Renovation & Design

ASK THE INSPECTOR: Tree care can help avoid damage to homes

QUESTION: About five feet from the side of our River Heights house there are two young maples trees about four years old. Will the roots from these trees become a problem for the house eventually?

Thanks, Lawrence Marmel

ANSWER: There are definite benefits and drawbacks to having trees near a home. There may also be concerns as far as the root system creating problems for foundations and underground drain pipes, which may be dependent on the type of trees present.

The first thing to determine, before deciding what to do about the trees near your home, is the exact type of trees you have. There are many different types of maple trees, which are classified in the genus Acer (Aceraceae). Some of the species in this group have been known to be problematic in our area due to either their root systems, or their adaptation to our climate. Many types of maples are common to Eastern Canada, but only one species is considered native to the Prairies. While some of these may grow relatively problem free, with minimal disease or winter damage, others may not survive for long. I have seen numerous large trees near homes I believe to be silver maples, and they appear to be quite healthy and successful despite not being native to Manitoba.

The member of the Acer genus native to our area is appropriately known as the Manitoba maple, or box elder. This tree is quite commonly seen along riverbanks and in many yards due to its relatively quick growth and suitability to our climatic conditions. It is distinguishable by its unique leaf shape, which differs from the typical maple leaf we associate with our national flag. The leaves are described in the Manitoba government-published Field Guide to Native Trees of Manitoba as; "Opposite, compound, composed of three-to-five, coarse-toothed or lobed, paired, leaflets five-to-12 centimetres long." The key being the coarse-toothed edges that I always find similar in appearance to the leaf of poison ivy plants.

If the trees have grown up on their own and were not planted by you or a neighbour, it is likely they are Manitoba maples. These will often grow on their own from seeds falling from a nearby tree. Because they are indigenous, they are more likely to survive and have been described in some literature as fast growing when young. The real issue with these trees begins to emerge when they become much larger. Branches on the Manitoba maples can grow out in various directions and can create a significant crown when mature. These branches can often overhang roofs and could easily come in contact with your home as they grow. Either of these situations could cause deterioration, which is why regular maintenance will be required if you decide to keep them. Regular, proper tree care, including pruning, will be essential to prevent damage to the trees and your home.

Having had these beautiful mature trees in the yards of two of my homes, I know they can be problematic if neglected. I still remember the evening when my former neighbour and I had to lift a large branch off the hydro wires running to our homes after a thunderstorm. This large maple, which bordered both of our properties near the back lane, predated both of our ownerships and grew unruly due to neglect. We were lucky the branch did not break the wires before we were able to carefully dislodge it, or it would have been a major life safety hazard. In my last home, an even larger Manitoba maple was prominent in the front yard, which I pruned regularly to prevent it from touching my roof or the elms on the front boulevard. That tree showed me both the positive and negative aspects of having such a large Manitoba maple near a home.

The major benefit of the large tree in my front yard was the terrific shading effect it gave to the home and roof. Being on the west side of my house, it prevented the strongest rays of the sun from heating up my windows and home, minimizing air conditioning costs. It also made the front yard comfortable, even on the hottest summer days. The overhanging branches also prevented deterioration to the shingles from ultraviolet radiation, prolonging the life of the roofing and cooling the attic. Combined with the shading effects of the boulevard elm, that home and yard was well protected from excessive sunlight.

The negative aspect of the healthy tree was not readily visible to the naked eye. Because of the nature of the root growth in some of the members of this family of trees, including my lovely Acer negundo, underground damage is possible. In some cases, these roots can grow into small cracks or holes in foundations and weeping tiles, causing serious structural issues. In my case, the underground sewer line was the recipient of damage from tree roots. The damage and blockage mainly occurred on the city-owned boulevard, either from the maple or the elm, which helped considerably with replacement costs. Just to be on the safe side, I had the entire drain replaced at my additional expense, from the foundation to the street, when the damaged section was excavated and repaired under the City of Winnipeg program. I did this to prevent the need for future costly repairs should the maple roots further damage the old drain pipes closer to my house.

So, to answer your question, without further personal anecdotes, having these trees that close to your home will likely cause some of the issues identified, but not in the short term. I would recommend regular maintenance and trimming and removal only if the trees become too large to handle, sometime in the distant future.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the President of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors - Manitoba ( Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at (204) 291-5358 or check out his website at


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