Trees are valued for their beauty, the oxygen they produce and the shade they provide in summer. An essential part of the urban ecosystem, they also increase property values. Yet there remains a widespread fear regarding the risks associated with their roots.
Indeed, whenever cracks appear in foundations, gutters and pipelines, people are often quick to point a finger at tree roots. However, while it’s true that trees can have an influence on the deterioration of certain infrastructure, their actual role is more that of a catalyst. All they really do is magnify damage that’s already present in pipes, foundations and other concrete structures.
How tree roots grow
Many people wrongly believe that roots grow symmetrically in relation to the part of the tree visible above ground. This is partly true: the distribution of the roots is generally proportionate to the width of the crown of the tree. However, this dimension is approximate and corresponds only to the width—and not the depth—of the tree. When it comes to contact between the roots and infrastructures, the height of the tree is a more reliable indication. Ideally, a tree that will be 10 meters high when mature should be planted 10 meters away from the house. Of course, this is a best-case scenario, as it’s possible to plant your trees closer, as long as you periodically inspect the integrity of your home’s infrastructure. In any event, to maintain an adequate distance between the woody roots and the foundation, a tree should always be planted at least three meters from the house.
Are roots attracted to the water in pipes?
The fundamental quest of a root is to search for water to nourish the tree. It’s true that many people become worried when they see their pipes covered in roots. However, roots grow blindly and have no means of detecting water from a distance. If a root comes into contact with a pipe, it simply takes a detour around it. On the other hand, if there are already cracks in the pipe allowing water to leak out, the root will remain in this moist environment and proliferate. As a result, there’s a risk that it will infiltrate the pipe and clog it. A good way to prevent roots from coming into contact with your pipes is to observe the three-meter distance between the tree and your house. Otherwise, the roots can put pressure on the pipes and eventually crack them.
Trees and drying soil
Dry soil leaves a void (especially in the case of silty soil), which can cause the foundation of your house to shift. Your trees aren’t necessarily the only thing to blame. While they can contribute to drying out the soil, they can also help it retain moisture. Trees are also essential for draining the soil after heavy rains and help stabilize the ground, preventing landslides. Check to make sure your foundation has been dug deep enough (at least 1.5 meters) and, if the ground has a tendency to dry out, you can simply water it when necessary.
How to prevent problems related to tree roots
Once you understand that trees aren’t the only thing responsible when damage occurs, you can take preventive measures to avoid cutting them down unnecessarily.
Have your foundation inspected to make sure it’s sufficiently deep and watertight. But remember that, if the minimum three-meter distance between the tree and the house isn’t observed, you may have no choice but to cut the tree down.
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