4.2Building near trees

This chapter gives guidance on meeting the Technical Requirements when building near trees, hedgerows and shrubs, particularly in shrinkable soils.


The combination of shrinkable soils and trees, hedgerows or shrubs represents a hazard to structures that requires special consideration. Trees, hedgerows and shrubs take moisture from the ground and, in cohesive soils such as clay, this can cause significant volume changes resulting in ground movement. This has the potential to affect foundations and damage the supported structure. In order to minimise this risk, foundations should be designed to accommodate the movement or be taken to a depth where the likelihood of damaging movement is low.

This chapter gives guidance for common foundation types to deal with the hazard and includes suitable foundation depths which have been established from field data, research, NHBC data and practical experience. The depths are not those at which root activity, desiccation and ground movement are non-existent, but they are intended to provide an acceptable level of risk. However, if significant quantities of roots are unexpectedly encountered in the base of the trench, the excavation may need to be deepened.

The interaction between trees, soil and buildings is dependent on many factors and is inherently complex. The relationship becomes less predictable as factors combine to produce extreme conditions. These are signified by the need for deeper foundations. Depths greater than 2.5m indicate that conditions exist where prescriptive guidance is less reliable.

The services of a specialist arboriculturalist may be helpful for the identification of the type and condition of trees that may affect building work. This includes trees both on and adjacent to the site.

Consideration has been given to the potential effects of climate change in the guidance provided.

The following situations are beyond the scope of the guidance in this chapter and will require a site-specific assessment by an engineer (see Technical Requirement R5):

  • Foundations deeper than 2.5m within the influence of trees.
  • Ground with a slope of greater than 1 in 7 (approximately 8°) and man-made slopes such as embankments and cuttings.
  • Underpinning.