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How close can a tree be to a house?

April 8, 2009

On my homesite, there are 3 nice trees aligned as a linear arborism. I would like to site the dwelling as close as possible to these trees. Although I am close to a coastal hurricane region, these trees would be WNW of the dwelling, so any strong winds would blow them down away from the dwelling (I guess that a tornado could blow them down in any direction.) There has to be a practical limit as to how close a tree could be to a dwelling, but I don't know what this would be. Perhaps 8' from the slab? I understand that the gutters would need frequent cleaning, but I don't have a problem with that.

Comments (17)

  • jasonmi7

    I like to keep a 100' distance or more. Dont' forget, it's really the root systems that cause the dameage over time.

  • sue36

    The closest trees we left in place are probably 20' from the left rear corner of the garage. We also planted a small birch 12-15' behind the garage. None drop leaves onto the roof (or into the gutters).

    I don't think you can do digging 8' from a tree and typically have the tree survive.

  • buildinginva

    Other than root damage, another big issue is soil compaction. If you have any heavy construction equipment moving over the tree roots, the soil will get compacted and the tree will die. This can be minimized by placing a thick layer of mulch (6-8") over the roots, which you should figure are roughly equal to the size of the crown. You may want to consult an arborist - if the trees are already compromised somehow, it would diminish the chances of survival.

  • rar1

    I am not an arborist, but as a general statement the dripline/roots should not be any closer that 25' from your slab. This guideline is for a fully mature tree, so if these trees are not fully mature take that into consideration

    It also depends on the species of tree. Some trees have root systems that spread far and wide, oaks, chinese tallows, Willows, etc. Others, like pines, have a large tap root that goes straight down with smaller anchor roots that don't spread as far as others.

    Others have given you good advice about compaction, etc. If you truely what the correct answer consult not only with a arborist but a foundation engineer as well. The arborist can tell how to protect and care for the tree so it will survive construction, if possible. An engineer will tell you if the root system will lead future problems. Some trees will do great damage after the fact. Some will do great physical damage with the roots themselves, others will do great damage with amount of water that they consume and remove from the soil supporting the foundation. Other problems can occur if the tree survives for a few years and then dies. If the roots are under the slab they can attrach termites, and when they rot they can leave voids under the slab. Also if the soil was stable when the tree was alive it can become unstable due to the tree no longer removing the water that it use to.

    I have seen trees that should have been removed live for 2-5 years and finally die,from the original construction damage, leaving the homeowner with a huge removal bill from a company that specializes in hazardous removal. The cost to remove 1 tree can run into the thousands of dollars.

    Also, don't kidd yourself about hurricane winds. The winds move both forward and backward, counter clockwise, so depending on the direction of landfall of the storm, you can get hit by winds that blow away from you or at you. Worst case senerio is when the storm hits just right and you get winds both away from, and then at you.

    One other thing to consider, is trees with root systems like oaks, etc. have been known to fall in moderiate winds after a period of heavy rains when the ground gets saturated. Trees, like pines, will snap about half way to the top 1/3 of the tree in high winds.

    Good luck

  • meldy_nva

    rar1 ~ that was an excellent summary!

    I know there are folks who will say "I have trees 8 (or 10 or 20) feet from the house and it's okay." In the first place, unless that tree is a tiny dwarf, it is NOT okay. It may survive for a few years, and if it survives, it may be able to grow roots around the obstruction (your foundation), but it isn't really okay -- it's just adapted to a bad situation. In the second place -- you really need to have had this happen to understand -- some trees (my experience was with a willow) are happily capable of sending out their roots a hundred feet in order to access the moisture collecting under your basement and/or around water/sewage pipes. Roots grow, and when they grow, they get bigger. When roots get bigger, other things get shoved out of the way, including stones, sidewalks, and house foundations. It can take years, but it will happen. That willow -60 feet from the house-- took twelve years to push a crack in a basement wall; it only took one good storm to flood the basement.

  • mikie_gw

    Wish I had a big nice oak 10 or 15 feet W & on the WNW corner of my home.
    Bulk of the house here runs east west and oaks galore. One on each east corner and one centered of the house north wall... in 10 foot range give or take a couple foots. A giant Christmas tree is centered on south wall. Messy tree, some kind of redwood fir.
    Those trees canopy the east and center roof. East side of house is cool,, center and west side get the afternoon sun & its hot and stays hot even after the sun goes down.
    50 yr old block home, west coast of Florida. St Pete.

    I've seen the passing hurricane winds blow all kinds of directions but they really seem to roar down the street directions the spookiest,,, E/W street directions mostly. Big branches break when the heavy winds suddenly stop and those big branches suddenly whip back the opposite direction. That whiplash snaps them and tosses things.. wound up tight energy suddenly released & all that weight...enertia. Loud Cracks & Thuds.

    Shade ..I'm sure its a huge difference on the power bill when the a/c is running.

  • ajpl

    I've heard that staying outside the dripline of a mature tree is a good idea. We weren't lucky enough to have any trees around our site but our old house was in a clearing in a woods.

    I couldn't find any photos but our old house had 3 mature trees within 12 feet of the house. One pear and two tamarack. We really enjoyed the shade and the trees appeared healthy. Unfortunately we lost two of them (and 13 other trees on our property) in a hurricane in 2003. the house had been standing for 8 years at that time. The remaining tree still looks fine though.

    Oh, one fell against the house but with no damage and one fell away from the house. Our garage had a tree fall on it as well and did not come out unscathed. That tree was far enough away from garage that it fell a long way before just the top hit the roof and crumpled it. The one that fell against the house was just leaning against the house.

  • rar1

    I don't want to be full of doom and gloom,but take a look at the video below. It appears the ground was saturated and the anchor roots of the tree were only properly formed in a perpendicular direction to the way the wind was blowing due to the sidewalk and street. Check out the site for other examples.

    Like Meldy said there are always people will say we have never had any problems, or only have had near misses, but the fact remains the danger of damage to home and life always exists when large mature trees are that close to a house. And unfornately this damage can remain hidden for years.

    Same goes for landscaping. I can not tell you how homes I have seen that have hugely overgrown plant/trees that are to close the foundation that are causing major damage for unsuspecting homeowners.

    You can do your own search and find more examples of tree damage, etc. The best search is of a recent event hurricane Ike. A huge protion of Ike's damage occurred due to falling limbs and trees. This damage occured in a widespread area from the Texas Gulf Coast all the way up to and through New England.

    Having said all of that your best bet is to educate yourself on the trees that you have and any type of both native and non-native landscaping that desire to provide and enjoyable trouble free and safe environment. There are no guarantees in life, but placing a house under any part of a tree canopy is just asking for trouble in more ways than one, no matter what energy savings or benefits are.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Tree falling on house

  • bevangel_i_h8_h0uzz

    Going by Jasonmi7's guideline of no tree within 100 feet of the house, there wouldn't a tree in 99 percent of suburban subdivisions in America! And that would be a sad thing indeed.

  • cynandjon

    I also dont agree with no tree within 100 ft of a house. With the cost of AC and the amount of energy they use, a tree should be close enough to shade a house in the heat of the summer.Everyone having the AC on when the temps are high is an incredible drain on the electrical grid.
    The house we are currently living in has several trees close by. Its always cool in here in the summer, no AC.
    Plant trees that are deep rooted. If you live in a wet area maybe you could check with someone like the arbor day society that can recommend trees that arent prone to fall over in high winds.

  • cynandjon

    Im sorry I missed the part about 8 feet. If you have slab that is to close. The roots may up heave your slab. The roots extend beyond the tree canopy.

  • brianstreehouse

    I am a tree hugger. We tried to save every tree we could when we were building. We were forced to move our septic field closer to the trees by the inspector due to grade. Even though we took care to avoid soil compaction and tree damage, we are just four years out from our build and have had to take down a mature sugar maple. I did find a local furniture maker who took the trunk, so at least some use will come from it. Now it looks like there are two more mature sugar maples we will lose this year. Taking them down now without damage to our home or our neighbor's home will be both risky and expensive. (The first one was no problem to DIY, but the other two I want someone who has insurance to cover error.) For the sake of the trees, err on the side of extra room.

    Waiting for spring to reveal hope for the maples,

  • swampwiz

    I'm going to with 15' from a fairly narrow oak (it's not a classic wide oak, but a tall and skinny one.)

  • rar1

    On the outside chance that the tree does survive, have a root barrier installed on that side of the foundation to prevent the roots from undermining the foundation.

    As others have noted, be prepared for the good chance of an expensive dead tree removal bill in 1-5 years.

    15' is way to close for a tall skinny oak as they tend to be top heavy and the anchor roots are usually not up to the task of keeping the tree in place during periods of high ground saturation and high winds.

    Just for fun, check out the link that shows a 94' long root mass that was extracted from a drainage pipe.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Monster Root Mass

  • brutuses

    There were 2 pines planted on the street side of our sidewalk that were here when we moved in 22 years ago. I suppose they were over 50 years old. Thankfully they were the responsibility of the city since they were planted on city property. The first one to go had to come down because it was leaning so badly. The second one had to come down when its' roots destroyed the main water supply and meter to my house. Thankfully the repair was made and the tree removed all at the city's expense.

    I wanted to plant a tree in the center of my new circular drive and then I realized that is where the water meter is located, so no tree will go there.

    When DH was digging to bury plumbing lines for the new house, there was a bradford pear tree directly in the path of where he had to dig. The machine he rented actually became stuck on the root mass. He said the tree had roots the size of his arm. That tree was planted by the properties previous owner years ago and she didn't realize one day that's where plumbing pipes would end up. LOL

    My advice is just be careful of what type of tree you plant very close to the house.

  • 432krk_nukebook_net

    Don't forget about ice storms as well.

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