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Trees - Beautiful one day, disastrous the next

 by John Dowling www.abis.com.au

Homeowners are being warned to be on the lookout for a garden menace that could cost thousands of dollars if left unchecked. Building Inspectors are calling on homeowners to protect their investment through the careful management of trees. A recent survey estimated that up to 70% of all subsidence cases are blamed on unmanaged trees; particularly in drought conditions and in reactive soils.

When a tree removes moisture from the soil through its roots it can reduce support for the building's foundations. This can go unnoticed until there is ground movement, such as a tremor or even a large vehicle passing by, which can cause significant structural damage.

If you are looking to remedy the problem by simply removing the offending tree you are still at risk of causing costly damage and reducing the aesthetic appeal of the house to potential buyers.

"Heave" can occur when a tree is removed and the shrunken area of soil expands as moisture returns. This effect can be as damaging to foundations as subsidence and is a common error made by concerned homeowners.

Equally, in some councils, homeowners may be unaware that the tree is protected by a tree preservation order (TPO). Altering or removing a tree that is subject to a TPO, could land the homeowner with a very heavy fine.

Trees are also a threat to neighbouring properties and could leave individuals liable to any damage caused by roots or falling branches.

Many homeowners don't consider the potential impact trees have on the value of their property. It's a catch 22 situation with trees having the potential to cause thousands of dollars of damage at the same time as adding aesthetic value to the house.

The solution is to carefully manage existing trees and ensuring that if planting new ones, you have the right trees in the right environment.

A survey can reveal how surrounding trees could be affecting your property. If there is danger of damage, a qualified tree specialist can be brought in to provide advice and carry out work.

Here are a few tips for homeowners looking to protect their property from potential tree damage:

  • Examine the condition of your trees. Look out for danger signs such as dead branches, splits in trunks or branches and fungus.
  • Effectively manage your trees. Pruning the leaf area and keeping a small and tidy tree reduces its need for water and can ensure the ground surrounding your foundations is not supporting a lot of growth.
  • Avoid planting fast growing trees. Although they mature quickly they can become hard to manage.
  • Be considerate and courteous to neighbours when planting, removing or managing trees. As well as being liable for any damaged caused, you must consider right to light and maintenance issues.
  • Take into account the mature size and spread of the tree. Trees that may have been a safe distance from the house when planted, can be a potential threat when fully mature.

When choosing a tree it should be remembered that those which shed their leaves in the autumn can fill gutters with debris and any tree which extends above gutter level poses the risk of damage to gutters and roof if branches get too close.

The increase in high winds and storms in recent years makes such damage a real possibility even when trees appear