All you ever wanted to know about

trees and tree problems!

Independent Building Surveyors but not Tree Specialists or Arboriculturalists

We are experienced independent building Surveyors who are knowledgeable in carrying out structural surveys on all types, styles and eras of buildings and we also have some knowledge of trees. If you are concerned about subsidence or heave or trees that are close to your property or not that close call our surveyors today!


Large tree, is it a problem?


Influencing distance


Please call us on free phone 0800 298 5424 for a friendly chat. We would advise that this article will not tell you everything about trees but we feel it will help you understand more about buildings and trees.

Trees get the blame for a lot of the structural problems with buildings

It's been our experience over the many, many years that we have been carrying out structural surveys that trees and vegetation are getting the blame for almost every property problem.

Today felling a tree near to a property seems to be almost standard practice. We would say that trees can be innocent and are not necessarily causing structural problems. In fact if the tree is cut down it can in some cases be more likely to cause structural problems than if left and maintained. Here are some of our thoughts on trees and some important facts about trees.


Should the tree have been cut down
just because it was close to
this property?


A large tree very close to a house


Tree cut down in a rear garden

Some good things about trees

1.  They can help stop the ground from becoming waterlogged.

2. They can help give shade from the sun.

3.   They can help hold sloping ground/banks of earth together.

4.   They look nice and can bear fruit

5.   They change appearance in different seasons


Weeping willow needs a lot of water
and grows well in wet or moist soil

Why a tree is like a glass of wine!

When we say this we do not mean literally a full glass of wine but we mean the shape of the wine glass and this is a good way of remembering how a tree roots should be. Balance and equilibrium is what the tree is achieving with its different roots. A root system will have:

  1. Lateral / anchor roots (woody)
  2. Feeder roots (non woody)
  3. Root hairs

Tree and roots shaped like a wine glass
with the root's much larger than the
visible parts of the tree

What do the circles and ovals mean in our building surveys?

We utilise a system of circles and ovals within our Building Surveys to highlight property issues so that you are not left wondering what the problem is.


Large tree within influencing distance

Here are few terms about trees that you may know the meaning of:


An evergreen tree does not shed its leaves in the autumn and remains green and leafy all year. Trees such as pines, conifers and cedar are evergreen.


The root ball (green) will be quite
small in comparison to the size
of the conifer


A deciduous tree will shed its leaves in the autumn usually after the leaves have changed colour. Oaks, Horse Chestnuts, Weeping Willows and Ash are all deciduous trees.


Deciduous tree starting to lose its
leaves in Autumn

Heart Root system

Beech and Birch trees are examples of trees with a heart root system. This is where the tree has different size roots that run diagonally into the soil from the trunk.

Tap Root system

These are the deeper tree roots that can develop below the trunk. Most trees do not have these. Oak and Yew trees are examples of trees that can have a tap root if soil conditions are suitable.


Yew tree with hanging pub sign of
the same name. Yews can have a
tap root system

Surface root system

This system has large roots that spread horizontally just beneath the earth with smaller roots that grow from these vertically. Ash and Norway Spruce are examples of this system.


Influencing Distance

This seems to be different from traditional influencing distance and is what we term as the distance insurance companies are happy to insure a property without a premium at.


Tree towering above property is
definitely within influencing
distance of the property!


Influencing distance


Damage to a garden wall where tree
roots have grown through it

Please have a look at the website for more information. Here are a selection of surveying articles that may be of help to you:-

Tree Preservation Orders (TPO)

A tree preservation order is an order made by a Local Authority or Council to protect the trees in the borough. This order can prevent trees from being cut down, lopped, pruned or uprooted. Trees under a TPO are often significant to the area either visually or historically and the order can be applied to single or groups of trees such as woodland areas.

Conifers or Leylandii the neighbourhood nuisance

These fast growing trees that were so popular in the 1970's and 1980's, giving an instant fence, have caused all sorts of neighbourhood problems including blocking of light, known as the Right of Light and the pushing over of fences.


Leylandii or conifers

In a best case scenario this is something that can be resolved on a friendly basis by having a chat with your neighbour. In a worst case scenario, and which is what we often come across, is a legal case where we are asked to comment on things such as where the boundaries are and on whose land are the trees on. There are also legal cases relating to the Right of Light.


Large conifers between properties
can cause problems with neighbours


Conifers have been cut down


Hedge of conifers

What do the ovals or circles in our building surveys mean?

Within our reports we utilise a system of ovals and circles to highlight problem areas or characteristics within a property to better explain the issues. If this does not explain the issue completely then we can also use one of our sketches that have been commissioned exclusively for us for use in the reports.


Blocked hopper head


Hopper heads can become blocked
with leaves and debris

London Plane trees

If you have ever lived in the leafier areas of London or are familiar with the area then you will be aware of the most commonly seen trees there. Often known as just Planes these trees can reach a substantial height of 40 metres and have leaves that are similar in shape to the Maple. The trees have the ability to shed their bark along with any pollutants they absorb which is why they thrive in the city and cope with the pollution well.

Moss growing on the north side of the tree

There is a phrase that states if you are lost without a compass then if you find a tree with moss growing on it then this points to the north, this is because the North side usually gets less sun. Although moss does grow more on the North side it can also grow on other sides dependent on conditions.

Christmas tree of lights

This photo is a fun thing to see although a tree close to your property may not be as funny!


Christmas tree of lights

Trees and clever Apps you can get for your phone

There are number of useful apps that you can get to help identify trees from the different leaves.

Caveat Emptor, why have an independent building survey?

You should always have an independent building survey carried out if you are thinking of buying a property as this will highlight any problems such as movement or subsidence in the property. Caveat emptor means buyer beware and means you would be liable for any problems; the estate agent is working for the seller of the property and may not advise you of any problems. Remember the building Surveyor that you employ will be the only person working for you with your interests at heart.

Trees and movement in structural frame buildings

Subsidence and heave

Particularly in a clay soil where it is affected by the moisture content there can be problems with trees and their roots which will search for water during a dry summer causing subsidence due to reduction in the soil.

In areas where trees have been cut down the soil can become saturated with water and can lead to heave.

Heave Defined:

Heave is an upward movement caused by activity in the ground.


Concrete underpinning


Underpinning can take many forms. Traditional methods were to dig under the property and add concrete foundations whereas in more recent times a variety of underpinning including:-

1.  mini pile foundation, literally poles of concrete that go down into a firm bedrock to support the house

2.  Stabilisation of the ground by filling in with a dry mix.

Independent Building Surveyors with Thermal Image Cameras

Yes we do have thermal imagers and yes it can be dangerous for Surveyors using thermal imagers if they do not have enough experience working with them. We have developed knowledge of thermal imaging cameras over the many years we have now worked with them. We have even given lectures about them at universities.

The photos below were taken as a bit of fun to show how warm trees are.


A tree!


Thermal image of the tree

Independent Building Surveyor

If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from a Building Surveyor, with regard to property problems caused by trees or any other property matters please Free phone 0800 298 5424 and we will call you back.

Example of our survey reports

We are more than happy to email you examples of our Surveys that we have carried out on similar properties to the one that you are looking to buy although we do appreciate that all properties are unique. We really believe that you should see what you are getting in the form of an example Survey before you purchase a property. Please free phone 0800 298 5424.

Surveying articles

The above article has been written to stimulate debate and discussion. We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have put is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).

The content of the website is for general information and entertainment only and is not intended to be relied upon for specific or general decisions. Appropriate independent professional advice should be taken before making such a decision. Free phone on 0800 298 5424.

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