Many home owners debate the necessity of using a tree care company, much less one under the supervision of a certified arborist. It's a reasonable concern. In some cases, tree care may be expensive and many homeowners are comfortable doing their own outdoor work. However, tree work is not gardening. Every year, skilled and experienced tree climbers die in the performance of routine tree work. Insurance companies consider tree care (even ground work) to be very high-risk. More than that, trees are complex organisms, the largest living things on earth. Unschooled cuts on a tree invites infestation, disease, dropped limbs, and ultimately may destabilize a tree to point of failure. Rose bush failure means the bush blows over and petals scatter across your yard. Tree failure, on the other hand, may mean the physical destruction of your house.
What about an unlicensed "tree guy?" Well, there's plenty of them in the Sacramento area. They don't pay for worker's comp, decent wages, licensing fees, employee training, or industry regulations on equipment. It's tough for a legitimate tree company to undersell the "unmarked" guys. However, the customer's benefit of a cut-rate price are offset by severe risks:
1. Unlicensed contractor's are not under the governance of the California Contractor's Board. Licensed contractors must provide certain consumer protections.
2. When workers compensation insurance is not provided by the employer, the employee may pursue a claim against the customer's home owner policy. Hiring an unlicensed/uninsured company may cost you your insurance.
3. Cutting a tree is not like cutting grass. The amount of foliage, number of limbs, diameter of limbs, and roots that can be removed vary from tree to tree. Appearance is certainly part of a professional arboriculture regiment but so is tree health, longevity, and safety.
4. Proper cleaning of a tree-removal site requires a large box truck and a commercial chipper. A decent used chipper costs about 40,000 dollars. Otherwise, the crew will not be able to remove all the debris. Making a dozen runs to the local dump is simply too expensive. Which is why one of the most frequent complaints against unlicensed companies is filthy job sites. They may want to clean-up after themselves but simply can't afford the repeated dump runs.
The International Society of Arboriculture standardizes best-practices provided by its licensed, insured, bonded, trained, and tested members. Having a certified arborist available to crew and customers saves trees, time, and money. A large amount of tree work performed in the Sacramento area is unnecessary. A lack of understanding as it relates to infestation and disease often results in a tree company suggesting removal when a less expensive treatment option could save the tree.
So, what does all this mean to the homeowner who needs tree care? First, be certain to contact a company with an ISA certified arborist on staff. Verify with the California Contractor's Board (via their web site) that the company is a legal, licensed contractor. Secondly, verify that the company is currently insured--don't settle for a copy of an old insurance certificate. Finally, all estimates for tree work should be free. If a company asks for money to provide a written estimate--run away. Ask if there are less expensive alternatives available; such as licensed chemical treatments, fertilization, and weight reduction. Let the estimator know what you want to accomplish and have him give you a written estimate. Compare estimates and ask to speak directly to a company's arborist if you have any questions concerning the health of your tree or the adequacy of the work to be performed. A little effort, a little research, and you may find that a licensed contractor and certified arborist can save you money, give you some liability protection, and even save your favorite tree.
Stacy W. Barker
Stacy is the owner of Bud's