Minimum distance to House foundation

drrich2(6)October 15, 2009


Been curious about how the minimum reasonably safe distance to plant a fairly large shade tree (i.e.: Red Maple, Northern Red Oak) from a house. Did some Googling and the few pages I found really addressing the subject gave a variety of answers (i.e.: half the crown width, 3/4'th the crown width, etc...).

From what I've read, the main 3 issues entail:

1.) Mechanical damage - roots get near a foundation or utility line, & exert pressure against it. Hence the disturbed sidewalks we see near some species of tree.

2.) Trees exaggerate the soil moisture fluctuations due to water uptake, causing problems when soils expand & contract, stressing structures by pressure.

3.) A branch could fall on a house, or the tree could topple.

On the other hand, if you want substantial shade to cut AC bills, you need a tall, bushy deciduous tree with a fairly dense crown near the house. A drive through a suburb shows some huge maple & oak trees quite close to houses.

So, what's YOUR take on minimum distances between houses & tree trunks? I realize it may vary with tree species, so how about we focus on some of the most popular yard shade trees & ornamentals. My suggestions:

1.) Red Maple.

2.) Northern Red Oak.

3.) River Birch.

4.) Bloodgood Japanese Maple.

5.) Japanese Weeping Cherry Tree.

6.) Green Giant Arborvitae (to get a conifer in there).

You may have some other suggestions; I just thought these'd be good to start with, and the thread a practical one.


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You bring up some very good points and they are things I think about on a regular basis. Especially the established neighborhoods that are sought-after for their mature tree canopies. Especially in Atlanta, there are a lot of those neighborhoods.
Then again there are also a lot of disasters when there's an ice or wind storm that blows through. You see a lot of cases with a tree that had collapsed on a house.

Something else I think about is that the building materials used in the construction of a home reportedly weather faster if under a canopy. You may also have more insects or mosquitoes and have to clean your home more frequently for mildew or algae if it doesn't dry out.

Personally, I think the shade and the other benefits are worth some risk. While I don't plan on being alive in a hundred years when my trees get to maturity, I still try to plan in the event they lived that long. I wouldn't want any branches hanging over the roof. That's really my big thing. Trees will cast a shadow and that will cool the house for the majority of the day whilst giving the house some time to dry out in the middle of the day. I can see what happens to tulip poplars when they decline and snap in half. It can destroy a house and kill people inside.

If a tree is declining or has outgrown it's space then it's time to remove it before it becomes a hazard. Until then, plant away.

As for foundations, my experience with that has been more of a lesson really... don't plant trees with aggressive root systems or surface roots near a house.

I see a lot of commercial buildings, shopping centers and shopping malls mostly where there are large trees planted only 3 or 4 feet from the foundation and haven't noticed them doing damage. I'm not saying that's a good practice though... it's only a matter of time those trees will have to be removed. Such a waste of money and time. The trees are usually maples and elm too, both notorious for aggressive surface roots.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 8:45PM
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Dan Staley

Where you plant a tree to cut energy use depends on the side of the house it is planted. And how far away from house at maturity. And the species gives you the distance. That is: I'd plant a JM much closer to the house than I would a NRO. And I'd plant a JM for ornament and a NRO for shade, and the NRO to the W or SW or SE for maximum benefits in that order. But that depends upon infra conflicts and other siting considerations. So there is no template, just knowledge and art. In short: the list only bounds discussion so far and restricts many considerations.


    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 12:34AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i just cut down a 20 foot butternut.. that i planted about 12 feet from the house.. who thought it would get so big.. so fast ... and then it started producing the huge nuts.. and then i started having nightmares about it raining nuts.. and rabid squirrels ... etc down it went ...

the oak that is about 20 feet from the house .... seems to be about the right distance ...

to don's list.. i would add prevailing wind patterns .... at my place .... it is from the NW... and if i were to grow a tree to hang over the house .... and feared a wind storm... i would plant so that a falling tree ... used the wind to miss the house ...

frankly.. i fear trees falling on me in my sleep .. i would never plant one to hang over the house .... you do whatever pleases you ...


PS: foundation and soil issues seem a far stretch for most peeps .... roots are not going through cement .... they are not going to lift your house like a sidewalk .... perhaps a call to your local soil conservation dist office.. will get you information regarding what trees will work best in your area ...

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 8:53AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"(Roots) are not going to lift your house like a sidewalk."

Although this does happen, it's more common to see the foundation being pushed out from under the home by tree roots.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 9:10AM
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In general 18-24' distance. Have seen several arborvita and Eastern Red Cedar planted inside of 12 foot with no apparent damage to house down here.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 11:27AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

My opinion, and only that, my education is in another field.

1.) Red Maple. 15 feet for most of the 40x40 cultivars. I'll let them overhang the house a little bit.

2.) Northern Red Oak. 25 feet - its a great tree but its going to get huge.

3.) River Birch. 15 feet - maybe the big ones just don't register with me

4.) Bloodgood Japanese Maple. 1 foot - you might have to prune a branch or two but if you like branches touching your siding go for it.

5.) Japanese Weeping Cherry Tree. 1 foot - I pick up rabbits and get bit sometimes to, they just seem soo dainty.

6.) Green Giant Arborvitae (to get a conifer in there). 10 feet. It'll probably promote mold on your bricks in its shade or something.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 9:17PM
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The general rule of thumb is to plant a tree no closer to a strucure than one half of its expected mature canopy spread. The reasons most often given are that in planting closer, the tree branches will encounter the siding, gutters or roof, resulting in the need for unnecessary pruning or the potential for damage, both to the tree's branching/growth habit and to the structure. Inadequate air circulation also created by too close planting can lead to disease issues as well.

If the foundation is structurally sound, there is minimal chance tree roots, which extend well beyond the canopy dripline - as much as 2-3 times - will penetrate or damage it. And it is only with regards to specific soil types that seasonal shrinking or swelling can place pressure on foundations or other structural elements and potentially cause damage.....and this can happen without benefit of any trees as well :-)

Some trees, certain maples, cherries, liquidambar, etc., just tend to develop a lot of larger surface roots as they age and these can crack or lift concrete slabs like driveways, patios or paths. If that is a potential concern, then it is probably wise to place them well away from these surfaces or select another type of tree less likely to produce at the surface or above ground roots.

I am not sure you can simplify down to just a tree species - varous cultivars will have attributes that might make them more appropriate to be planted closer to a structure or further away. For example, an 'Armstrong' or 'Bowhall' red maple could sited much closer than say an 'October Glory'.

And not all weeping cherries are tiny, little delicate things :-) Try placing this puppy one foot away from your house!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2009 at 9:12AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Honest, I would have been the guy to put that 1foot from my house thinking IT needed protection!


    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 12:52AM
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10 paces or 30 feet

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 6:45AM
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