Is it Safe to be Surrounded by trees so close?

chueh(7B)November 25, 2011

I know that this is a tree forum, yet I would like to have some comments on how trees affect a house, such as how the roots affect the foundation of a house, how strong the limbs are, and etc...

I am a green person, and do not want a lawn. It's rare to find a house without a lawn. I love trees and woods, and always love to live in a mountain woody setting. What I love is idealized though; I am not sure how safe to have a house all 3 sides surrounded by all the trees (mostly lobbloy pines) perhaps 5 ft away from a house, except the opening for the driveway. Please look at the pictures. The second one is the aerial picture where you cannot even tell exactly where the house is, due to so many trees around. I put an blue-purple arrow there to indicate where the house is. You can see now a little roof color and sidings shown. Also, although there are a lot of windows and skylights, there are so many evergreens there blocking the sunlight in the winter. Wouldn't it make the heater work harder in the winter, although it is in metro Atlanta GA. Normally, every household turns the heat on from mid November to Feb or even March. Any comments? Thanks

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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Chueh, a neat question.

If the house or pavement is new my answer is NO because of the building process' effect on the trees.

If the house has been there awhile i say go walk the woods and see how many fallen trees there are in what type an area and you will get an idea.

For me, i have a kid so now i worry. The big white ash overhanging our bedrooms with the rotted spot in the branch crotch is coming down. If it were in the middle of the yard who would care.

If it were me I would back the trees off a bit. Electricity and heating even with oil are so cheap now and insulation and insulated windows soo good 1920s concerns about shade are dated.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 1:10PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

It is more about tree size than just about distance from the house, in my opinion. When a tree is so big that it would crush the house if it fell, you want it far enough from the house that it will fall clear of it.

So I would say that your house can be surrounded by trees by all means, but keep them young; cycle them often. Take out the biggest one every year and plant a new one.

And do keep in mind that people are hurt and killed by falling trees outside of structures too. One golf course death sticks in my mind, and then there are risks to cars and people in them...

The risk is my reason for disputing tree idolatry, and it is one thing if the risk is to you, quite another when it is to someone else. My neighbours had a huge tree growing right between our house and the prevailing winter winds, aimed straight for my kids' bedrooms. Once it got to a certain size, the value of the shade it gave our yard in summer decreased to zero. It took some conflict, but I made sure it came down.

Roots do their damage different ways, one of which is to suck moisture out of soil surrounding the foundation, making the soil shrink back and leaving the walls unsupported. So at least you know what you are watching for.

Karin L

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 1:35PM
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This is a question that is going to generate a big range of answers depending on the responder's own experience and location. You will have to weigh through them and determine which most closely resembles your situation and take it from there :-)

Can a tree (or groups of trees) be too close to a house? Sure, but it's going to depend a lot on the species of tree in question and its age and condition as to whether or not it may pose a hazard or liability. FWIW, those that live in more urban areas may stridently caution that NO trees should planted close to structures due to perceived inherent dangers. Those that live in more rural, wooded areas where trees abound - much like the OP - understand that one can coexist with the surrounding forest quite nicely, provided one pays attention to what's going on.

If you value the wooded character of your property, before making any sort of serious decisions regarding removal or clearing, I'd consider bringing in a consulting arborist to assess quality and health of the trees. Some more weedy species maybe should be removed and those that may have any structural, pest or disease issues but healthy, desirable trees you may want to keep. Well-rooted, healthy trees do not generally blow or fall down unless the soil is undermined or they are opened to wind exposure by excessive clearing.

Same with the potential for root damage to foundations or pipes and plumbing. Some tree species - not all - develop agressive root systems that can cause problems. Not all soils are affected similarly by tree roots re: the shrinkage described above and in general, the date and state of repair of the foundation and any plumbing will have as much an influence on any hazards as the closeness of the trees and their roots.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 3:31PM
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If you have large 5" or greater diameter 5' from the house I would clear until the large trees are at least 20' from the house. (Distances are somewhat relative) You want to maintain the area around the house sufficiently clear so that sunlight and air can get to the house to avoid moss and fungus growing on the siding and roof.

The biggest problem of living in a woods, is the debris that collects on the roof. You should not have a lot of pine straw or leaves as things grow in them and can damage the shingles and roofing. For years part of my yard work was going on the roof with a leaf blower and cleaning the roof.

As for large trees near your house the most important thing is the type of trees and their health. Large health trees near you house is not a problem even it there are large branches. How many trees have come down in the area in the last couple of years? If a lot I may consider cutting down some of the larger ones close to the house. If there has been none I would not worry about it.

One of the saddest things is to see a large health tree taken down just because it is "to close" to the house.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 3:43PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Another consideration is that removing trees close to the house while leaving others, a little farther out that could still hit the house, may actually increase the chances of those left falling and hitting the house. Edge effects including results of wind-throw, etc are sometimes not considered in this type of situation, but can be a serious problem, even when only some trees are removed. So, if you remove many trees near the house, you may want to consider going ahead and removing (or at least more carefully evaluating) all large trees in striking distance of your house or other important things.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 7:04PM
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Everyone is commenting on storm damage and roots damaging siding and sewer lines. What about the risk of wild fires in your area? I guess part of that will depend on climate, part on overall management practices in your area, and part on the level of fire response you have.

To me, the photos look like the "before" photos from the news when wildfires take out neighborhoods. It doesn't look like there is a lot of undergrowth, so at least that may be a plus.

I know I would think twice about that before purchasing this home. My sister and her husband moved into the middle of the Manistee National Forest in a home in similar surroundings, with a tree-filled yard, an I can count on the nervous phone calls at least once or twice a year during the "red flag" warnings when she's all in a lather because there is a high risk of wildfires in her area. It was their choice to move there, but I wouldn't have done it for that reason.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 8:22PM
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I would love to have that type of yard. Checking for soundness and keeping the tall ones too far to hit the house. There are some trees that don't get much taller than your house. Those I would put closer. Drought, I can only guess I would rake up debris right up against the house. If it's coming for your house and trees, get outta dodge! You should get warnings if you have a TV or radio etc.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 9:52PM
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The number one weather factor that can lead to roof disintegration is sunlight. Over time, the UV rays degrade the material that holds the little pebbles onto the shingle, resulting in premature aging of said roof. Just throwing that fact in to counteract what I believe are undo concerns over moss.

Also, given the pineyness of this setting, I'll bet the soil is very sandy, not shrinkage-prone clay.

Also, I always consider the cooling effect of shade during the hot months easily equal to the shading effect during the winter. Obviously, I am advocating for not taking down trees. It pains me to no end to see folks insisting on a "wooded lot", only to then remove most of the trees.


    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 10:00PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

stream of consciousness here ...

how long has the house been there ... if over ten years.. then trees inmpacted by building should have already showed trouble ...

second ... you have a grove.. which is much different that a single tree over-hanging the house.. they shield each other from winds ...

"C" .... basement??? ... i just dont think the trees are going to seek out such.. and go for it .... those trees have been there a long time ... the roots are everywhere ... and being a rather modern house.. i dont see them attacking new technology pipes ...

4th ... are there any significant branches overhanging the house directly???

i think you need an on-site opinion of a highly trained arborist .. [not the local hillbilly with a chainsaw and woodchipper] ... in my world.. that would be a wise investment ...

5th ... are you in hurricane alley ... or not really ....

6th ... it would matter to me.. what species of tree is over or bending toward the house ... e.g an established oak is very different than a soft wooded pine.. or poplar.. or cottonwood ... the famous branch shedders ...

hire a pro.. and pay for piece of mind .... you might start with a call to your county Ag/ soil conservation district office to find out if they have a forester on duty .... those are the type of peeps who can ID forest trees and provide info on safety ... or refer you to a true professional ...


ps: GA is kinda flat.. do you have hillbillys????

    Bookmark   November 26, 2011 at 9:43AM
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All excellent points. Thank you... To Ken, I don't think that there are REAL hillbillies in at least where I am close to metro atlanta, yet there are small topo changes here and there. Perhaps, real hillbillies are more in northern or southern GA....

    Bookmark   November 26, 2011 at 3:47PM
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REAL hillbillies

Hillbillies is a relative term. I have seen "hillbillies" in some very sophisticated upper class areas of the city. I have also meet some hillbillies whose life style and knowledge put them will above the city people who look down on them

    Bookmark   November 26, 2011 at 9:11PM
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aspenacres(5b BC)

A lot of what I'm about to say has been said before but here's my opinion:

If the house has been there several years the trees should be stable.I'd check the closest ones to the house for decay etc. If they do not show any signs of possible failure I personally would leave them. I don't know much about Loblolly Pines but another thing to take into consideration is how wide and how deep the roots commonly get on the species and how strong the wood is. Like Ken said, you are in a grove of trees which protect each other.

A few blocks away there's a pine tree so close to a house it's about an inch away from the gutter. The house was built around the tree about 30 or so years ago. It's a really cool looking house. I'm not saying you want a tree that close to your house- that's too close. But I am saying to really put good thought into which trees you'll remove before you remove them. You don't want to remove every tree near the house and then regret it later on.

That's just what I'd do. I'm no expert but hiring a certified arborist whould be a great idea. He or she can tell you if the trees are risks or not.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2011 at 10:40PM
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famartin(z5 NE NV)

Personally, I think that would be awesome. Of course, I'd make sure the house is insured really well in case the obvious happened.

From a strict safety viewpoint... wind, ice, and lightning all can cause trees to come down on the house. Plus, as someone else mentioned, that's not particularly safe if there's a forest fire. If safety is *all* you are worried about, then definitely cut some of the trees back away from the house.

But again, I wouldn't do so if it was mine ;)

    Bookmark   November 26, 2011 at 11:57PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Why don't you just call an arborist (at least 2) to evaluate the health of the trees? Might as well get an estimate on removal while they are there.

Take that against your wants and needs.

You'll also want to consider the age of the pines and how long you plan to stay there. If its a long term plan, I'd remove the pines with the largest diameter trunks that are closet to the house. Since Pinus taeda is a weed pine in your area you likely won't miss them and you can then diversify with more interesting plants near the house for you to enjoy throughout the seasons.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 9:32AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you understand that every guy .... yeah its a guy thing.. who owns a saw .. a truck.. and a chipper .. and can make trees fall down and disappear .... is not educated on the finer points of tree theory ....

those who are NOT.. i grouped under 'hillbilly' .. it was a joke ...

you need a professional.. for piece of mind ...


    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 10:03AM
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"One of the saddest things is to see a large healthy tree taken down just because it is "to close" to the house."

Large trees that are too close to the house can be a problem for plumbing. The house we bought had a crack in the basement wall. The 'fix' suggested by our home inspector was to put up a couple foundation poles in the basement to stabilize the wall and then auger out the storm drain (to the street) to clear the roots.

The auger got stuck so we ended up having to replace part of the storm drain pipes out to the street.

Hopefully, these new pipes will help prevent any new tree roots from clogging them. We will probably get another sewer inspection in a year or so to see.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 10:21AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Pipes are clogged by roots when there are opening in the pipes that let their contents out.

And the roots in.

And the trees present are particular kinds that tend to root vigorously into pipes.


The typical mostly scalped property with swimming pool next door is much less attractive and distinctive than the one being asked about, with its cabin-in-the-woods appearance.

If you want to eliminate fire danger due to proximity of trees you will pretty much have to locate yourself in the middle of a large, open field.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 3:45PM
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The concern over wild fire is a legitimate one, but I ask the OP, what is the fire history of that region? Here In WI, we have what is known as the asbestos forest. Fires are not unheard of, but they rarely amount to much. Obviously, pine family members are quite flammable though. But I would want to have some idea of the fire history of my region before I'd take any undo preventative action.


    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 8:02PM
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wild fire is not much concerned here in metro atlanta, although many folks here like to burn stuff in their yards

    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 10:52PM
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Loblolly Pine is somewhat resistant to ground fires if the limbs are quite a distance from the ground. Fire is typically used by lumber companies to clear the underbrush out from these trees. I'd leave them if 30' away from house and the best tree in that area.
My general rule of thumb is to keep trees about 24-30' from house. Any trees that lean toward house or have limbs headed to the house are either pruned or cut.
I'd be tempted to thin the trees out to 30' apart, but there is the danger that some may be subject to up-rooting when you do that.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 11:19PM
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