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What Trees Damage Foundations and Drains?

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That beautiful tree above ground can also be wreaking havoc on man made structures below ground. In nature, tree roots spread uninhibited to support the tree's weight as well as to seek water and nutrients to sustain life. However, when planted near man made underground structures like foundations, drains, sewer systems, and wells, they can cause expensive damage.

While any tree can cause issues if planted near these structures, some tree roots are certainly worse than others. Tree species vary in the size and spread of their roots. Generally speaking, the tree species that grow thick roots with the power to break through foundations and drains will be your most likely culprits.

The easiest way to deal with a root problem is to avoid it entirely. Here are some tips to prevent roots from breaking your foundation and drains:

  • Choose trees with small root systems
  • Plant trees at least 15 feet away from your home
  • Install a root barrier around your tree to contain the potential root system

What trees are safe to plant near your home?

Thankfully, dozens of trees will not damage your foundations or drains. Trees make this list because they have small root systems or small roots that cannot cause damage to masonry.

Here is a list of ten safe trees for you to plant.

  • American Holly
  • Citrus Trees
  • Florida Maple
  • Star Magnolia
  • Olive Tree
  • Pine Trees
  • Japanese Maple
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • English Holly
  • American Hornbeam

What trees are NOT safe to plant near your home?

Oftentimes, you do not choose the trees near your home. These trees were either naturally occurring or planted by previous owners. In that case, you will want to be on the lookout for any dangerous neighbors. Overall, these trees grow thick roots that are aggressive. Moreover, these root systems spread far instead of down.

The five most concerning tree species for root spread and foundation damage are:

  1. Silver Maple
  2. White Ash
  3. American Elm
  4. Weeping Willow
  5. Oak

If you find any of these trees growing close to your home, you will want to remove them as soon as possible. Additionally, you must inspect any neighboring foundation for damage. Contact an expert to correct any damage found.

1. Silver Maple

What Trees Damage Foundations and Drains - Silver maple

Silver maples grow to a height of 80 feet. Not only will they threaten your foundation, but they can threaten your roof line as well. Silver maples grow large green leaves and produce small flowers of red, yellow, or silver.

The root system of the silver maple grows strong and thick. It easily spreads into drains, sewer systems, and foundations. However, the limbs do not grow to the same strength and resilience as the root system. In fact, limbs fall from strong winds often.

Silver maples need ample sunlight and ample space to grow. They will damage any structure in their path.

These trees are forgiving and grow well in almost all soil types. Moreover, they are tolerant to hot weather and freezing temperatures. Silver maples more than two feet per year but live short lives. Most silver maples last for approximately 100 years.

Silver maples are well-known to be excellent for the environment. They consume significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every day. 


Read More

  • To learn more about what trees are good for the environment,

2. White Ash

What Trees Damage Foundations and Drains - White Ash

The white ash is a beautiful tree naturally growing across the United States. Because of the large canopy, gardeners plant the white ash to provide ample shade in parks. Like all ash trees, the white ash is under great threat by the emerald ash borer. In the United States, the ash population is dwindling quickly.

The white ash grows to 80 feet in height. Moreover, the spread of the white ash is at least 40 feet wide. White ash trees grow one to two feet per year. They also need ample sunlight to thrive but can last in any soil type.

Unlike the silver maple, the white ash cannot survive in harsh environments. White ash trees turn a rainbow of colors in autumn. The massive dark green leaves turn yellow, dark purple, and maroon through the autumn months.

Root systems from white ash trees can spread 30 feet. Additionally, the roots grow thick and strong. This strength means the white ash can easily break through your foundation.

3. American Elm

What Trees Damage Foundations and Drains - American Elm

The American Elm is another tree native to the United States. They grow quite large, to a height of 100 feet. In fact, the trunk even grows to a diameter of four feet. A large canopy matches the large root system below.

Like the white ash, the American Elm is also under threat. Dutch Elm Disease is rampant across the United States and decimating the entire elm population. We have lost over half of the elm population in the last 70 years.

The American Elm grows dark green leaves and produces purple flowers in the spring. At this time, arborists do not recommend planting new elm trees. However, you may find an existing elm tree standing in your arm. If it stands alone, it may avoid Dutch Elm Disease. However, the root system will still cause serious damage to your man made structures.

Altogether, the root system of the American Elm is quite shallow. This shallow depth can invade drains and foundations with ease. Additionally, the American Elm is a threat to your above ground structures with a shallow root system. Strong winds and storms can knock an American Elm down.

4. Weeping Willow

What Trees Damage Foundations and Drains - weeping willow

Weeping willows grow to a shorter height than the other trees on this list. Overall, the weeping willow will only reach 40 feet in height. The weeping willow is one of the fastest growing trees. Most weeping willows will grow three feet per year, but others can grow as much as ten feet per year.

While the weeping willow is not a tall tree, it does grow very wide. That being said, the root system matches the wide canopy spread. The drooping branches of the weeping willow may interfere with your home or other structures.

The weeping willow produces long, narrow leaves that are light green. Additionally, yellow flowers grow on the weeping willow in the spring. The branches and leaves are so heavy that the branches begin to droop.

Altogether, the weeping willow prefers wet soils. You should not build a house too close to these watery areas to avoid other foundation failures.

5. Oak

What Trees Damage Foundations and Drains - Oak

All oak trees can wreak havoc on structures. Oak trees are particularly concerning trees because of the shallow root system. Most oak trees grow a root system within 18 inches of the topsoil. Moreover, oak tree roots spread four times wider than the width of the canopy.

The roots of the oak tree spread quickly and have the strength to punch through foundations and drainpipes. Oak trees grow slower above the ground. Oak trees grow to 70 feet in height. The branches are thick and sustain strong winds well. At least your home is mostly safe from the branches.

Oak trees are common in the United States. In fact, they grow naturally in every state except Idaho. Unlike the other trees on this list, the oak tree boasts a lifespan of over 1000 years.

With so many pros, the oak tree is an excellent choice for your yard or garden. You must plan for ample space for the tree to spread above and below ground. Altogether, the slow maturity and growth of the oak tree may mean that the roots will not be a problem for you. However, you do not want to cause a problem for future homeowners.

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