create issues for buildings. In reality, most trees cause no damage whatsoever, yet tree roots can be linked to, for example, subsidence, structural damage, blocked drains and lifted paving. It is therefore helpful to understand the factors that contribute to damage, when to engage professional help to deal with the issues and when to commission a building survey to identify any areas of concern.
Soil type and the depth of the foundations are both significant, as tree roots can grow beyond the width of the canopy and also spread up to three times the height of the tree itself. If the building is on shrinkable clay, then subsidence and structural cracking are a possibility as the roots draw out the moisture from the soil, while drains blocked by leaves and branches can be the source of leaks. It is advisable where possible to make drains watertight, as that prevents roots from growing into them. In general, it is unlikely that a garden on a no-clay soil such as sand or chalk will generate problems with damage, but it is always worth giving careful consideration to the type of trees you own and wish to plant.
Overall, conifers and broadleaved trees have the lowest demand for water, while in contrast oaks are the biggest cause of subsidence in the UK. In addition, the trees themselves do not necessarily have to be large varieties, such as beech or oak, as even smaller fruit trees such as plum or apple can have an effect on a building’s foundations. Felling may be the answer, but that is not always the case so it is important to seek professional advice before taking action. It is also worth noting also that large wall shrubs, most notably Pyracantha and Wisteria, can also cause localised subsidence.
If you have a large tree near a building you own, it is advisable to have it surveyed every few years in order to understand its general health and decide whether any pruning is required. Any tree is the property and responsibility of person who owns the land, so there is a liability for any damage it may cause.
Where surface structures such as drives and patios lift, this usually occurs within a 1m radius of a tree’s trunk and corresponds to where the buttress of the trunk base forms. It is advisable to avoid laying paving or tarmac in this area, as that can also be beneficial to the health of the tree. Trees such as cherry have roots that grow very close to the soil surface, so they tend to lift paving more readily. Offending trees and their roots can be cut back, but this needs to be done carefully in order not to destabilise the tree itself.
As building surveyors in Cambridge and Haverhill, at Anglian Home Surveyors we are able to uncover any potential problems with trees on your land. If you’re considering buying a property, building a new home or extending an existing house why not contact us to commission a full building survey?
- Home buyer surveys
- Full building surveys
- Listed/cherished building surveys
- Building defect reports
- Party wall matters
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