Yelling Timber: Should You Chop Down Your Own Tree? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Beforehand

Ke$ha and Pitbull aren't the only ones around yelling timber.

Before the artists popularized it in song, the word was most commonly used to alert bystanders before you chop down a tree so they could move to safety. Maybe you've been looking at that big oak in your yard lately, the one encroaching on your property line, wondering if you should take an axe to it and yell "timber!" 

Tree removal is a complicated process, though, and there are many factors to consider. Whether it's a little one in front that isn't growing properly, or a large side tree with roots breaking up your driveway, hiring a tree removal service can be an expensive endeavor.

Some people are open to trying on their own before hiring a professional. Are you one of the brave ones? 

Before grabbing your gloves and starting up your chainsaw though, take some time to mull over these five questions. They can help you decide if D.I.Y. tree removal is a job you can perform safely or if you'd rather pay to have it done.

1. Do You Have Access to the Right Equipment?

If the tree is a small sapling, a hard push by the right person could probably do the trick. But if you are living in a neighborhood with mature, developed trees, it will require more specialized equipment.

A number of items are helpful when removing a tree, but the following four things are the bare minimum of what is required:

  • A Person to Help
  • Protective Equipment
  • Ropes
  • Chainsaw or Axe

For something as serious as tree removal, it's important to have another set of eyes and hands. A partner could spot trouble with the angle of a cut in the trunk or hold ropes for you while you saw. It's a plus if you can find someone who has experience doing this in their own yard.

You also need to be able to supply yourself and your helper with the appropriate protective gear, such as helmets, eyewear, ear covers, and gloves. Simple actions such as these can prevent pesky, frustrating injuries like small cuts from branches, contact dermatitis from tree sap, dust in the eyes while sawing, and tinnitus from the noise of the chainsaw.

Ropes are a very useful tool and not something most people think of when planning to chop down a tree. When tied around the trunk, they can be used to guide the tree as it falls so there is no accidental placement.

Many people have romantic notions of felling a tree with an axe. A chainsaw, however, lessens the time needed and also spares you the body aches. Depending on the size of the trunk, an axe could certainly work, provided that you have enough muscle strength to last until the final chop. 

When you know what tools you need but don't own them yourself, tool-sharing websites can help fill in the gaps. Ladders and measurement tools are especially useful if the tree is larger.

2. What is in Immediate Proximity to the Tree?

Even when the tree is small, it's important to walk through the surroundings to get a picture of what would be in the path of its trunk and branches as it falls.

Is it an upstairs home window? A neighbor's car? A garage roof gutter? Another tree on the property you hope to keep? 

You need to determine if removing the tree will cause damage to anything immediately around it, and if so, whether or not that damage is acceptable or sustainable. For something like a nearby dead bush, it isn't difficult to calculate the risk. For something like an expensive playset you just installed for your kids, however, it might warrant a call to a service professional.

Prevention is key, which requires imagination and foresight. If the tree is tall enough to fall into your second-story window, there are alternatives to a strict one-cut tree removal, such as taking off the top of the tree or removing all branches before sawing into the trunk.

3. Are There Any City or Neighborhood Ordinances Prohibiting Self-Removal?

If you own a farm and the tree in question is all alone in a pasture, then consider this question unnecessary. If, however, you live in the middle of a well-populated neighborhood, there may be rules and regulations around tree removal that would be important to know.

For example, some trees found at the edges or corners of a property might actually be considered "street trees" and thus under the jurisdiction of the city. It would be improper to remove them without first garnering permission and could end up costing you more money in the long run. 

Also, many neighborhoods have Home Owner's Associations, which govern property development and maintenance. If you are part of an HOA, make sure you check first to find out what rules might be in place regarding tree removal.

Laws and jurisdiction aside, when a tree lines both your and your neighbor's properties, it is always polite to have a conversation before moving ahead. You may find out that your neighbor always considered the tree to be theirs, or that they are delighted with your plans.

Regardless, having planning conversations ahead of time will cut down on frustrating interruptions when you begin the actual work of tree removal.

4. After You Chop Down a Tree, What is The Plan?

When looking at a large tree on your property, just trying to understand the logistics around its felling can feel like more than enough. But don't forget: you also need a plan for how to use or dispose of the wood.

For people with a wood-burning stove, the plan might be as simple as splitting, chopping, and storing the wood for winter use. Alternately, maybe a friend or relative would be willing to take the lumber off of your hands.

But a number of factors drive the removal of trees, not just the simple desire for a better view or the need to remedy dangerous limb placement. If your tree is dead or infected, that will be a key element of the disposal plan.

With a diseased or insect-infested tree, there is potential to spread those maladies into healthy systems on your or your neighbor's properties. A quick call to an arborist can help you discern the right course of action.

5. What Will You Do If Something Goes Wrong?

You've completed a significant amount of prep-work: gathering the appropriate supplies and gear, asking a friend for help, mapping out the surroundings, discussing the procedure with your neighbors or HOA, calling the city for information, and planning how to process the remaining wood. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, actually. Tree removal businesses buy particular insurance to cover any bodily injuries or property-related damages that could take place while doing their work. Without that, any accidental costs incurred would be your personal responsibility.

A good first step is to call your health insurance provider and learn about coverage related to ambulance rides and emergency room visits. Have a plan in place in the case of a medical emergency, such as who to call and which hospital is closest.

In relation to your home and property, each policy is different, so it is also important to find out what your homeowner's insurance covers. Will they allow you to file a property damage claim related to tree removal?

This is often the place where people decide the risks of chopping down trees themselves are not worth the benefit of saving a little cash. But depending on who you are, it could be that the risks inspired you to do it yourself in the first place. 

What Did You Decide?

You're probably looking at that big oak a little differently than you were prior to reading this article. Now you see its shape and can imagine where it would fall; you might be planning your next steps to chop down a tree on your own.

If the unpredictability is more than you are willing to bear, however, and you decide to forgo yelling "timber" on your own, you can always call in a professional to do it for you. With years of experience, a diseased tree or exasperating limb can be quickly diagnosed and taken care of. 

No matter what you decide, there is plenty of information out there to help you with all of your tree-related needs. Visit our blog to learn more about tree care, tree removal, and all your landscaping questions!

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