So your trees need a little TLC but you're not sure what's important when it comes to reputable tree care operations? Well you need look no further than this comprehensive guide, which touches on all the factors you should consider when choosing your service provider...
Insurance, insurance, insurance!
Credentials & Experience
1. Insurance, insurance, insurance!
If nothing else, your tree care provider should link their insurance policies on their website, or at least be able to provide you a copy upon request. This is for your safety as much as theirs. It might be a little cheaper to hire an uninsured company at first...until they lose control of a heavy limb and it puts a hole in your roof. Without insurance, who pays for the repair?
General Liability insurance is a must. This covers your property if the company does something to damage it while working. Tree care providers should be insured for all tree removals, pruning, stump grinding, stump removal, spraying, plus a bunch of other random stuff like fertilizing and mulching. These policies aren’t terribly expensive, but some companies get around the cost by securing landscaper’s insurance. Landscaper’s insurance can usually be acquired with one of the large national insurance companies and is generally cheaper than tree insurance. It allows for tree pruning, but only to a maximum of eight feet from the ground, which means if they prune any higher you're no longer covered.
Worker’s Compensation is also a must, but is not required by the State of Texas. Worker’s Compensation covers a company's employees in case they have an accident on your property, and covers you from any legal action by the employees if they get hurt on your property and the company couldn’t afford all of their medical bills and lost wages. Their families could also sue to recover loss of future income without a Worker’s Comp policy in place. This is where many smaller companies usually fall short. Carrying a Worker’s Comp policy means that everyone on the crew must be on payroll and not paid as Independent Contractors. Ultimately, this leads to a lot of extra costs that many small companies aren't prepared to take on. It can increase payroll and administration costs by 30% or more, but it’s simply the right thing to do.
But what about bonding, you ask?
Bonding is purely window dressing in the state of Texas. It is not a surety or performance bond, but is written to cover dishonest acts of employees and only pays off in event of conviction. Convictions are very hard to come by because it takes the cooperation of local law enforcement who are inclined to let first offenders off with only a warning. Bonds aren’t very expensive and sure, any company could probably pay for one just to advertise it, but don't be concerned by those who choose to redirect that money towards the policies that really matter. In our opinion, online reviews sufficiently represent a company's integrity and are worth more than a bond purchased from an insurance salesman any day.
2. Credentials & Experience
Where insurance policies are important for your safety, credentials and experience is important for the safety of your trees. There are countless tree care providers advertising in Fort Worth alone, but only twelve ISA Certified Arborists registered in Fort Worth and only four TCIA Members operating out of Fort Worth (at the time of writing this guide).
The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is the only governing body of Arborists, and certifies individuals as ISA Certified Arborists by requiring not only a passing score on a comprehensive exam, but also years of hands-on experience sometimes supplemented by higher education. In their own words, "ISA Certified Arborists are held to a Code of Ethics and are encouraged to follow industry standards. Certification demonstrates the individual has the knowledge to perform tree work correctly."
The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) is committed to aiding and improving the safety standard of tree care providers. You can be sure that companies that maintain TCIA certifications, memberships and accreditations are similarly committed. In their own words, "TCIA develops safety and education programs, standards of tree care practice, and management information for tree and landscape firms around the world. We provide continuing education, training, conferences and publications to promote the safe and appropriate practice of tree care."
These sorts of certifications take a lot of time and effort to acquire and are deservedly bragging points for experienced Arborists and companies who care. They will be proudly displayed on any qualified company's website, business cards, trucks, and elsewhere. But you can (and should) also confirm credentials using the ISA's Find an Arborist tool and TCIA's Find Qualified Tree Care tool.
You trust the opinions of your family, friends and neighbor's right? Check out what past clients are saying about a tree service provider before you call them. Almost every tree care provider is going to include testimonials right on their website, but these can be heavily weighted in that company's favor.
Check out their social media, Google business listing, and Yelp page; find them on Angie's List or HomeAdvisor or wherever they advertise. This is where clients will actually go to review them, not their website.
We proudly maintain a spotless five-star rating across every review platform, but we implore you not just to base your opinion on a rating, but to actually read a few reviews and get a feel for the way each company does business. Sometimes a fantastic company's spotless reputation can be blemished by one difficult client.
When reading one-star reviews it's easy to tell the difference between a company that doesn't care about client satisfaction and a company that was just unlucky with one or two difficult clients. In the same way, when reading five-star reviews you can easily tell if a company incentivizes clients to write them a quick positive review, or if clients are organically inclined to rave about a company's merits without even being asked.
A tree care provider's methodologies usually go hand-in-hand with their credentials. If they're aligning themselves with industry standard experts, they have probably done their homework and know proper pruning techniques, how to safely remove a hazardous tree, what time of year is best to prune each tree species, and so on. Do they have their mission statement prominently displayed on their website? Does it include a commitment to tree health and to safety? Look for key words on their website like science, biology, safety, and most of all ANSI.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is committed to "assuring the safety and health of consumers and the protection of the environment." Together partnered with the ISA they wrote the manual on safety requirements for Arboricultural operations (literally)--it's called ANSI-Z133. And ANSI and TCIA partnered to write a series of manuals dictating proper Arboricultural methods from pruning to planting to root/soil/pest management to tree risk assessment, and more. This series is called ANSI-A300. You should feel free (and encouraged) to ask your tree care provider if they own these manuals, if they use them to train new employees, and if they have the full series available to and easily accessible by any employee who wants to brush up on proper practices.
The first four points should be sufficient to find an excellent tree care provider, but we thought of a few more items that might be important to you:
Ownership & Staffing: Does the company advertise who owns and operates it or is it run by the mysterious Man Behind the Curtain? Are there any employee bios on the website so you can see the faces of the people who might potentially be ringing your doorbell? Can you find any employee reviews of what it's like to work for the company on Glassdoor or elsewhere? After all, happy employees are a great sign of a well-run company.
Operating Green in the Green Industry: Even though tree care providers work in a green industry, the work itself can sometimes be less than green. Chip trucks, chippers, chainsaws and blowers use gas and oil. Crew members go through lots of water when they work in the hot summer and if they're using single-use bottles that's a lot of extra plastic potentially clogging up our landfills. Organic waste is created and sometimes not organically recycled. Is your tree care provider advertising a green initiative on their website, even it's just taking baby steps towards a larger goal?
Disposal, Clean-Up, & Satisfaction Guarantee: Some smaller operations curb-stack debris to save money, and if you're not prepared for this outcome it could surprise you to come home and find piles of limbs in your front yard. It's mostly standard for the debris to be hauled off and disposed of, often even free of charge, but sometimes you have to ask. And what is the company's policy on clean-up? Will they promise to leave your property cleaner than it was when they arrived? And will they promise to come back for a touch-up at no additional cost if you're not 100% satisfied?
Aaaaand that's it! Hopefully now you feel armed and ready with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision. Your trees will thank you for it! #loveyourtrees