How close can we build to this tree?

weedyacresMarch 30, 2014

Here's the tree in question. It's 18' from the side of the house, not counting the bump-out laundry room.

That bump-out is an added-on 5'x6' that was so poorly constructed (foundation, walls) it needs to be torn down. Since we're going to dig proper footings and reconstruct it, we figured "while we're at it" we might was well make it bigger. We're thinking 10'x11' or so, and it can then serve as laundry, mudroom, and other storage.

So how close can we get to the tree without killing it? In all honesty, I suppose I don't care if we kill it. It's a sweet gum tree and we hate all the prickly balls. I wouldn't mind putting a couple fruit trees on that side of the house instead.

While you're offering your advice on that, one other question about what the (larger) laundry/mud room roof should look like relative to the main, rectangular house. Would you do a gable to mimic the main and porch gables? Or something else?

Here's another shot of it, showing where we borrowed some siding to patch over where we shrunk a window on the other side of the house.

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Sophie Wheeler

You shouldn't construct within the drip line of the tree, which is usually about half as it is tall. That includes construction traffic and equipment storage being kept away from the tree. Since the home is already very close or already within the drip line of the tree, and you don't like it anyway, have it removed and it will make the construction easier logistically.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 7:10PM
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It would be nice if you could expand in some other direction, as you can't count on cuts and fills not damaging trees subjected to them. All true trees (as opposed to palms and bananas etc.) have extensive, mostly superficial root systems that often extend well beyond the branch spread - only in deserts do normal tree (as opposed to tap and anchorage) roots "go deep" with any regularity.

The main problem with building over tree roots is cutting them off from the full amount of moisture coming out of the atmosphere; of course if you actually physically cut them off entirely with a blade - or kill them with soil compaction then the rest of the tree will not be getting any water from them then either.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 7:17PM
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Suggest that you decide whether or not you want to keep the tree. If it is important, you can consult with an arborist about how to improve the chances of the tree remaining healthy. There are different options for foundation design, options for hand digging and wrapping roots, but those naturally are accompanied by additional expense...

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 7:47PM
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Since you don't care that much about the tree, I would suggest an immediate root prune. If the tree survives, keep going, it it doesn't, take it down.

We lived in a condo that was built well within the rain line of a big beautiful walnut; it came through our deck on two levels. The tree was stunned for a few years but recovered nicely.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 8:20PM
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Boy, I was worried I'd get a lot of pushback from people saying "don't kill a 100-year-old tree!" :-) Now I'm feeling much more inclined to just chop the thing down.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 12:19PM
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It's a sweetgum. Pretty to look at in a national forest in the fall when they turn purple, but a nasty horrible tree to have in your yard. If it were an oak or a maple, you'd get plenty of people trying to get you to work with it and protect it.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 12:32PM
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On the roofline question, a gable perpendicular to the front and porch gables would look consistent and add charm.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 7:03PM
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Thanks to everyone for giving me permission to cut it down. And from the stump grindings we got a fabulous pile of browns to compost through the rest of the summer.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 3:08PM
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Good choice, and it looks better already! Although, green grass and leafed-out trees (compared to the first photo) might have a little to do with that. ;)

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 6:42PM
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What a pretty piece of property!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 11:49AM
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