- How much does tree work cost?
People have this question often… for a variety of reasons. An internet search may turn up questionable numbers. I wish there was an easy answer: pruning costs this much, removals cost this much. I will try not to overcomplicate what goes into an estimate for tree work.
It boils down to time, equipment, and risk: a tree in the middle of a field can be removed quickly with little chance of injury or property damage, whereas the same tree over a house can take much longer and obviously the risk of property damage increases. Move that tree into an inaccessible location or saddle it with a structural defect, and the price keeps going up. I have removed $25 trees and $25,000 trees. I realize that helps very little as you are trying to decide if $2,500 is a good deal or bad deal.
Whether you are getting multiple estimates or just comparing one quote to the endless internet opinions, you should be talking apples to apples… or at least pears.
Insurance costs money, but an estimate from someone without it should not even be considered. General Liability covers property in the event something goes wrong. Workers compensation covers injuries to workers. Without appropriate insurance, the property owner carries unnecessary risk that is rarely covered by homeowners or other policies. At best, the time and attorney fees are very costly. It is much easier to get a certificate from the agent (of the contractor) with coverage types and limits.
Professional climbing gear and chainsaws add up quickly. Bucket trucks and aerial lifts are expensive to purchase and maintain. Large equipment is needed to pick up heavy wood. Big trucks are needed to carry the weight. CDL’s are required to drive the big trucks. DOT gets involved with commercial drivers licenses and interstate/intrastate commerce. Cranes are sometimes needed and vary greatly in cost.
- Travel Distance
Paying a crew to drive to and from your location adds up. We have less expense in working for our neighbors than someone an hour away. Multiply two hours’ pay by the number of people on the crew, now add in all of the associated costs, then add fuel and extra wear on trucks and trailers. Although you may still be better off paying extra to get the service you desire to travel.
There seems to be a myth perpetuated that wood from tree work has great value. Some of it gets used for firewood, some gets chipped for fueling burners, and some logs can be milled; but it all has to be hauled away. A large percentage of tree debris must be hauled to a landfill, where tipping fees are calculated by either weight or volume. Most mills will not accept wood from residential sites because of the possibility of damage to blades from nails, fences, etc…
- Acceptable Damage
Various types of removals using different equipment and techniques can result anywhere from zero property damage ranging to significant. If your yard is mostly weeds and bare soil, this may not be a concern. On the other hand, if you value your lawn, your landscape, your trees, your driveway, your irrigation system, or anything else, you should be certain your bid includes protection of those items. You should also expect the price to be higher for the extra time, equipment, and risk involved. Some tree people do not have the ability to access or rope out tough trees, so they proceed dangerously and/or cause lots of consequential damage along the way.
Your contractor should at minimum have a business license, which is easily obtained by paying a small fee. If you require professional services such as pesticide application, planting, design, or supplemental support systems, there are licensing requirements for those that require testing.
- Arborist Certification
For a tree being removed, the main issue would be damage to surrounding trees through wounding or even compaction. For pruning, you want a Certified Arborist working on your tree(s). Certified Arborists know that trees do not heal, they can only seal; even one poor cut can be detrimental. Certification takes time and money for the original testing, and additionally for continuing education requirements.
- Additional Qualifications
There are many other qualifications and certifications that professionals will seek out. Often the business owner carries the credentials, but employees can and should obtain them as well.
Even arborists may lack the appropriate level of training for your required task. Experience, training, and continuing education go hand in hand to ensure your tree workers provide the best possible care for your trees. Classes and training takes time and added expense. Expect to pay a little more for a professional crew, but expect better results in safety, production, quality, etc…
There should be no compromise. There are ANSI standards that plainly spell out required safety training and gear. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing the crew on your property was less likely to be injured? Doesn’t it make you feel better knowing that workers have the ability to rescue one another and administer first aid? If hardhats and chainsaw protective clothing are not being used, that should be a huge red flag.
All of those clean trucks and uniforms are expensive. So are background checks, drug tests, taxes, and quality employees that show up and do what they are supposed to. Expect those costs to be passed on to the consumer.
- Work Load
If a tree company is slow on work, they will be willing to work for less. This is the simple economic principle of supply and demand. This is common in cooler weather, but not necessarily always. If a tree service is begging for work, that could be a warning sign. Don’t be surprised to find a schedule 2 to 3 months out in the spring and summer.
We like to take time to relax with our families and friends. If we have to put in extra hours, we want to be compensated for it over and above the normal rate. Also, if the crew members are working more than 40 hours, the law requires us to pay them time and a half. And guess what all is based on payroll? Insurance, workers comp.*, payroll taxes, unemployment, benefits, etc… If you require immediate service, don’t be surprised to find the bid a little higher.
* Workers compensation rates are based on payroll, however overtime is figured at the same rate as regular time, therefore not increasing the cost by 1.5, but only 1:1.
In some industries, minimum wage help can handle at least some of the simple tasks, which keeps prices down. In the tree business, there are highly skilled climbers and equipment operators. Even the grounds crew must undergo extensive training and carries high risk of injury. High pay translates into higher prices.
- Employee Benefits
If you want employees to be treated fairly with vacation, holidays, bonuses, appreciation, etc… that cost is shared by all of the income-producing days. Cheaper services often skimp here or illegally pay employees as subcontractors. If a contractor is “saving” in this department, don’t expect quality employees on your job site. They will find an employer that cares about them.
Profit is not a dirty word. That is the why and the how a business goes through the hassles and jumps through the hoops. No one likes to be taken advantage of, but expect the price to include a reasonable profit so that new equipment can be purchased and the owner can buy groceries.
- Size and accessibility
This should be obvious, but larger trees take more resources. Trees in areas difficult to access take longer. Dead and diseased trees are more difficult to work with. I cannot quote your tree over the phone. Price is largely based on the time your job will take to complete.
Removing the debris is one thing, but levels of service vary with the efforts to rake, blow, pressure wash, or whatever is necessary to finish the job and please the customer.
- Some Actual Numbers
Most tree services will have a minimum to schedule your job and mobilize the crew. Your simplest crew would be two men: one tree worker/climber and a helper. Hourly rate would not likely be less than $100 per hour, and that does not factor in equipment and hauling. A full day with a two-man crew could easily get into the $1,000 range. Add more qualified help and equipment, and that can easily double, triple, quadruple… If your job is in the peak of the busy season, and it requires a large crane, and it is an emergency, recognize that price can climb rather quickly. Remember that $25,000 tree? We also had $8,000 in crane rental on that job… and lots of overtime, hauling fees, etc…
We still have weather to deal with as well. Most of the time we can work through light rain, but heavy rain can cause safety concerns for workers on-site and driving. Lightning shuts a job down quickly. Extreme temperatures, ice, snow, blistering heat… yep, it stinks, and not everyone is cut out for working outdoors, but the show must go on. Scheduling around weather is a challenge.
So, as you can see, there are many factors to consider when pricing tree work. Hopefully you are now better armed with the knowledge of what goes into a bid for tree work.
- Our ISA Board Certified Master Arborists, can be scheduled to come to your residence, business, or land and give you a Free Estimate for the prevention of construction damage or diseases.