The Trouble with Trees

Sunlight coming through the green leaves of a big tree

Reading time: 4 minutes

National Arbor Day is generally the last week of April, though some states celebrate it at different times of the year, depending upon their planting season.

Here at vipHomeLink, we’re all about celebrating trees as they help to keep our collective home, Planet Earth, alive and healthy. However, as homeowners, we understand that sick or damaged trees can also create a clear and present danger to your home. If you have a worst-case scenario and need to take down your tree, we’ve put together a go-to guide to help you through this difficult decision.

Before your tree gets the ax

a red-leafed tree stands in a front yard
Do you need a permit to take down your tree?

Whoa, don’t just sharpen your ax just yet, Mr. George Washington. Once you decide the tree needs to go, check with your local municipality. Many townships require a permit to remove a tree, and non-compliance can result in a costly fine.

If the tree isn’t completely on your property or the trunk falls just outside your property line, you’ll also need to get your neighbor’s permission for removal. Any overhanging branches on your property are fair game, but make sure not to go into your neighbor’s property to trim them without permission. That’s trespassing.

Of course, diseased trees or trees in dangerous positions should be removed, and if your neighbor refuses to take action, you can file a nuisance claim with the municipality to safeguard your home and property. For all removals, we recommend you see a tree specialist to advise on safe felling, particularly if the tree is close to buildings, fences, or your neighbors’ garden. (You don’t want to crush their prize-winning radishes or snow peas.)

Getting the right fellers

a tree trunk laying next to its cut stump
Get the right specialist for your tree removal project.

The felling of a tree is complex and can be dangerous to people and property, so we recommend getting a professional to take care of the situation for you. Secure several quotes from reputable tree specialists (you can start your search with HomeAdvisor) and make sure to ask for the following:

  • Credentials and licenses – Are they accredited and if so, for how long? This helps to confirm you’re hiring an experienced professional.
  • A detailed estimate – Are you paying for the removal of wood and branches, as well as the stump? (Most likely not.)
  • A copy of an up-to-date certificate of insurance – This ensures you are not liable for damages, accidents, or injuries incurred during the felling.
  • How the service will protect your yard – This also helps to highlight the type of business you’re hiring and if they will take care of your property, not just your wayward tree.
  • Is their equipment OSHA certified, and will their workers be using protective gear? Safety is important and tells a lot about a business’s integrity.
  • Do they yell “timber” when a tree falls? One can only hope.
a tree being taken down on a front lawn
Conduct a few interviews and check online reviews.

It doesn’t hurt to contact the Better Business Bureau® to see if they can provide any additional information, and read a few online reviews. While these reviews may be biased, they can provide key information about customer service and the service’s removal processes. And we can’t stress this enough–conduct several interviews, so you’ll know if you’re receiving a reasonable price for the service offered.

We do not recommend you try to take the tree down yourself. Knowing how to make a tree fall and removing all the debris safely requires professional expertise.

Avoid getting “stumped” after the tree is gone

a stump is covered with red flowers with long stems
Dress up your stump if you can’t get rid of it.

Tree felling itself is fairly straightforward, but most tree removal estimates do not include stump removal costs. If you don’t want to leave the stump as a feature–add a few flowers, perhaps a lawn gnome or two?–then consider the following choices and decide which option works best for you:

  • Removal. If the tree was small, old or diseased, you may be able to lift the stump from the ground. Dig around the tree and cut the roots with an ax or shovel until you can move the stump by hand. Then work the stump back and forth (cutting any further roots that are exposed) until the stump gives way.
  • Grinding. This involves cutting off the trunk just above the ground and then grinding the stump until it is at least four inches below ground level. Though grinders can be rented from big box stores, they can be dangerous in inexperienced hands, and the cost of the rental generally matches the cost of hiring professionals for removal.
  • Rotting or chemical removal. Drill holes into the stump and introduce chemicals to help soften the wood or speed up the process of rotting. This will likely take several weeks, and you’ll have to regularly return to the stump to remove the softened/rotted wood.
  • Burning. Before considering this option, be sure to check with your municipality to see if this option is allowed. Only afterwards should you look around and above the stump. Clear any dry vegetation or overhanging trees that the fire could spread to, and do not attempt in areas prone to brush fires.

If a tree falls – replace it

a seedling stands in the field
Take a tree. Give a tree.

The environment will thank you, but if you don’t want another tree in your backyard, consider donating to an arbor charity. Otherwise, leave plenty of space between the tree and any buildings, fences or utility line. The Arbor Day Foundation recommends at least 10 to 20 feet away from the side of your property depending upon the expected fully-grown height of the tree. Also, if you’ll be placing the tree near your neighbors’ property, you might want to run it past them first.

Simplify your homeownership

two cell phones in front of an affluent blue home with the vipHomeLink dashboard up on the screens
vipHomeLink can help!

Between devastating events like dangerous storms and routine maintenance like removing diseased trees, your home needs more than a little TLC to stay safe and functional. vipHomeLink can help ease the burden of homeownership by allowing you to build a home profile and store contact information and dates of services rendered. The app also sends service and upkeep reminders straight to your dashboard, and is packed with expert tips and advice to help you improve your home. It’ll help you anticipate and prevent issues before they occur.

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Originally published Oct. 25, 2019; updated April 30, 2021

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