Dear Barry,

A home inspector recently pointed out that the trees near my home are lifting one side of the house. A tree trimming company recommends removing them completely, but that would be a terrible loss. They are many years old and I’ve come to regard them almost as friends. Is there anyway to save these wonderful trees, or is it necessary to sacrifice them? –Vivian

Dear Vivian,

Property owners often resort to tree removal when less drastic measures would suffice. When root systems cause structural damage, the entire tree is mistakenly viewed as the offending party. But this warrants reconsideration since it is the roots that are damaging the property.

Most trees have root systems that are approximately equal in mass to aboveground portions of the plant. Just as it is possible to prune branches without injuring the tree, it is also possible to cut selected roots without adversely affecting the organism. With most species, the remaining roots are sufficient to supply necessary nutrients. Therefore, the way to curtail further root damage to your home, without killing your trees, is as follows: Dig a trench between the trees and building, exposing the offending roots. All roots that grow toward the building should then be severed. Be sure to remove a short section from each to prevent them from grafting. Root ends that have been separated from the tree will die, while the ones that grow away from the building will support the continued life of the trees. For additional advice, be sure to consult a tree specialist before conducting this surgery.

Dear Barry,

The heating system in our home consists of hot water pipes in the floor, connected to a gas-burning water heater. The system was installed more than 40 years ago and we suspect it is not efficient. In particular it takes about five hours to heat the house. Our first question is how can we verify the condition of the system? And second, how can we calculate the normal heating cost for a home of this size? –Lev

Dear Lev,

Old hydronic heating systems such as yours are typically not efficient because they were installed in an age when fuel costs were nominal and energy saving was not a serious consideration. The most common problem with these aging systems is leaking due to deteriorated pipes or fittings. If you have not yet experienced leakage, don’t be surprised if it occurs in the future.

To verify the condition of the system, the water heating fixture can be evaluated by a licensed HVAC contractor or plumber, but the condition of the hydronic piping probably cannot be determine because the lines are not accessible for inspection. An HVAC contractor can advise you further in this regard.

To calculate the normal expected heating cost for your home, contact your gas company. Most natural gas suppliers provide energy audits. They can advise you regarding the average heating costs for a home of a particular size, while considering the heights of ceilings, the types of windows, and the amounts of insulation in walls, ceilings, etc.

Hydronic heating systems, whether new or old, are not designed to heat a home quickly. Their strong point is maintaining a constant, even temperature once the home is heated.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at

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