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Can tree roots damage your home's foundation?

The signs show up slowly. As the trees that shade your yard grow taller and branch out, you start to notice cracks in your driveway. A piece of sidewalk buckles, then another one. Then water backs up into your basement, and you're calling a plumber to get tree roots out of your sewer line.

Tree roots from fallen treeSo you start to wonder: Could tree roots be damaging my foundation, too? The answer from most experts is: Probably not.

"To be fair, tree roots themselves are not the direct cause of foundation damage, though many homeowners believe they are," according to Edens Structural Solutions. "Instead, the changes in the condition of the soil are what actually cause most of the damage to home foundations."

As trees grow, their roots can exert very high pressure on whatever they're growing through or near, explains Rachel Lovejoy on sfgate.com. They also displace soil, which can "compromise the integrity of the soil the building sits on as well as its supporting structure."

"If soil moves, whatever is sitting on it moves, too," Lovejoy notes. "Older building materials that have deteriorated over time can rise or settle as the soil displaced by extensive tree root systems moves, and the structures may develop cracks that smaller tree roots may be able to penetrate."

So while tree roots can contribute to foundation settlement, which can cause cracks in foundations, the roots themselves are not the problem. "Though small roots may penetrate existing cracks in foundations, they are incapable of causing mechanical damage through their growth," according to the Morton Foundation, named after J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day.

Tree roots can, however, cause damage to other areas of your home. They can cause concrete to crack and heave. They also can grow into sewer lines, causing pipes to burst or water to back up in your basement. All of these can contribute indirectly to foundation settlement and cracking.

Before you make plans to cut down a tree that you think is causing problems, we suggest you consult a qualified arborist. That may help you save both the tree and your home.

If you're having problems with invasive tree roots and think they might be affecting your foundation, call ABT Foundation Solutions at 920-733-4228 or contact us online to set up a free inspection. We can look at the situation and determine what's causing the problem.