10 Tips to Prevent Tree Root Foundation Damage

Amber Guetebier
Written by Amber Guetebier
Updated January 3, 2022
large white house with tree on property
Photo: bauhaus1000/iStock / Getty Images Plus/ Getty Images

Let’s get to the root of your home’s foundation problem

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That big, picturesque tree in your yard gives you shade in the summer and a burst of color in the autumn, but its roots may pose a risk to your home’s foundation. Don’t worry—it’s not all bad news. There are ways to help prevent tree roots from wreaking havoc on your foundation. 

How Tree Roots Cause Foundation Damage

Tree roots can spread up to three times the canopy of the tree. When the roots grow, they dislodge dirt and rocks, creating a void in the ground that fills with soil. If this happens close to your foundation, it can cause sloping, shifting, and foundation cracks

Here are some methods to stave off tree root foundation damage.

1. Practice Preventative Planting

When landscaping, avoid planting any trees or shrubs close to your house. Aim for 15 to 20 feet away from your home as a rule of thumb. Trees that don’t get very tall such as Japanese maples, or dwarf varieties of fruit trees, can be planted within 8 to 10 feet. Fast-growing trees have fast-growing roots, so avoid trees such as weeping willows, silver maples, and poplars.

2. Remove the Roots

large tree in front of grey home
Photo: ucpage/ iStock / Getty Images Plus/ Getty Images

If tree roots are getting too close to your foundation, you can remove them. To do this, you should: 

  • Dig out soil near the roots 

  • Use a handsaw or large pruners to remove roots

  • Install a root barrier (see below)

  • Add in new soil to replace what you remove

  • Level as needed 

3. Use Root Barricades

While they aren’t fool-proof against roots growing, root barricades can help prevent roots from getting close to your home’s foundation. Installing a root barricade involves digging a deep hole or trench between the tree and your home’s concrete foundation, ideally at least five feet away from the foundation, then placing a non-permeable barrier vertically  between the tree and the house.

4. Practice Care and Feeding

man spraying tree roots
Photo: Michael O'Keene/ Adobe Stock

Tree roots support a tree structurally to keep it from toppling over, but they also spread out to gather water and nutrients to keep the tree healthy. Making sure your tree has both will help ensure your tree's health and decrease the need for the root to grow near your foundation.. 

  • Fertilize your tree once a year in the spring by applying a granular fertilizer near the tree's dripline. 

  • Water your tree regularly, especially during the dry season. 

  • Water your tree deeply: this means a slow, steady drip that can penetrate down into the soil vs. quickly flooding the base, which only gets the surface dirt moist. 

  • Place soaker hoses around the tree’s drip line to water your tree thoroughly without wasting water. 

5. Hire a Tree Service 

Ordering a tree a health check is well worth the cost to hire a tree service, as it can help prevent potentially costly repairs down the road. An arborist near you can trim large branches and offer any advice about the longevity of your tree.

6. Remove the Tree

man removing tree from residential area
Photo: nd700/ Adobe Stock

If your tree specialist agrees that removal is the safest option, the cost to remove a tree will likely outweigh the cost of major foundation repair. Depending on the size and health of the tree, it can cost anywhere from $200 to $2,000 to remove a tree. Most major foundation repairs cost $4,000 or more, so tree removal could save you money in the long run.

7. Inspect After Weather 

Extreme weather can cause roots to change. Drought may cause roots to shrink, whereas heavy rains can cause tree roots to expand. As the roots grow, expand, and contract, the soil will do the same. If you’ve experienced a long period of drought or rain, inspect your home for signs of foundation damage,

8. Check Your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy 

Depending on the circumstances and your specific policy, your homeowner’s insurance may cover the cost of foundation repairs, but likely won’t include root damage. Most (but not all) insurance companies consider root damage part of regular wear and tear and therefore the homeowner’s responsibility. 

9. Watch for Warning Signs 

Keep an out for any potential foundation problems and tend to them before they become too costly. These can include:

  • Cracks on walls or on the foundation itself

  • Cracks in floor tiles 

  • Windows and doors that stick or won’t latch (interior and exterior!)

  • Nails popping out of drywall

  • Sloping floors

  • Leaking pipes

  • Bowing walls 

10. Hire a Repair Person

The average cost for foundation repairs is about $4,500 but can vary from as little as $500 to as much as $7,000 or more. Before you hire for foundation repair, ask your contractor a few critical questions, including:

  • What is wrong with the foundation?

  • How will you fix it?

  • Are there any less expensive alternatives? 

  • What will happen if you don’t address it for a few years? 

Your home’s foundation is its support system and is what keeps your home from sinking into the earth below. If you suspect you have damage to your foundation, look for a licensed local contractor who does foundation repair near you.

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