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Plants can cause external damage to buildings

24/08/20Plants can cause external damage to buildings

Along with thatched roofs and black-and-white half-timbering, an ivy-covered cottage is a quintessential sight in many British villages. But while plants may look very pretty growing up the external walls of a house, they could be doing unseen and untold damage to the property beneath the decoration. A professional survey will draw your attention to the potential hazards of external planting, but it’s worth bearing the following points in mind, if your property is literally becoming a ‘green house’.

Unhappy trails - plants that damage buildings

Climbing plants and creepers are ones that grow up and over buildings, often by attaching themselves to the surface, and these are the ones to especially avoid. Some plants have suckers on their branches, or small spikes, that grip to the wall very firmly. On pointed brickwork, this can result in damage to the mortar, while on rendered surfaces, the plant can actually prise the mortar away from the wall – allowing water to encroach and cause further damage. Ivy is perhaps the worst culprit in this instance. It grows like mad, is hardy and evergreen, and, given time, will adhere to pretty much any surface, including glass.    

Thousands of these attachments and penetrations will drain the wall of moisture and dislodge masonry. They can also grow behind downspouts and guttering, and force their way into roof spaces and behind fascia boards. Plants can move tiles and make holes, allowing birds into the roof space and causing leaks. Because of this, vegetation should never be allowed to grow to eaves and roof height. The most damaging of these climbers include varieties of ivy and vine. The other damage these plants can do is from their ground roots. If they are growing close to the house, the trunk can widen, pressing against the wall, undermining the foundations and even disrupting the building’s underground drains. This can eventually cause settlement in the property, which is a major structural defect.  

Removal and safer options for climbing plants

If a climber gets out of hand, the quickest way to stop its growth is to cut it off at root level, depriving its water supply. This will cause the plant to die and will make removal easier, though ivy in particular can be a challenge to remove completely – a tell-tale sign ivy has been removed from a property are the many dead fronds left attached to the wall after removal. It can take wire brush, a scraper, a specialist stone cleaner, or even burning or a jet wash on a low setting to shift. Vines can also tangle around guttering and be very obstinate to remove completely, while shedding leaves can block gutter channels and drainage grids.  

Not all climbing plants are bad for your house. One relatively safe ivy variety is Boston Ivy, also called Japanese creeper. It looks beautiful, especially in the autumn before it sheds, and its suckers don’t actually penetrate the wall. Other safer plants on external walls include Virginia creeper, clematis, honeysuckle and hydrangeas. As an extra precaution, if you use a trellis or a wire mesh, the plant clings and grows on this, rather than the wall, which protects it from damage.


If you are buying, selling or letting a property and are concerned about external plant growth in its vicinity, please get in touch. Our expert surveyors can share their knowledge with you about how much damage it may have done and steps that can be taken for its removal.

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