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Trees & Tree Root

Tree roots are incredibly powerful, and when they come into contact with man-made structures, they generally win. Here’s how trees and tree root invasion can cause damage.

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Many people dream of having a stunning home with a big, beautiful tree in their yard. However, that big, beautiful tree could wreak havoc on your home if you are not careful. 

Tree roots are incredibly strong and span huge distances (sometimes two or three times the size of the tree canopy). This means that a tree in your yard runs the very real risk of coming into contact with your foundation or even your water mains and sewage line. 

Understanding how trees and tree roots can damage your home, and learning to read the warning signs, is incredibly important for homeowners looking to prevent serious and avoidable damage to their property. Of course, there’s nothing you can do to prevent roots from spreading (unless you remove the tree), but acting quickly when you notice issues will make a huge difference. 

How Trees and Tree Root Invasion Affect Concrete 

Trees and their roots can have a huge impact on any property or structure in their vicinity. There are very few buildings that can stand up to tree root invasion once it has started. Of course, this impacts different surfaces, structures, and types of concrete differently. 

Backyard and Patio Slabs 

Exterior concrete surfaces and slabs are the most likely to start showing signs of damage as a result of tree root invasion. They are also likely to be the first place that you see these signs of damage. This is because they are generally close to the tree, but also because they are smaller, lighter, and generally less robust than a thick and heavy property foundation. 

Structures and surfaces that are close to a tree are most likely to be disrupted because of the way in which tree roots grow in circumference as they mature. By becoming thicker and less pliable, they exert pressure on the soil around them (and any structure above them). As such, thin, lightweight, or weak structures are likely to start cracking and giving way first. 

Concrete Foundations 

The worst, and most frightening, kind of damage that can result from trees and tree root growth is foundation damage. This will take place over a prolonged period of time, which means that if you spot the signs of foundation damage early, you have time to deal with the issue before it escalates. The nature of the damage depends on the type of foundation you have. 

Slab foundations are more at risk of having tree roots push between the slabs after breaking through the initial concrete footing. This can result in the tree roots growing directly into a property’s crawl space or basement, if the issue is left to grow unchecked, but is more likely to result in a mix of upward pressure and lateral pressure on walls. Poured concrete foundations are more likely to experience purely upward pressure, as the expanding roots press against the concrete and start to crack it. Water seeping into these cracks can exacerbate the damage. 

Interior Concrete Slabs 

By the time your home’s interior concrete flooring and slabs have started to become damaged by tree root invasion, the issue will be fairly advanced. After a tree root has managed to impact your foundation footing and disrupt the slabs, or even crack through the poured concrete foundation, it will still take some time to exert enough pressure to lift, crack, or displace interior slabs. 

The exceptions to this are concrete slabs that form the floor in smaller, lighter structures or outbuildings. If you have a standalone garage, for example, the foundation will be thinner and the concrete slabs or concrete floor will be subject to more direct pressure from invading tree roots. 

big foundation crack

What Damage Can This Cause? 

Damage caused by trees and tree roots is not a common issue for properties in Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on the lookout. When tree roots clash with your property, they can cause huge amounts of damage, both to your foundation and to vital utility lines that attach to your home from below the ground. 

Foundation Damage 

The most obvious and worrying kind of damage that your home can experience is a form of foundation heave. Foundation heave is damage that causes a property’s foundation to buckle or bulge upward, often cracking as it does so. Tree root invasion is one of the most common causes of this because mature roots are one of the only things capable of producing the force to cause this upward bulge in large, heavy properties with deep foundations. 

However, for smaller, lighter properties, there is also the possibility of frost heave, which is the result of a sudden cold snap. When cold weather hits suddenly, the topsoil can freeze solid before the lower levels begin to freeze at all. This creates a hard shelf that is forced upward as the lower levels of soil freeze and expand. If a home is light enough or the foundation is already damaged, this can cause the same heaving effect as tree roots. 

Water Line Damage 

Invading tree roots can quickly damage, block, or burst your property’s main water line, leading to issues with water pressure, or even an inability to get water in your home. This is an issue on its own, but can also cause a huge number of secondary issues in your home. 

Gas Supply Disruption 

If you use gas for heating or cooking in your home, which is still common amongst certain older homes, invading tree roots can crack, choke, or entirely break your gas supply line. This is incredibly dangerous for a number of reasons. 

Sewage Line Blockage or Compromise 

Finally, your main sewage disposal line is also found beneath your home. As such, it can be impacted by invading tree roots. If a tree root cracks or compromises your main sewage line, you will quickly find out about it as sewage may start backing up into your home. 

These are the most direct forms of damage that trees and tree roots can cause to your home. However, there are secondary forms of damage that can come with tree damage.   

Secondary Damage 

In this case, secondary damage is that which comes about as a result of the primary structural damage caused by invading and expanding tree roots. These issues can be many and are really dependent on the particular situation in a property, but can include: 

Dampness and Flooding 

Some of the biggest issues that can arise as a result of tree roots damaging your property’s foundation are flooding and general dampness. If the roots damage your plumbing system, for example, there is a chance that water will bubble up into your home, as well as sink into the ground beneath your property. This can cause flooding and lead to serious damage to your property and belongings. 

Another, slightly more common outcome is that water will soak up into your property through the cracks in your foundation. This will create persistent, low-level dampness and raise the relative humidity around your home. When this happens, you may start to notice condensation in your basement or crawl space. You will also notice a gradual increase in your energy bills as your HVAC system struggles to process the damp air. 

Mold Formation 

Mold and mildew formation are part and parcel with humidity, dampness, and foundation damage. While some kinds of mold can be harmless enough and do little except create an unpleasant smell, others can be actively harmful to your health and home. Most notably, black mold is a kind of mold that will eat away at the organic surfaces it forms on. 

Likewise, black mold can cause a lot of health issues including, but not limited to, nose, eye, and skin irritation, headaches, respiratory issues, lightheadedness, and even serious migraines. Those who have underlying health conditions, especially those that affect the lungs and skin, will be at increased risk from mold. 

Bowing Walls 

Bowing walls most frequently occur in basements when there is an excess of hydrostatic pressure creating strong lateral force, but they can develop for other reasons. There are cases in which foundation damage can lead to bowing walls, because of the way it disrupts the wall’s support system and leaves it more vulnerable. 

You will be able to recognize bowing walls by the horizontal cracks that form and spread as the wall starts to lean or bulge inward, deviating from its intended position. If this issue is allowed to progress unchecked, it will contribute to dampness and eventually collapse. 

Spreading Cracks 

Spreading cracks can be caused by any kind of extremely strong pressure on the structure of your home. Therefore, they are a very general sign that your property is struggling in some way. In order to decipher the cause of these cracks, professionals will look at their placement, direction of spread, and size. 

As well as being a symptom of damage, however, they can pose a risk of tripping, contribute to dampness and humidity, and destabilize other parts of a property’s structure. As such, it is important to act quickly when you see spreading cracks in your home. 

Flooding basement
Sticking Doors and Windows 

Sticking windows and doors are a common sign of foundation or structural damage in a property. These are caused because of the way in which the structure of a property moves when it is unstable. If the walls around your doors and windows move, they will cease to function as well as they should. 

You will be able to notice this based on whether the frames look visibly uneven, or if the door is pressing against the top of the frame (or the floor beneath it). If your doors and windows stick despite their hinges being in good working condition, there may be an issue with alignment. 

Each of these issues can also lead to further damage within your home, which is why it is so important to act quickly if you suspect that trees or tree roots in your area are causing damage to your property’s foundation 

What Can Be Done About Trees & Tree Root Expansion? 

If you want to prevent damage as a result of tree root expansion and spread, there are a few things that you can do. Firstly, but perhaps least appealingly, you can remove the tree. If you cut the tree down, the roots will cease growing and, eventually, degrade and become a part of the soil (though this will take a long time). 

Alternatively, you can take care to ensure the tree is well watered. Tree roots spread naturally but are spurred into spreading further when water is scarce. If you ensure your tree always has the water that it needs, its roots should not wander in search of more. 

If you have already started to see damage as a result of tree root invasion, it is important that you reach out to a professional. There is little that you can do to remove tree roots that are under your foundation without heavy excavation equipment and structural repair experience. 

Trees & Tree Root


While it is true that not all trees around a property will cause damage to it, all trees possess the potential to cause concrete and foundation damage. There are some that are more damaging than others, however. 

Adverse Conditions Make Roots Dangerous 

Trees are essentially the apex when it comes to plant life, and they require a lot of space and resources due to their huge size and long lifespan. This is not a problem in rural settings where they can spread without issue. Cities are a different matter, however. If trees do not have enough nutrients or water, they will spread their roots over large distances to find them. If there is more than one tree in close proximity, their roots may start to compete. 

If these competing roots come together at a relatively shallow depth, it is very likely that they will begin to push upward and cause damage to any structures above them. Even if this doesn’t happen, it is important to remember that tree roots grow in circumference as they mature. As such, even roots that do not have issues with competing trees may cause damage as they get older. 

Watch Out for Suckers 

There are certain species of trees that are more dangerous than others to concrete structures because of the way they send up new plants along the lengths of their roots. These plants are referred to as suckers and they can cause many problems. They sprout roots of their own as well as push through even small spaces between concrete slabs. A buildup of these suckers can substantially increase the stress a concrete surface or structure is under. 

There are not many trees in Ohio that do this, but the sweetgum tree, which is native to the northern half of the state, is frequently planted around Cleveland. Likewise, cottonwood trees, which are often planted in this area, send out suckers too. This is something you should keep in mind when planting trees around your property. 

There are many signs of tree root invasion that you can look out for if you want to ensure you catch any issues before they become too serious. These include: 

External Signs 

Signs of tree root spread and growth outside of your home are pretty straightforward, and most of the time, you should not worry about them unless they are getting very close to your home or other structures on your property. The most obvious and benign sign of the presence of roots outside your home is seeing them protrude from the earth. The top of a tree root will generally look smooth and rounded, and there should be no space underneath it (this is a sign of erosion or washout). 

If, however, you start to see sinkholes around your property, you should investigate immediately. This is a sign that tree roots have damaged a water line in that area. Likewise, if concrete slabs near your home start to heave upward and crack, you should have someone investigate your home, as this is a sign of root invasion close to your foundation. 

Interior Problem Signs 

Signs of root invasion that present within your home are surprisingly varied. If you start to have plumbing problems, for example, this can be a sign that tree roots have damaged or started to invade your main water line, or even your sewage disposal line. Be aware of drops in water pressure or brown, foul-smelling liquid bubbling up into your sinks and bathtubs. 

Finally, seeing spreading cracks and an upward bulge in your flooring, whether it’s in your garage, basement, or crawl space, can be a sign of tree root invasion. If you see this, you should act quickly, as this is a sign of advanced damage to your property and it will only get worse as time goes by. The longer you leave it, the more expensive it will be to fix. 

There are some things that you can do alone, but these are mostly preventative and assessment measures. Once tree roots have started to cause damage, you will need professional help

Good Yard Care Helps 

If you want to prevent this from being an issue in the first place, the best thing that you can do is take good care of your yard and be aware of where you plant any trees. Of course, most people do not live in a home long enough to see a tree they plant mature, so if you have moved into a property with a mature tree in its yard, it is important that you water it regularly to prevent unnecessary root spread. 

If you are seeing signs of tree root growth and spread around your yard, but there are no signs of damage and invasion, this may prevent damage. If there are already signs of tree root invasion into your drains or property, you should call a professional as soon as you are able, as this is not something that you can deal with alone. 

Professional Foundation Specialists are Your Best Option 

Removing mature tree roots without killing the tree in question is a difficult, time-consuming, and intensive task that requires special machinery and knowledge. As such, there is not much you can do alone. Dealing with a mature cottonwood tree that has started to damage your foundation is not the same as pulling out an old rose bush, after all. 

Professionals will also be able to help you restore your foundation after they have removed the offending tree roots. This is, in and of itself, a difficult and laborious task. As such, it is generally more efficient to have the same team undertake both jobs back to back. This will ensure you the best result for your yard, your home, and your wallet. 

Call Ohio Basement Systems for Tree Root Issues 

If you are having trouble with trees around your home, do not hesitate to call Ohio Basement Systems. We have been helping homeowners in Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, to protect and repair their homes since 1999. As foundation repair specialists, we are particularly qualified to remove invading tree roots and patch up the damage that they can leave behind. 

If you want to know what we can do to help you, please contact our team directly to arrange a free inspection appointment. Our inspectors will assess the placement of the roots, the damage that they have caused, and formulate a solution that lasts for your home. This means you can expect an effective and high-quality result. 

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