Free Tree Inspections?

 In Tree Care Tips


We’re seeing more and more tree removal services offer free tree inspections. On the surface, this seems like a good thing. They have all the experience. No money up front. No obligation. How can you go wrong?

As one retired couple recently found out, though; free isn’t always free! A local arborist provided a free inspection of their trees. Several oaks were identified as hollow, requiring immediate removal. The arborist seemed sincere, knew what he was talking about, and was quite persuasive. So, at considerable expense, they had all of their unsafe trees removed. No worries, right?

But the tree they were most concerned about, a huge white oak in their backyard leaning precariously towards their home, the arborist assured them the trunk was solid, and the tree will remain standing for another “hundred years or more.” They took comfort in his words. After all, he claims to be an expert. He should know what he is talking about.

As it turned out, the arborist was right. The trunk was sound as a bell (see remaining solid stump in photo 1; yellow ‘X’). Problem is, the roots were not! Like us, trees need their ‘feet’ to remain upright. These feet were rotten. Usually, an oak of this size, falling this far, should have leveled their brick home (we have seen smaller trees do just that).

The combination of a large spreading crown (distributing the weight), no leaves during dormancy (reducing loading), and landing directly on a large, well-built chimney (see white ‘X’ in photos 1 & 2), probably spared their ground floor, as well as the owner! The Mrs. was reclining in her favorite chair when the tree came crashing through her once beautiful home (see yellow ‘X’ in photo 2). Thank God for well-built chimneys!

What went wrong? Wet soil was blamed. But trees rarely uproot in the Upstate. Especially in the winter (minus winter weather). Not only do we have good drainage in the Foothills – to include this site – deciduous trees weigh far less in winter (with the sap down and no leaves), and provide much less resistance to wind. The soil did not fail here. This was a root problem!

All trees lean; some more than others. A leaning tree isn’t necessarily unsafe. But some leaning trees with defects are. Were there  warning signs? There may have been some dieback at the top, pointing to root rot. As well as soil cracking, raising and mounding. We may never know now.

Possibly, only the most skilled of tree risk assessors would have caught this. While there, I identified an overlooked risk to their home. Another defective, large white oak in their backyard, leaning precariously towards their home.

While the lower trunk and supporting roots look fine, higher up, there is reason for concern. Defective trees sometimes exhibit ‘body language’ that often goes unnoticed by layperson and arborist alike. This tree has two abnormally wide, flat growths (see yellow arrows in photo 3) that likely point to a weakness in the trunk (a hollow, crack or canker, which may make this tree unsafe). Wouldn’t it be disheartening, if not possibly life-threatening, if a second tree fell on their home?

Roots rotting below ground. Suspect ‘body language’ high above. Most arborists should not be expected to identify such obscure defects. These require specialized skills that are not picked up overnight, or even after decades of removing, pruning and planting trees (such as a typical full-service tree company provides).

Possibly, some of the hollow trees the arborist removed may not have been dangerous at all! Even if they were hollow, there may have been enough sound sapwood to offset the decayed heartwood. They may not even have had a target to fall upon. What if some of these trees were needlessly removed? If so, their removal cost could have gone towards the removal of the two dangerous trees in the backyard. We may never know.

Tree removal companies use free consultation as a sales tool to generate new customers. It works! But very few arborists (to include certified arborists), are Tree Risk Assessment Qualified, with enough proven experience under their belt to be competent in their assessment (this is not a field to jump into casually). And let’s get real! No one does this for free. They are most likely soliciting for work. Owners rarely know if the recommended work really needs to be done or not (armed with technical jargon, salespeople can be quite persuasive) .

No arborist, with all the credentials and experience in the world, can give a ‘hundred year’ guarantee on the stability of a tree (that was irresponsible). Why expose yourself unnecessarily to personal injury, property damage and lawsuits? There is a better way!

For over two decades, we have offered impartial Tree Risk Assessments for a nominal fee (at our own cost). Not only has this relieved many an owner of needless worry, and allowed us to refer mitigation work to responsible arborists (without a fee), but has likely resulted in the preservation of over 100,000 trees in the Upstate-a good thing!

During the Great Ice Storm of 2004, some areas of the Upstate looked like a war zone, with few homes spared. But, of the thousands we provided an evaluation for, only one client had significant property damage. We believe this was no accident.

Tree Risk Assessment can be a useful tool in the right hands. The competent, trained consulting arborist can identify high risk trees that may require immediate removal, and suspect trees that may only be a low risk to life and property. Needless to say, this can save you a lot of money, and spare you of a lot of worry. Be wary of tree removal services that offer free tree inspections. They may not be as free as advertised. Learn more.

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