Building a House Around an Existing Tree

When building a new home or adding extensions to an existing home, there may be existing trees in the lot that you want to keep. Below, you will find the information you need to know to ensure the trees you decide to preserve stay healthy and happy during and after construction.

Benefits of preserving trees

The most familiar benefit of preserving trees is that they are  good for the environment.  Besides taking carbon dioxide out of the air and releasing oxygen, trees reduce ozone levels and filter pollutants out of the soil. With their networks of roots, trees also keep soil in place and lessen erosion and runoff by absorbing rainwater, preventing landslides and ensuring the stability of structures around them. Planting trees can also reduce the ambient noise around your home, increase privacy, and provide shelter for wildlife.

Trees are also great for saving money in the long run. In the summer, trees located in the east and west can provide shade for your home, which lowers cooling costs. In the winter, trees become windbreaks which can help you save on your heating bill. Trees in a neighborhood consistently increase the sale prices of houses as well.

Additionally, some cities have a list of protected trees that you are required to preserve, such as heritage trees and endangered trees. You must do everything you can to make sure these trees are preserved.

Problems associated with building around a tree

When building around a tree, many factors may cause it to become damaged or even die. Branches may be cut if they are in the way or in danger of falling, and the bark and trunk may be damaged accidentally from construction activities. These injuries make it easier for insects and diseases to infect the tree. Trees can also become damaged from changes in soil pH or chemical changes in the soil due to construction.

What hurts trees most, however, is when their roots are damaged. Because the roots are hidden, they can be easy to overlook, but networks of roots can reach as far as three times the height of the tree. The tree cannot obtain nutrients if its roots are cut, and a loss of roots can cause the tree to become unstable. In addition, adding weight above the ground will crush the roots. This will cause the tree to slowly die after several years. Once the tree dies, it costs much more money to remove because it is closer to a structure.

Designing your project with trees in mind

When planning your project, hire a certified arborist to take a look at your trees. They can help you identify the trees, determine which ones to preserve, and figure out which trees may become a hazard during construction. They can also give advice on transplanting and planting new trees. Depending on the type of tree, some will be much more affected by root cutting than others. Older trees will also be more affected than younger ones. An arborist can recognize which trees are more likely to survive your construction project. Some cities may require a tree inventory (includes species, location, size, and health), which the arborist can also assist with.

Here are some general guidelines for which trees to save:

  • Healthy trees should be your top priority for preservation.
  • Younger trees are much more resilient than older ones. They may also be transplanted without ill effects.
  • If a large tree is located within five feet of a new structure, it will likely not survive.
  • Save a variety of trees in a group, which will help ensure their survival and decrease the chances of disease and stress.

Determine what your local planning department’s regulations are concerning trees and tree protection. This includes their list of protected trees, to what extent the tree must be protected, and guidelines to follow in your endeavor to protect the tree. In general, the less damage to the tree, the better. You must also consider trees in neighboring lots when designing your project.

Plan the construction around trees very carefully. You must protect the roots around the trees you want to preserve, so no construction or storage of materials should happen in those areas. Putting fences with clear signs around these trees is the easiest way to ensure no harm will come to them. It will also help to make sure the workers understand that the trees are to be preserved, to lower the chance that they will accidentally damage the tree.

Keep trees safe during all phases of construction

Before construction, take care of your trees and keep them at optimal health so they are more likely to survive. Water them and prune diseased and dead branches cleanly, but never cut off all the top branches.

During construction, if a tree is accidentally damaged, inform the contractor and deal with it as soon as possible. Keep trees watered if the roots are cut and cover the roots with soil or mulch. If the bark is damaged, cut any loose bark off cleanly and try not to make the wound larger. If half the bark around the trunk has been damaged, the tree is not likely to survive and should be removed.

After construction, monitor your trees and check for signs of damage. Wilting leaves and branches, leaves changing color and falling too early, fewer or smaller leaves growing, and more seeds and flowers are all symptoms of tree stress. These signs of damage may not be apparent for years after construction, so be sure to inspect your trees every year to make certain they are still healthy.

At Design Everest, we are committed to bringing your vision to life. Our engineers will coordinate the foundation design around tree roots and make sure the trees you want to protect are safe throughout the construction process. Call us today at (877) 704-6147 for a free consultation and quote!

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