According to OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), more people are killed by falling trees every year (100+) than are killed by sharks (about 4-7 per year).
Falling trees kill or injure more people than lightning. Although the numbers of tree fall fatalities are relatively low compared with other fatalities, the numbers for property damage from falling trees is much higher, ranging in the hundreds of thousands. According to the National Storm Damage Center, falling trees are the main causes of roof damage, costing more than $1 billion in property damage each year. So, chances are if you are a homeowner with lots of trees in your yard, you may encounter tree damage of some kind in your lifetime and in that situation, you will need to know what to do if a tree falls on your home:
- If you’re in the house when a tree falls, leave the house and the property as soon as possible. Beware of downed electrical lines, and if you have gas lines, do not use your cell phone to call for help until you are away from the house. Use the safest route possible to get away from the house.
- Call 911 or emergency services. They will send fire or appropriate responders to ensure the house is safe. If anyone has been injured or killed, let the dispatcher know this when you call. Remain at the scene unless you are injured. Seek medical care or wait for an ambulance if you have been injured.
- Call your insurance company as soon as possible so they can agree to cover any emergency costs, removal or other details covered in your homeowner’s policy. If your tree has fallen on your neighbor’s property, your neighbor will need to make a claim on their insurance policy, but your insurance company should be aware of the damage as well.
- Contact a roofing contractor, tree surgeon, tree removal company, builder or any other home professional to examine any damage, to remove the tree and secure the home so there is no additional damage to your property or possessions. Even if the tree misses the house, tree roots can extend under a property, causing damage to the foundation. So, have your builder or contractor check inside the house for cracks in the drywall, or the outside for cracks in the brickwork. Lowes’ experts say, “Don’t attempt to deal with the tree removal or roof repair yourself. Even if the fallen branches or tree seems small, you never know the extent of the storm damage or if the framework or structural integrity if your home has been compromised.”
- If you are unable to live in the house during repairs, make sure any damaged areas are secured to prevent looting and theft. Put valuables in temporary storage, and board up broken windows, holes in the wall etc.
Once the tree has been dealt with, what steps can you take to ensure it doesn’t happen again?
Make sure your trees are healthy
Other than raking leaves, building treehouses, or picking up fallen branches, twigs and debris, most homeowners don’t think about their trees very often. Even fewer know the signs of an unhealthy, dying, or dead branch or tree. Here a few signs from RTEC Treecare, one of the companies that take care of the trees at the mall in Washington, DC to pay attention to:
- Large branches attached with tight, V-shaped forks. These branches are prone to failure and may need to be lightened or removed.
- Cracks in the trunk of the tree or in major limbs
- Fungi growing from the base of your tree or under its canopy. This could be a sign of root decay.
- Branches that are pointing/hanging downwards these damaged branches can easily fall during storms.
- Partially attached limbs hung up in the high branches that could fall.
- Large cavities in the tree trunk.
- Wires in contact with tree branches.
Other things you can do to ensure you and your family are safe from tree falls:
- Have an arborist inspect your trees every year, or whenever there’s been an injury or damage to a tree – such as a lightning strike, hit by a motor vehicle, or a pest infestation.
- Do preventative pruning, and ask your neighbors to do the same. Preventative pruning reduces wind resistance and removes dead branches. This reduces the risk of the tree or the tree’s limbs snapping under the force of wind gusts.
- Make sure your trees are mulched correctly if you mulch them. Mulch protects the root system of the tree and allows water and nutrients to drain down through the soil to the roots. This keeps the root system healthy which helps the tree stay strong during storms. Unhealthy root systems can lead to trees uprooting and snapping in heavy winds.
- Wrap your young trees to prevent sunscald. Sunscald is winter damage that is commonly seen on young trees, newly planted trees, and thin-barked trees (cherry, crabapple, honey locust, linden, maple, mountain ash, plum). Sunscald causes the tree bark to dry and crack.
Legal issues regarding who pays for damages or home repairs etc. to your house from a falling tree in your yard, or from a neighbor’s yard, vary greatly from state-to-state, county to county and insurer to insurer. It’s best to talk to your insurance agent before anything happens to determine if you are covered in the event of a tree fall.