Can Tree Roots Damage Your Foundation? Here’s What to Know

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated April 13, 2022
Two big trees in the backyard of a house
Photo: Westend61 / Getty Images


  • Tree roots are always looking for water and nutrition.

  • Tree roots dry out the soil and cause it to shift.

  • Shifting soil can cause foundation cracks.

  • If tree roots interfere with your plumbing line it can cause damage.

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Few things add to curb appeal like a haven of lush trees in your yard. Though beautiful, trees can cause foundation damage if they’re close to your home due to their roots. But don’t worry—with the proper knowledge, you can be ready to spot and address any root-related issues before they become a bigger problem. Read on for what to know about tree roots that could cause damage to your home’s foundation, and what to do about it.

How Do Tree Roots Cause Damage?

You’ve got to give tree roots credit—they’re always on the lookout for water and growth. Typically, roots grow horizontally, not far beneath the soil surface. When roots encounter solid surfaces such as pipes, sidewalks, curbs, and foundations, they start growing down. However, if there is a crack nearby—think leaky plumbing pipes—tree roots will exploit those voids searching for water and nutrition. They can also displace the soil around them, causing the soil to shift and put tremendous pressure on your home’s foundation.

“We worked on a house that had standing water in the back corner of the yard, and decided to plant a water-thirsty willow tree there as a way to soak it up naturally,” says Bob Tschudi, Expert Review Board member and a Raleigh, North Carolina-based general contractor. “But as the tree grew, its roots reached out and found the septic system, and eventually destroyed it. Now we look for non-invasive trees and shrubs!”

What Kind of Structural Damage Can Tree Roots Cause?

Foundational problems result from tree roots sucking up water. Even the smallest roots can turn ruthless if they’re constantly reaching for hydration and nutrients. Here’s a look at some of the specific structural damage that tree roots can inflict:

Soil Shifting

Since the foundation depends on the surrounding soil for support to keep it stable, when roots grow larger or draw out moisture levels in the soil, the foundation starts settling, leaving the foundation unsupported.

Weather Changes

Weather can also factor in the foundational damage. Roots can shrink during droughts if clay soil dehydrates, and they can expand by absorbing water during periods of heavy rain. These fluctuations can damage land structure by creating gaps below the surface.

Concrete Buckling

When soil shifts, support beams shift, walls crack, and ceilings become uneven. Although concrete settling is not always a hazard, it can cause basic structural damage in older homes.

Plumbing Damage

In their search for water, roots may go after your home sewer line if there are any leaks. When roots find hairline cracks in the plumbing line, they may grow into your plumbing to access the flow of water and nutrients. 

Signs Tree Roots Are Damaging Your Foundation

A tree in the garden of a house next to a wooden patio
Photo: KatarzynaBialasiewicz / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

There are a few telltale signs that tree roots are threatening your foundation. Here are some things to watch for:

Foundation Damage Near a Tree

You’ll notice cracks running across your foundation floor and walls, especially on the side that receives the most sunlight.

“Having the wrong tree can ruin not only foundations, but patios and even asphalt pavement,” says Tschudi. “It’s important to identify every tree and shrub on your property and find out how they affect the surrounding landscape and structures.”

You may also notice that your house leans towards a tree because the tree draws the moisture out of the soil, making space for the foundation to shift or collapse.

Buckling Concrete Surface

When concrete sidewalks or pavers crack, the roots will find their way to allow pieces of the sidewalk to stick up and buckle and may create a tripping hazard. 

Plumbing Issues

You may experience signs of a faulty plumbing system, such as clogged drains that don’t clear with a plunger, drain cleaner, or other treatments, or changes in water pressure.

How to Prevent Foundation Damage From Trees

If you want to keep the benefits of trees without sacrificing the foundation of your home, there are a few things you can do to prevent roots from damaging your foundation.

Plant Trees at a Safe Distance

Avoid planting any tree closer than ten feet from a home’s foundation as a rule of thumb. Avoid planting invasive trees, but they shouldn’t be closer than 25 to 50 feet away from your foundation if you have to.

Install Foundation Barrier

Before planting trees, be sure to install foundation barriers that can deflect roots deeper into the ground and away from foundations, pavement, and plumbing. Usually, they consist of overlapping sheets of plastic that help divert roots away from the foundation.

Pick the Right Trees to Plant

When picking trees to plant around your home, you must pick slow-growing trees that don’t have an invasive root system. 

Avoid planting trees such as willow, elm, or silver maples unless you have a large yard. Opt for manageable-sized trees that will provide shade without compromising your foundation, such as olive trees, English holly, or Australian willow.

Keep an Even Moisture Content

If you keep any trees near your home properly watered, there’s little chance of them creating problems. 

While it’s important that water drains from your foundation, it’s equally important to maintain soil moisture to combat soil shrinkage consistently. Regularly watering trees within 20 to 30 feet of your house using a drip hose will add moisture slowly and ensure even hydration.

How to Repair Root Damage 

Fortunately, there are ways to repair your home’s foundation if tree roots have wreaked havoc. Here’s what to do:

Trim the Tree and Root 

In many cases, you don’t have to kill your tree if it grows into your foundation or sewer system. Instead, call a tree-trimming expert to inspect and maybe remove the portion of the tree that caused the damage.

Call a Pro to Repair Your Foundation 

Suppose you’ve noticed cracks or damage in your foundation or are worried about the tree roots surrounding your home. In that case, you may want to consult a foundation repair professional to examine your property, foundation, and any potential damage.

Fix Leaky Plumbing

A leaky plumbing drain can leak water into the soil, giving tree roots a source of moisture. Roots can enter and block drains with poor joints or seals. 

If a tree root damages your plumbing system, be sure to call a plumber to replace the pipe and install root barriers to prevent more damage.

Remove the Troublesome Tree

Though i can be hard to part with a beautiful tree, sometimes it’s the best option. If preventative methods fail, removing the tree and the root system would be the last resort to protect your foundation.

For this job it’s best to call a local tree removal expert to remove it since tree removal can be dangerous and might cause damage to your property.

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