Which trees can cause root damage?

exposed tree roots in dry ground

The Damage Roots Can Cause

Everyone wants a home surrounded by trees. They provide aesthetic beauty and in Texas, they provide something we need most of the year: shade! But trees also give us problems with tree roots, which brings us to the topic of why we need root barriers. Not all trees cause problems with their roots, but when they do, it can be costly and extensive. So what kind of damage can tree roots cause? 

Buildings and Foundations

Tree roots are not quick-growing, and they need nutrients and water. So, as they are growing, they exert immense pressure on anything that gets in their way of getting those nutrients and water.  This includes displacing soil, regardless of whether it is compacted clay soil or dry, loose soil. 

Some types of soil aren’t as efficient at supporting a structural load. So, roots can’t cause direct damage, but the increasing displacement of the soil compromises the integrity of the land, shifting the building and the foundation. A root barrier can keep the tree roots from reaching the buildings and their foundation.


Most structures are built with a drainage system for the water and sewage, which attracts tree roots, especially where rainfall is minimal. Aspen, maple, and willow trees are some of the species that have invasive root systems. This means they will keep growing in search of water. 

Drainage-field pipes are perforated so that wastewater can flow through as it drains from the building’s plumbing. Tree roots can push through those holes, resulting in clogging them or breaking them.  With a properly installed root barrier, this can be prevented.


While trees may be a part of your landscape, their roots can overcome areas where you have plans for other plantings. As some trees age, depending on their species, the roots become visible through the soil surface. This process is sped up with erosion and wind. Trees that are planted or grow close together are forced to compete for their nutrients and water, especially when competing in a garden of flowers and shrubs. With strategically placed root barrier, you can enjoy trees and your garden. 

Which trees cause the most damage to foundations?

It can depend on the region; here in the Dallas, Texas area, your foundation problems are likely to come from chestnut oaks, live oaks, red oaks, and water oaks. If you’ve moved into a home these trees are already in place, invest in a root barrier system early on to prevent the possibility of foundation damage. If you’re planning your landscape for a new build, plan your tree planting accordingly following these hints: 

  • Oaks: Across the country, there is a small percentage of Oak trees, but that small percentage makes up for 10% of all the foundation damage. This includes the oak trees we listed above. The tree root system fast growing and shallow, requiring a lot of nutrients and water.  Root barriers are important for keeping foundations solid.
  • Poplars: A Poplar’s root system is fast-growing and shallow and can do a lot of damage to sewer lines.  There are different varieties of popular trees, including cottonwood, Carolina, Gilead, eastern, and Lombardy, each being an aggressive growing tree that can reach heights up to 100 feet. The tree root system is water-seeking roots, making it a problem around foundations. With a properly installed root barrier, the tree roots can be diverted.
  • Ash: Ornamental ash trees can cause foundation damage, most especially the white ash breed. They are tall growing trees, which means they have a wide-spreading root system. The green ash tree can have a 30-foot root system that is seeking nutrients and water, making them dangerous to plant close to foundations. A strong root barrier is recommended when choosing an Ash tree to be painted close to the home. 

Can tree roots cause cracks in walls?

Yes, when planted too close to a house, a tree’s root structure is seeking water and will exert pressure against a wall, causing foundation walls (the outer walls) to bulge. Foundation slabs crack and move and have been found to grow into and through concrete walls, cracking them and causing severe structural damage.

How close can a tree be to a house?

It is apparent that the placement of trees can solve the problem of foundation damage. Placing a large tree up to 20 feet from the house will still provide useful shade to the house. A small tree can be planted closer than 15 feet.

How do you know if tree roots are damaging your foundation?

The following five things are indications that your home has foundation problems from tree roots: 

  1. The foundation floor has cracks.
  2. Vertical cracks in the foundation walls.
  3. Windows cracked or shattered that haven’t had other trauma.
  4. The door and window frames are uneven.
  5. The floor surface is buckling.

Is tree root damage to the foundation covered by insurance?

No, because trees are in existence and following their natural course of growing and spreading out. Homeowner’s insurance is typically for unplanned events like high winds and storms. 

Who is responsible for tree root damage?

In the state of Texas, when a tree falls from a natural cause like high winds, lightning, storms, or flooding, it is the property owner who is responsible, including if the tree falls onto the property. 

large tree burying its roots into a wooden deck

In Closing 

When you have trees with an expansive tree root system, it is important to have a root barrier installed to prevent possible foundation damage. What is a good root barrier? Experts know how to fix tree root damage and installing a root barrier is recommended – typically, a root barrier between 36-inches and 48-inches deep.