By Mary Francois Deweese – Registered Landscape Architect and Sustainable Site Consultant, Principal of Acorn Landscapes, St. Louis, MO.
When buying a new home, make sure your home inspector looks at the entire yard and reports on possible problems. Some landscape related problems can be very costly to repair. It is important for new homeowners to research the types of plants they have in their yard, especially those that are close to the house, and be aware of those that may pose a problem years down the road from weak wood or root invasion. The following are some tips for inspecting a home landscape.
Trees – 1. Topping : all topping is BAD and should be noted. Many trees that have been topped will need to be removed, especially if they are near the home. Topped trees are weakened and pose a greater risk of breaking up in storms or strong winds than a non topped tree of the same species.
2. Mulching – Volcano mulching can severely injure trees or even kill them after several years. Tree trunks with even a few inches of mulch up against the bark should be evaluated by arborist.
3. Roots – Roots can damage foundations or pavement. Note any small trees that may cause any future problems, as well as those already causing damage. Proximity – trees too close to a house should be noted as liabilities from roots and falling limbs. Construction – evidence of new construction near mature trees should be suspect for the future loss of the trees due to root compaction.
Walls – Walls over 2’ tall should be researched to ensure that the proper permits were acquired which would assure that the construction of the wall is engineered to hold the soil. All walls over 4’ tall, or with surcharge loads (slopes above them) should be critically examined for proper construction, including pulling permits, looking for evidence of reinforcement and proper drainage behind wall.
Pavement – Look for signs of proper construction, thickness, appropriate joints, transition to structure, etc.
Drainage – All ground must slope away from the house. Examine outlets of all underground piping, note if there is any way to access the pipe, clean outs are recommended for long stretches of pipe. Examine overland flow direction….growth of trees may push up soil reducing the intended flow across a site, gradual siltation of swales can result in improper drainage.
Railings - Older railings may not adhere to the 4” spacing code, this should be noted in case the new owners have small children or grandchildren who could be harmed and it would be their liability. Any place there are more than 2 steps it should be advised that a handrail be installed. Anywhere there is a drop in elevation of more than 2’ there should either be a planted barrier or a handrail installed. All pools should have secure 42” fences around them.
Always suggest and arborist inspection if there is ANY indication that trees on the property have a problem or may cause a problem.
Look for clues as to the construction method and details of site amenities or request copies of original permits.
Examine recent landscape improvements carefully for unprofessional practices, i.e. Mulching, planting depth, evidence of burlap or wire baskets, etc.