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Can trees really damage my house? Read here for prevention

The trees around your home give your property character, but they can also cause a major headache if they’re not properly maintained. Home inspector Rob Parker has seen first-hand what damage unkempt trees and vines can cause. Here’s what you need to know and why it’s important to assess your property now.

Believe it or not, now might be the ideal time to consider trimming the trees around your house. The milder temperatures make it bearable to be outside and new growth hasn’t quite started. Be warned: you shouldn’t leave it for too much longer, especially if the warmer than usual weather persists and tree leaves begin to sprout. You’ll end up doing more work than you should!

Why should I care?

Though trees are generally a desirable feature of home landscaping, they can pose a threat to people and buildings in a number of different ways:

  • Old, damaged or otherwise weak trees may fall and endanger lives and property;
  • Large, weak branches are a hazard, especially if weighed down by ice or snow. Falling trees and branches can also topple power lines and communication lines;
  • Trees too close to buildings may be fire hazards as soffit vents provide easy access for flames to enter a house;
  • Leaves and broken branches can clog gutters, potentially causing ice dams or water penetration into the building;
  • Trees are also home to many rodents that if too close to your house, may provide easy access to the roof structure.

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How do I prevent these issues from happening?

When planting trees around your property, there are a few things you should take into consideration:

  1. How large the tree will grow. In general, as a tree grows up and out, the roots grow out generally past the cover of the tree limbs, so you need to consider just how large the tree and the root system will become and plant it far enough from anything that it might grow into or over.
  2. Roots can penetrate a building’s foundation through preexisting cracks. While tree roots cannot normally pierce through the foundation, they can find a way to get into cracks, which can cause foundation uplift. Roots can also leech water from the soil beneath foundations, causing structures to settle and sink unevenly.
  3. Tree roots can potentially penetrate underground drainage pipes, especially when they leak. Water that leaks from a drainage or sanitary pipe can encourage root growth in the direction of the leak, where the roots may eventually enter the pipe and obstruct its flow.

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Is this a DIY, or should I call in an expert?

Trimming or removal of large trees should be under taken by a professional arborist. These professionals have the knowledge, tools and equipment to safely trim or remove the tree. If you are not sure of the health of a tree on your property, contact a professional arborist who should be able to determine its health and perform any necessary work. If the tree is dying, dead or leaning toward or over your house or any other outbuilding, it should definitely be removed.

Trees and branches should be trimmed back from the roof at least four metres to allow for proper air flow and to prevent any damage caused by branches that may pierce roof materials. Tree leaves or tree branches that overhang and shade the roof will cause the roof covering to deteriorate faster by not allowing the roofing material to dry out after a rain.

Bushes and small ornamental trees should be planted far enough away from exterior wall so that there is at least a 30-cm space allowing air to move between the bush or tree and the building. This will stop moisture from building up in the wall and eliminate possible damage. This is particularly important if the exterior walls are covered in brick, wood, stucco or exterior insulation finish systems.

This space should be maintained by trimming the bush or tree back from the wall on a regular basis. Damage can occur to bricks over time as they soak up moisture and do not dry out because of the heavy bushes against the wall. When the temperature drops below freezing causing frost, the moisture in the bricks also freezes causing the bricks to crack or crumble. Similarly, wood or stucco materials will absorb water causing damage.treeservices3

While vines are attractive, they too can cause damage to exterior walls similar to the damage to exterior surfaces noted above. They can also obstruct kitchen, bathroom and gas fire place vents on exterior walls and they have been known to even block chimney flues. If vines have grown in any of these areas, you may also have a problem with unwanted creatures because the vine has made an opening in the wall large enough for bees and other insects to enter.

If you’re concerned about the greenery on your property, we can help you out! Take a look at our list of arborists and tree experts. They’ll assess what needs to be done on your property to ensure the greenery won’t damage your home.

If you need a landscaper to spruce up the trees on your property, we have a database of landscape contractors who can help.

About the Author: Rob Parker is a home inspector and columnist for the Toronto Sun.

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