Tree Roots Invading Foundation
I have been asked about the possibility of tree roots compromising basement foundations quite a lot lately. So I think it is worth discussing a little more in depth than I usually do.
Firstly, I want to say that my opinions in this matter (and other matters in arboriculture) are not simply drawn from my own experiences. Experiential knowledge is too unreliable because of the possibility for bias. Practitioners that rely only upon their experience for knowledge unwittingly view things through a lens that reinforces prejudiced beliefs. So, in this case I have turned to James Urban, landscape architect, noted soil expert, and author of Up by the Roots. The characteristics of root growth are discussed in depth in his book, and the conclusions drawn are soundly based in science.
To paraphrase, roots are opportunistic in nature, fitting themselves into any space that has the optimum conditions for them to function. These conditions minimally include the presence of water and oxygen.
Because of their opportunistic nature, roots can be found in some places where they are not really welcome. A common example is sidewalks. Fibrous roots will enter small crevices between sections of sidewalk because of the presence therein of both oxygen and water. As they grow they begin to cause problems for the sidewalk, heaving it upward and sometimes cracking it. So, could this not happen as well in foundations? Yes, if there is water and oxygen present.
If the foundation of your home is well built, then there will not be water in the space surrounding it. Houses are engineered in a way that keeps water away from the foundation. If there is water surrounding your foundation, then you will have problems with it regardless of the presence of tree roots. Water is a destructive agent to foundations, causing cracks from freezing and thawing. Of course, it also sustains plant life and invites root growth.
If the foundation of your house is wet, then you will need to deal with that problem to prevent its eventual destruction. If you suspect that it may be wet, then hire a home inspector to find out. If the inspection reveals the presence of water, then hire a contractor to solve that problem. When that problem is solved, then there will no longer be the possibility of invading tree roots, no matter how close to your house trees are growing.
Living in peace with trees is always possible. It just sometimes takes a good understanding of how they live to make your coexistence mutually peaceful.
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