Cutting trees more than meets the eye

Mature trees are beautiful, but they can also be expensive. At least that’s what I hear from homeowners who’ve paid $600 to $700 to have unwanted single trees removed or professionally pruned.

Trees add lots of value to a property

Trees add lots of value to a property

Mature trees are beautiful, but they can also be expensive.

At least that’s what I hear from homeowners who’ve paid $600 to $700 to have unwanted single trees removed or professionally pruned. And while it may be tempting to try and avoid these charges by doing the work yourself, that’s not always wise.

You need to understand your limitations when it comes to DIY tree care, or choose a professional arborist properly.

Just because you know how to handle a chainsaw doesn’t mean it’s always prudent for you to take down a tree.

In fact, it might not even be legal.

A few Canadian municipalities require permits for pruning and removal of trees larger than a certain size. Check before you cut.

On a more practical level, if the tree is closer than 11/2 times its height to any power line, don’t cut it yourself. Could the falling tree cause property damage if it goes the wrong way? If “yes”, seek professional and insured help. The cost of repairing your neighbours house could easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars.

If the tree is damaged, split, rotten, leaning or has most branches located on one side, felling runs the risk of a pinched chainsaw or a trunk that snaps outward quickly and unexpectedly.

Is the tree larger in diameter than the length of your chainsaw bar? If it is, cutting safely requires special skills.

There’s also the issue of safety equipment. Professional arborists are required by law to wear CSA-approved boots, chainsaw pants, a hard hat, ear protection, eye protection, and heavy gloves on the job, and these items make at least as much sense for ordinary homeowners not trained in safe tree care. Are you prepared to invest to protect yourself?

If you do decide to fell a tree, proper technique involves three saw cuts that work together to create a hinging action that influences a tree’s fall, while preventing the bottom end from jumping up wildly as the trunk hits the earth. There’s an art to this seemingly coarse job.

Begin by making two cuts to remove a notch-shaped wedge of wood from the side of the tree, about 1/3 the tree’s diameter, 12 inches up from the ground, on the side the tree leans towards.

The next cut — the third one — is horizontal, entering the side of the tree opposite the notch, two inches above its bottom face, and extending inwards within one to two inches of the notch’s point.

The fact that this third cut doesn’t intersect with the first two is key. It’s this feature that preserves uncut wood fibres across the centre of the trunk, creating the all-important hinge action that keeps the tree under control as you move back and away from the stump yelling “timber”!

Does all this sound too technical? There’s still money to be saved doing simpler and safer kinds of tree maintenance yourself. Pruning branches is a case in point.

Although a high-quality, gas-powered pole saw for trimming branches up to 12 feet off the ground costs $500 to $600, that’s what a professional crew charges for just half a days work. Trimming small branches is safer than felling whole trees, and it’s something you’ll need to do every year or two anyway. Investing in the right tool makes sense.

I bought owned an ECHO PPT-280 five years ago for pruning my trees and it’s paid for itself many times over.

If you’re hiring an arborist, ask about insurance.

About one fifth of the fee you pay to an arborist should goes toward liability coverage. Ask to see insurance paperwork that specifically lists “tree cutting”.

You stand a good chance of being named in a lawsuit if the arborist you hire causes damage, even if you have nothing to do with the work.

Are trees troublesome? Yes, in some ways, but I say the shade, shelter and serenity they deliver more than makes up for the hassles.

Steve Maxwell is Canada’s award-winning home improvement expert, technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop magazine and co-author of The Complete Root Cellar Book. Sign up for his free homeowner newsletter at www.stevemaxwell.cas

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