Why Is Tree Work So Expensive?

Why is tree work so expensive? I just want that one tree taken out, and I was quoted a price equal to:

  • three iPhones 
  • 600 pumpkin spice lattes 
  • a Caribbean cruise
  • 23 front row tickets to Disney on Ice 
  • one NASDAQ share of Amazon

There are many different facets of tree work that have a wide range of costs, but let’s start with the most common expense: tree removal. It can be difficult to understand why removing a tree can cost so much. To the homeowner, the whole process should be as simple as “just cutting it down.” But to a qualified tree company, the work is usually much more involved than making one cut with a chainsaw.

Complexity – Trees being removed often need to be cut apart one section at a time to avoid dropping whole tree sections onto the property or into traffic. This requires an understanding of how the tree holds itself up and how these pieces will respond to being cut with a chainsaw. News accounts are full of accident reports involving untrained tree workers, or even homeowners, attempting to cut apart a tree without the knowledge of how it will respond to being cut. Usually, specialized equipment is needed, such as aerial lifts or cranes to access the tree safely. This equipment is costly to acquire and maintain. Often, the use of this equipment involves setting up traffic control in busy streets where permits and additional flagging support are needed.

Difficult and dangerous – Arboriculture, and tree removal, in particular, is difficult and dangerous work. Tree crews are regularly asked to work on trees with compromised structures from storm damage or years of neglect. These compromised trees are often dead trees, which are particularly dangerous. A tree that has been dead for several years usually becomes brittle and inflexible. When you try to cut it down, it will often shatter, throwing broken branches onto your landscaping in an uncontrolled manner. At the very least, this could cause property damage, such as a broken window. In the worst-case scenario, a climbing arborist will be in the tree making the cut as it breaks apart with him/her in it. Too often, tree workers are in trees that have electrical conductors running through the branches. That hazard should speak for itself.

Insurance, Licensing – Because tree work can be so hazardous, qualified companies will have liability insurance to protect the homeowner’s property, as well as workers’ compensation insurance to help cover injuries sustained by the crew, should they occur. Also, select municipalities require tree companies to hold additional licensure above the usual business license in order to operate. If you seek out companies that are less expensive but that may not carry insurance, you are risking having to pay damages several times the original job estimate, if something goes wrong. TCIA member companies are required to carry liability insurance.

Trained and Certified Workers – Rather than choosing a tree company that relies on its insurance policies to bail it out of damages resulting from poor practices, choose one where the crew has current industry credentials and a history of training and experience. How do you know if a company’s staff is trained and experienced? Ask to see their industry credentials. Programs such as Certified Arborist, Certified Treecare Safety Professional and company Accreditation are all indicators of a professional business with the expertise to perform the work without incident. An accredited company will put much of its operating budget toward training and credentialing and are required to provide at least 50 hours of training to its employees. This training is an ongoing cost.

Homeowners have the option to interview two or three tree care companies before deciding about tree removal. Ask to see a copy of the current insurance certificate as well as copies of the crew’s competency credentials. If a company representative hesitates to provide these documents or insists they don’t need to “prove” themselves, find another company to work with. Tree care performed properly will be an investment in your property that, when done correctly, will give you valued returns for decades.

Find a professional

A professional arborist can assess your landscape and work with you to determine the best course of action to care for and maintain the trees and shrubs in your landscape. Contact the Tree Care Industry Association, a public and professional resource on trees and arboriculture since 1938. It has more than 2,200 member companies that recognize stringent safety and performance standards and that are required to carry liability insurance. TCIA has the nation’s only Accreditation program that helps consumers find tree care companies that have been inspected and accredited based on adherence to industry standards for quality and safety; maintenance of trained, professional staff; and dedication to ethics and quality in business practices. An easy way to find a tree care service provider in your area is to use the “Locate Your Local TCIA Member Companies” program. You can use this service by calling 1-800-733-2622 or by doing a ZIP Code search on www.treecaretips.org

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