09/04/11 — Tree removal now big business

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Tree removal now big business

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 4, 2011 1:50 AM

Hurricane Irene left a swath of downed trees across eastern North Carolina, creating a demand for people who specialize in removing them.

One such expert is Russ Hubbell, owner of Directional Falling.

For Hubbell, the damage from Irene, coupled with the threat of more storms, has business booming.

"It has been crazy," Hubbell said. "The phone doesn't quit ringing."

Even with all the work, Hubbell said that the damage wrought by Irene was light compared to other storms he has worked.

"Fran was devastating," he said. "This was a little breeze compared to Fran."

One advantage of bad storm is that it goes ahead and takes care of trees that are not firmly rooted or need removal, Hubbell noted. He said home owners need to have their trees examined every five or six years.

After a storm, Hubbell gets calls not only to clean up downed trees but to cut down trees that threaten structures simply by their proximity, he said.

"We make more money on the threat of a storm because this storm has people kind of jittery," he said. "They are on the phone, 'I have tree I am scared of. Can you come over and maybe we can get it down before this storm possibly hits?' Then most people forget about it if the storm doesn't hit."

Hubbell charges about $2,000 to pull a tree off a house, cut it up, haul it off and rake the premises. But it also depends on the size of the tree and the difficulty of the job.

"A pine tree you can reach around and say 70 feet tall that isn't right on top of house generally you can cut it down, grind the stump and carry it off for about $200," he said. "If you have one in a bad place it could $600 or $700.

"If it is a humongous oak and it is hanging over the house like they usually are it could run you up to $6,000 down to $200. It just depends. A great big oak might take me two and a half days.

He has discovered that using a boom truck to lift a fallen tree off a house works better in many cases.

"That way we can lift them off of the houses instead of dragging them off and tearing up the house worse than it was. It is quicker and it is more professional. It is expensive to do it that way, but it would be more expensive to drag it off and try to repair the house with the extra damage that you can do to it if you don't do it right."

"It's a big rush to get these trees off the house so they can get a tarp on it so they don't get a lot of water damage. So if you have one laying in the yard or one that isn't hurting anything other than it just looks bad the longer that you can wait from the storm the whole lot better it is going to be on your pocketbook.

"If you want to take a tree standing now down just because you don't like it, it is probably going to cost you double than what it would cost you say eight weeks from now. We are working night and day. If you can wait, wait."

Hubbell relies on subcontractors to handle most of the work.

Before hiring a tree removal company a homeowner needs to ensure the company is reputable, has been around for awhile and has insurance, he said.

"If they go to the glove box and pull it out and show it to you -- that is a lie. That is not a certificate of insurance," he said. "When you get a certificate of insurance, they will ask for your name and your address and your zip code. When you get that, the insurance company mails you a certificate of insurance. Then you know that insurance is valid today. It also insures you for a month."

People need to contact the insurance company directly and have the certificate sent by mail or fax, he said.

Some of the cost can be taken care of by most homeowners' insurance, said Phil Brewer of Brewer Insurance in Mount Olive.

At least one of three requirements has to be met for the coverage to be paid, he said. The tree must have:

* The tree has fallen on a covered structure such as a house or shed

* It blocks a driveway

* It blocks a handicap ramp.

Normally the coverage includes the cost of removing a tree off of a house and pays $500 for cutup and removal, he said.

Brewer said that if a tree in his yard was to fall into a neighbor's yard and meets the coverage criteria that his (Brewer's) insurance would be responsible. However, the policy won't pay to remove a tree that has simply fallen in a yard, Brewer said.

Brewer suggests that people document and take photos of any damage, particularly if an emergency repair is needed before an adjustor can assess the damage.