Archive for June, 2010

10 Tips on How to Choose the Right Tree Service and Avoid Scams

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Unfortunately for you, and unfortunately for those of us trying to run legitimate tree service companies, our industry is full of con artists, fly-by-night crooks, and companies that produce less than desirable results. According to a recent news release from the Better Business Bureau, “the tree service industry was the sixth most complained about industry at your BBB last year” (you can read the full press release here.) So what can you do to protect yourself when hiring a tree service? How do you choose the right company? What are the necessary steps to avoiding tree service scams? We would like to offer you a few of our insights based on our years of experience. These should help point you in the right direction:

1. Insurance: Make sure each tree service you are considering has appropriate liability insurance and workers compensation insurance. All certificates of insurance should be sent from the tree service’s insurance agency directly to you. Otherwise, it could be a fraudulent certificate. If a company has an accident, and does not have the proper insurance, then you are liable. You will have to pay for repairs to your property and any injuries that may have occurred as a result of the accident.

2. Better Business Bureau: Ensure that the company in question is accredited with the Better Business Bureau. Only a handful of tree services receive BBB accreditation and those that do are generally reputable. Also, find out what kind of rating the company has. The tree service should be in good standing with BBB.

3. Reputation: Do some research to find out what kind of reputation the tree service has with its local community. The right tree service should have positive online reviews in a variety of places. Check to see whether the company in question is a member of any reputable trade association, such as the Tree Care Industry Association or International Society of Arboriculture. How long has the company been in business? Do they have any complaints on local forums, discussion groups, etc? Ask the company for references, if you need the extra assurance. Especially for expensive projects, doing a bit of research is always worth the time.

4. Too Cheap?: If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. During these tough economic times we are all looking for bargains. But if a tree service is giving you a very low price, it may be because they a) have no experience, b) do not have the proper insurances and certifications, or c) they only intend to complete part of the project.

5. Too Expensive?: Similarly, if a price seems too high, say no thanks. Do not let a smooth-talking salesman convince you that $9000 is a reasonable price for removing an easily accessible oak tree in your front yard.

6. Multiple Estimates: You may be asking yourself, “how will I know if a price is too high or too low?” We recommend that you get estimates from at least three different companies. From the three estimates you should get some sense of what price is normal. If possible, we recommend that you meet with each representative in person. This will give you a chance to judge the company’s expertise and professionalism. It will also enable you to ask questions, learn about more about what is involved, and so on.

7. Compare Apples to Apples: When you consider different estimates you should compare what is actually being offered. If one tree service is offering extra services or some extra benefit then you should take this into account. For example, perhaps one tree service plans on felling the tree whereas another tree service will remove it in small sections? Felling a tree is easier and requires less time, but it will cause more damage to your property. Piecing a tree down in small sections will cause minimal damage to your yard, but it requires more time and effort and thus it will generally be the more expensive option. This is also a good point at which to compare the service, professionalism, knowledge, presentation, etc of each different company. Remember that price is not everything – you should listen to your instincts about which company is most trustworthy.

8. Avoid Door-to-Door Contractors: Do not ever do business with door-to-door contractors, particularly for large projects such as tree removal. The BBB and a number of district attorneys offices across the country regularly warn against this. Door to door contractors are often con artists that travel from town to town, preying on homeowners, particularly seniors. If you simply make it a policy not to do business with them, you will not have to worry about being caught in a scam. Besides, deciding to complete tree work on the spur of the moment is not a good idea – there are too many variables that must be carefully considered first.

9. Use Caution After a Disaster: Natural disasters (or whatever sort of disaster it may be) usually bring the con artists out in droves. Unfortunately, this may be the one instance where hiring a door-to-door contractor is necessary. If, for example, you have a tree lying on your house and there is no electricity, you may have to hire a tree service that passes by. But even in this situation, make sure you are being charged a reasonable price. There are many examples of companies charging exorbitant rates for simple tree removal projects after a hurricane, ice storm, etc. You should also ensure that the company has the necessary insurances and certifications.

10. Pay When Satisfied: Once you have picked a tree service you feel comfortable with, the most important rule to follow is never NEVER pay for a tree removal or tree trimming project of any kind until you are 100% satisfied with the work. There are countless instances of homeowners paying for a tree service project up front, only to never hear from the company again. The tree service industry is not like the building industry – we never under any circumstance need to be paid in advance for our work. One popular trick among disreputable tree services is to begin a project, collect money (for any number of reasons – “I have to pay my staff”, “we need money for fuel”, “we need payment to finish the job”, etc), and then never return. This is especially true with stump removal. In this scenario the company has completely removed the tree and then asks for payment, promising to return later to remove the stump. Upon receiving payment, the company never returns. Remember: do not pay a dime until your job is completely finished and you are happy with the service.

So long as you make contact with several companies, do your homework, make sure your company of choice is properly insured, and exert common sense, you are sure to choose the right tree service. Add to that never paying for a job until it is properly completed, and it is almost certain that you will avoid any sort of tree service scam altogether.

Dragon’s Blood Tree

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

I was watching BBC’s new documentary “Life” last night and the particular episode was all about plants. BBC featured some incredible plants, but the one that really caught my attention (being the tree guy that I am) was the Dracaena Cinnabari, or, the Dragon’s Blood Tree. This odd looking tree grows in the mountaintops of the Socotra Archipelago, which is a group of four remote islands located in the Indian Ocean south of the Arabian Peninsula. It is named as such because of its unique red sap. This red sap forms a resin that was a prized commodity in ancient times. Romans and other old civilizations used it as medicine and as a red dye. Dragon’s Blood resin has enjoyed continued popularity throughout history for various purposes, and even today it is still used as a varnish.A Dragon Blood Tree on the island of Socotra

You will notice that the Dragon’s Blood Tree has a truly bizarre shape, reminiscent of a giant mushroom or an upturned umbrella. This odd shape is not an accident. It is crucial to the tree’s survival. Socotra is a hot, desert island with an especially tough dry season and very little rainfall. In order to survive here, plants must develop clever methods for obtaining water. As the occasional morning mist sweeps across the mountains, water droplets accumulate on the Dragon Blood Tree’s long waxy leaves. The tree’s shape allows it to transport the water from the leaves down the branches and trunk to the roots. It is important that the droplets run down the tree because the sun will evaporate any that fall on the hot ground below. But if water does happen to fall, the tree provides enough shadow with its dense canopy that some of it is able to seep into the soil before being evaporated. This tree’s ability to survive in such a harsh setting is amazing, don’t you think?

So there you have it! The Dragon Blood Tree is one of many fascinating trees on Planet Earth. Stay tuned, as I’m sure we’ll mention many other incredible trees here on the blog… Monkey Puzzle Tree anyone?

How to Prevent Tree Damage

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Every year trees cause incredible damage to people and property. In the most tragic of situations, trees even cause death. This occurred here in Raleigh last week when a tree fell into a house and killed a woman. What makes this incident particularly sad is that it could have been prevented. Authorities believe the tree fell due to decay at the base of the tree. Apparently a large portion of the tree broke off during previous years, leaving an exposed gap at the bottom of the trunk, which led to rot. When a storm blew through the area, the base gave way and the tree collapsed. Had the deterioration been identified earlier, and had the tree been removed under controlled circumstances, this tragedy could have been prevented.

In order to prevent tree-related damage, it is essential that you identify potential problems early, before they turn into actual problems. As a homeowner or as somebody who oversees property where trees are present, it is very important that you regularly assess the health of your trees. As much as we all love and appreciate trees, they can be dangerous. Here are a few issues to watch out for:

  • Are there dead trees on your property? For dead trees, it is a matter of “when” they will fall, not “if.” Dead trees are especially dangerous if located near a home, office complex, or area where people are often present.
  • Are there trees with dead branches? Dead branches will eventually fall, and when they do, they have the potential to punch holes in roofs, dent cars, break sheds, or hurt people.
  • Are there any branches hanging in trees? In our industry, we have a special term for hanging branches: “widowmakers” You get the idea.
  • Are there trees with holes or rot at the base? If so, there is a good chance that the base of the tree is weak, which means it has the potential to fall and cause damage at any time.
  • Are mushrooms, cracks, splits, or any other indicators of a dead or dying tree present along the base of the trunk? If so, this is a tree that should be removed.
  • Do you have a tree where branches regularly fall? Not only are the falling branches themselves a hazard, but this could be an indicator of a larger problem.
  • Do you have trees that lean strongly in one direction? In conjunction with the lean, are there roots lifting out of the ground on the back side of the tree? If so, this tree should be carefully assessed, particularly if it is leaning towards a house, office, garage, sidewalk, etc.
  • Are there large branches with open, old, or rotting wounds? A branch like this has a high likelihood of falling.

These are just a few of the many potential problems to look for as you assess your trees. If you do not feel comfortable doing this yourself, or if you simply do not have the time, call your local tree service and ask them to give your property an evaluation. Here at Leaf & Limb Tree Service we offer such evaluations at no charge. Contact us today and we’ll set up a time to meet with you. Remember, the key to preventing tree damage is to identify potential issues early, before they develop into serious problems.