Neighbour’s trees at the root of worries
QUESTION: I have a question regarding a neighbour’s trees that are adjacent to my property line, and I’d appreciate getting your impression of whether I have anything to be concerned about. I’m primarily concerned about the potential for damage to my home’s foundation.
The neighbour’s trees in question have their trunks only a metre from the property line, and my home is less than two metres from the property line, so the trees are within three metres of my foundation. I’m not sure of the type of trees, but based on some basic leafmatching attempts I’m guessing one is ash, and more than five metres tall. The other narrow trees look like some type of birch and are about three metres tall. All are the same distance from my foundation. The ash seems to be growing fairly rapidly.
My home is a bi-level, so my foundation extends only about 1 ½ metres below ground level. One thing in my favour is that there is a distinct downward slope of several inches from my foundation to the property line. If the trees are looking for water, there should be little to attract them to my foundation, I’d think.
So should I be concerned? I have read conflicting advice online regarding the potential for damage. CMHC’s website seems somewhat less optimistic, particularly for shallow foundations like mine.
We’ve had issues with the large ash tree before. A year or two ago, this tree’s branches were banging against our kitchen window whenever there were storms or wind. After I complained to the neighbour, he had the branches trimmed, although they’re just about back to where they were before, so I expect more problems this summer. These branches are now well over the property line. However, my primary concern now is regarding the impact of the tree roots on my founda- tion.
Actually, I’m puzzled as to why the neighbour would have planted these trees there anyway. He planted the ash within two feet of his newly built garage. If I were him, I think I’d be concerned about the tree roots destroying the garage’s concrete pad. Of course, if the tree damages his garage, that’s his business, but I don’t want my home damaged. Thanks for any advice you can give. Wayne Dyck ANSWER: While I don’t claim to be a qualified expert on the impact of trees on homes, my own experience combined with information I’ve learned from several seminars and discussions with my fellow columnist Mike Allen give me confidence that I can provide some advice. The first advice I can give you is don’t panic — these trees may take years before they become a major problem.
From the pictures you attached to your query, I would not describe any of these trees as large, at least not yet. While the ash is the largest, it still appears to have a fairly small trunk and is not excessive in size.
Other than the overhanging branches against your home, I would not expect this tree to cause much in the way of problems. Ash trees are not one of the most problematic types known to cause foundation issues with their roots. They also do not grow that large in diameter compared to many other varieties.
As with any tree or plants located so close to a home, regular pruning and maintenance is critical to prevent damage to the building from moisture or overhanging limbs. If branches from your neighbour’s tree are overhanging your home or yard, with the potential to cause damage, it’s within your rights to demand they be cut to prevent this from happening. It appears that your neighbour has been willing to trim his tree at your request, and continuation of this cordial relationship should prevent future problems from this tree.
As for the other trees, these may give you some cause for concern. Based on your limited-view pictures, I would expect that these trees might be more a poplar variety than birch. These are quite popular for new homes due to their rapid early growth. They fill out quite early, providing a mature-looking tree after only a few years.
Unfortunately, too many of these trees, planted so close together, may cause future issues with both of your homes. These trees have roots that will stop at nothing in a search for moisture, and have been known to work their way into weeping tile, sewer lines and even small cracks in foundation walls. Based on the size of the trees in your pictures, I doubt that this will be a problem for many years, but now is a good time to talk to your neighbour about future concerns.
Fortunately, it appears that you’re raising this issue at the right time, before the trees become so big that remediation will become difficult. Small trees that are as close together as the ones in your situation can be individually removed, one or two a year as needed, without significant changes to the soil in that area. You can create different problems if you try to remove all the vegetation at once, but I doubt your neighbour would agree to that anyway.
Start a dialogue with him, pointing out your concern, and you may find that he’s not aware of the potential for problems or the need to trim the unruly vegetation. Another suggestion would be to consult an experienced, licensed arborist, like Mike Allen, to do a site visit and offer advice on proper care or removal of the trees to prevent future problems.
Regular tree-trimming along property lines is an essential neighbourly job.