Sunday, 1 July 2007


Last week I mentioned cob building and straw bale construction as alternatives to the regular house building methods. One issue that keeps coming up is the issue about damp creeping in to the building. If the buildings are well maintained there is no more risk of this happening than in a concrete built house (they are pourus too!) Large overhangs from the roof is one solution to keep the rain off, the other method could be to build the house in a sheltered place near trees. Sites with trees fetch a premium and it always amazes me when developers chop them down. Things are improving a bit though and the value of the tree is being more widely recognised. In addition to their ornamental value trees provide shelter and screening and they can also act as a filter to dust and noise. Trees also give an air of maturity to a new development. In order to live a tree must be able to breathe through its leaves and to absorb sufficient quantities of water and nutrients through its roots from reasonably aerated soil. Mature trees grow within a delicate balance of soil, moisture, nutrients, aeration, drainage and micro-climate. If any of these conditions is disturbed by construction activities on the site the health of a tree will be impaired. Ground levels should stay the same around the trees. I saw an instance recently in Muff where the developer has dumped tonnes of soil into a wooded area to make way for houses. They have raised the ground level by about five feet around the trunks of the trees. The damage caused to the roots by the diggers and the increase in the levels will eventually kill them, although it will take a few years for the full effects to be seen. Trees have most of their roots in the top 1.25 m (4 ft) of soil and generally they extend to just beyond the spread of the branches. Mature trees are very sensitive to such changes. Ground levels, therefore, should not be altered within the crown spread of the tree. If possible houses need to be built away from the trees. Careful planning of the cables is needed too. Overhead cables will mean that the tree will need to be lopped, and there’s enough of that going off already around the peninsula. Putting cables or pipes in the ground near the tree will damage the roots so avoid that too. If you are building a house on a site with a tree in place try to plan around it. Keep the builders away from it by putting up a fence around to the edge of the canopy to stop compaction or pollution of the soil. If you are building a house on a site with no trees, get planting as soon as the builders move out!

Photo: Chopping down a tree lets more than the light in.

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