What to Do When Tree Roots Crack Your Foundation

What to Do When Tree Roots Crack Your Foundation

Identify the source of foundation problems and assess the damage

By Stevie Donald

Cracked Foundation
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Tree roots usually crack your foundation by finding an existing crack and taking hold. Once the roots starts growing into a crack, they can widen it over time. Roots growing through your foundation cause leaky basements and foundation damage, so don't ignore the problem for long. Since tree roots can spread outward more than twice the height of the tree, the culprit may not even be that close to your house. By taking a step-by-step approach, you can curb the problem -- and if you're lucky, it won't cost you a penny.

  • What You Need to Know
  • Talk to as many professionals as possible to evaluate the best course of action. These may include foundation inspectors and general contractors, arborists and building code compliance inspectors. If the tree isn't on your property, you may also need to consult an attorney. The more well-informed you are, the better you'll be able to make wise choices.
  • Evidence of foundation damage is not only limited to visible cracks or leaks. If doors and windows stop closing properly, cabinet doors swing open or your floor seems uneven, these can also indicate foundation damage.
Protecting Your Foundation from Tree Roots

Step 1:

Employ a home inspector or general contractor to assess the damage. A professional should be able to diagnose foundation problems and causes by looking at crack patterns, your soil, nearby trees and your basement or foundation.

Step 2:

Find out who owns the tree. If it's on your property, you have the responsibility for fixing the damage. If it's on city property, such as the sidewalk, or on your neighbor's property, you may be able to hold them responsible for material damage to your foundation. This will depend on which state you live in.

Step 3:

Call the city building department if you have determined that a city-owned tree is causing damage (or threatening to cause damage) to your foundation. If you think the problem is with a neighbor's tree, talk to her and work out a solution. Your respective homeowner insurance companies should also be able to advise you.

Step 4:

Have an arborist (tree professional) or tree service assess the tree. It may be possible to prune the roots without damaging the tree, but this depends on age, size and tree species. If possible, it's best to save the tree -- tree replacement is very expensive and mature trees have value beyond merely their cost in dollars.

Step 5:

Get three detailed, written estimates from general contractors or foundation repair companies, because foundation repair is a job for professionals. Meet with the contractors and ask lots of questions about how they will approach your project and if they will guarantee their work, and how long.

  • Tips & Warnings
  • When considering foundation companies, check to see if they have been evaluated by ICC-ES (International Code Council Evaluation Services), a non-profit organization that reviews building products and services.
  • Not only can tree roots damage your foundation, they can also rupture gas, sewer and water lines.
  • To prevent or repair foundation damage, root barriers can be installed between concrete foundations and adjacent trees. Root barriers are typically made from durable, impermeable materials that will not deteriorate over time, even when buried in soil.

About the Author

Stevie Donald is a regular contributor to DexKnows. She has been a painting contractor since 1979.

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