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Root Barriers

The Importance of Root Barriers in Protecting Foundations

An often overlooked but essential component in this protective arsenal is the root barrier. Root barriers serve as a shield, preventing invasive roots from compromising the structural integrity of our homes and other edifices.

In this article, let’s understand the significance of root barriers and how they play a pivotal role in foundation protection.

The Clash Between Trees and Foundations

The relationship between our human-made landscapes and the pulsating life of the natural world has always captivated us, both for its beauty and its challenges. On one side, we’ve put down roots, quite literally, with our vast cities and charming homes. On the other side, nature, with its boundless energy and tenacity, continues to stretch, grow, and reclaim. The friction between these two forces often manifests in the struggle between the sprawling roots of trees and the solid foundations of our buildings.

The relentless spirit of nature is truly remarkable. Trees, those silent sentinels of time, along with other plants, are continuously in search of sustenance. Guided by an innate desire for survival, they tap into water sources and extract essential nutrients from the ground. This journey of sustenance-seeking leads their roots to weave a vast network beneath the earth. And it’s not just a downward journey. Many trees and plants, in their quest for resources, stretch outwards, extending their reach horizontally beneath the surface.

However, in places where we’ve pushed nature to the periphery or where we’ve tried to compartmentalize it, problems begin to arise. Picture a neighborhood with sprawling homes, each boasting a lush backyard with towering trees. Above ground, these trees provide a serene ambiance, their canopies offering shelter from the sun and an aesthetic appeal that’s undeniable. But below the surface, it’s a different story.

The roots, in their ceaseless quest for nutrients, spread and stretch. This becomes especially problematic when massive trees grow near buildings or in regions where the soil’s nature encourages roots to fan out horizontally. Here, the aspirations of a tree, merely seeking to thrive, can clash head-on with the structural needs of our homes.

The Unseen Impact on Foundations

As these ever-searching roots extend their reach, they can sometimes find themselves on a collision course with the foundations of our structures. This clash isn’t sudden but gradual, and often goes unnoticed until tangible damages surface.

Pressure and Structural Damage: One of the primary concerns is the pressure roots can exert on foundations. As roots grow and thicken, they push against any barriers in their path, including the foundations of buildings. Over time, this consistent pressure can result in minor cracks which, if not addressed, can evolve into significant fractures or even cause parts of the foundation to shift or displace. The sheer force of nature, represented by these roots, makes the role of root barriers indispensable in such scenarios.

Moisture Absorption and Soil Shrinkage: Roots play a vital role in regulating soil moisture. They absorb water from the soil to nourish the tree, aiding its growth. However, this natural process can lead to unintended consequences for building foundations. As roots draw moisture, especially in areas close to the foundation, they can cause the soil to dry out and shrink. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in regions with expansive clay soils. Clay, when devoid of moisture, contracts considerably. Such soil shrinkage can lead to ground movement. This movement, in turn, can jeopardize the stability of the foundation, leading to uneven settling or even foundation collapse in extreme cases.

The Root Barrier

Root intrusion into foundational areas represents one of the most insidious threats to buildings and homes. The unseen progression of roots can, over time, compromise the structural integrity of edifices. This makes foundational protection not just a desire but an absolute necessity. The unsung hero in this defense mechanism is the root barrier.

A root barrier, as the term implies, is specifically designed to intercept or redirect the growth of roots, ensuring they don’t become a menace to structures. These barriers are typically constructed from a myriad of materials, each tailored to certain conditions and requirements. Concrete, metal, and specially designed fabrics are the primary materials of choice. The objective, regardless of material, remains consistent – to effectively guide or entirely halt the march of roots towards foundations.

Investing in root barriers is tantamount to proactively safeguarding structures. Their application serves a dual purpose:

Physical Protection

As roots grow, they exert force on anything in their path. By using root barriers to prevent these roots from getting close to or under foundations, homeowners and builders effectively mitigate the risk of this physical force causing harm. The foundations protection provided by the root barrier ensures that the roots don’t compromise the structural integrity of the building.

Moisture Level Maintenance

Roots, especially those of large trees, are known to absorb vast quantities of water from the soil. This can lead to inconsistent moisture levels in the soil surrounding the foundation, which can be particularly problematic in areas with clay-rich soils. By utilizing root barriers, one can ensure that moisture levels around foundations remain consistent, preventing soil shrinkage and the consequential movement of foundations.

Types of Root Barriers

Given the diversity of conditions in which buildings are constructed, it is no surprise that there are multiple types of root barriers available, each tailored to specific needs. Broadly, these can be categorized into two:

Deflective Root Barriers

Often made from solid materials such as metal or plastic, these barriers are designed not to halt, but to guide. As roots encounter these barriers, they’re directed away, following the path of least resistance. These barriers essentially redirect the roots’ growth trajectory, ensuring they deviate away from the foundation. This is a non-invasive approach, allowing trees to continue their growth, albeit in a direction that ensures foundations protection.

Trapping Root Barriers

This variant is typically crafted from special fabric materials. The genius behind this design is its selective permeability. While it allows water, an essential component for both trees and soil health, to pass through freely, it effectively traps roots. Over a period, these trapped roots lack the resources to grow further and naturally die off, ensuring that they pose no threat to the foundation.

Selecting the right root barrier is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Factors such as the specific conditions of the site, the species, and growth patterns of nearby trees, as well as the inherent requirements of the foundation protection, all come into play. It’s this intricate interplay of conditions and requirements that mandates a well-informed decision when choosing the right root barrier.

Installation and Longevity

When it comes to the protection of foundations from invasive roots, root barriers stand as one of the primary defenses. However, like any protective measure, the efficacy of root barriers is deeply intertwined with their installation process. Just as the strongest armor is of little use if not properly worn, a root barrier, no matter how robust, can fall short if not appropriately installed.

Installation: Getting It Right the First Time

A root barrier’s effectiveness is hinged on its proper installation. This involves a detailed understanding of the specific site conditions, coupled with a meticulous execution of the installation procedure.


One of the key parameters that dictate the success of a root barrier is its depth. If it’s too shallow, roots can easily navigate below the barrier, rendering it ineffective. Conversely, if it’s too deep, it might be an unnecessary expense and effort, as most tree roots tend to grow within the top few feet of soil. The ideal depth, therefore, must be determined based on the species of the tree, its growth patterns, and the local soil conditions.


Equally crucial is the width of the root barrier. It needs to be expansive enough to cover the entire zone at risk of root invasion. A barrier that’s too narrow can easily be bypassed by roots on the sides.


The location of the root barrier, in relation to both the tree and the foundation, is of paramount importance. Installing it too close to a tree might stunt its growth or damage the tree, while placing it too far might render the barrier ineffective for foundations protection. A thorough assessment of the site is essential to gauge the optimal placement.

The Longevity Question: Maintenance and Replacement

While root barriers are undeniably a boon for foundations protection, it’s vital to approach them not as a one-time magic shield but as a component that might require attention over its lifespan.

Different materials have varying lifespans. For instance, metal or concrete barriers might offer durability and longevity, while certain fabric barriers could degrade over time, especially in harsh environmental conditions. Additionally, factors like soil acidity, microbial activity, or even extreme weather patterns can influence the lifespan of root barriers.

This brings us to the inevitable aspect of maintenance and potential replacement. Periodic checks are crucial to ensure the root barriers remain intact and functional. Depending on their condition, they might need repairs or, in some cases, complete replacement.


The symbiotic relationship between our buildings and the natural environment necessitates a proactive approach to foundations protection. Root barriers emerge as a critical tool in this endeavor, safeguarding our structures from potential root damage.

So, by understanding and employing root barriers effectively, we can achieve a harmonious coexistence between our built environment and the robust and ever-growing natural world around us. Homeowners, builders, and urban planners should never underestimate the importance of root barriers in ensuring the long-term health and stability of our structures.

Considering getting your root barriers upgraded? Let FoundationMD offer their professional and expert services to you! Contact us and get a free consultation call with one of our expert handler!