Aug 12, 2023

Mark Baird: With El Niño Looming, Now Is the Time to Trim Your Trees

As last season’s rains brought an end to one of the worst droughts on record in Santa Barbara County, I continue to be shocked by the number and size of the many dead trees in our urban forest.

In an open area by my home, it looks as if about a third or more of the eucalyptus trees are dead, including some trees that are at least 50 feet or more in height.

Although I am not an arborist, I can assume that the largest of these trees may have survived 75 years or more only to succumb in recent years, which gives some perspective to the severity of this drought.

These dead trees are often referred to as “widow makers” and I was taught as a young backpacker to never pitch a tent in the fall zone of a dead tree so as to avoid being injured or even killed by a falling branch if the wind picked up at night.

It now seems the weather experts believe that El Niño is a certainty this winter and that we should again count on heavy rains and wind.

Once the soil gets thoroughly soaked and a strong wind sets in, I think that many of these dead trees are going to fall, causing all sorts of damage and problems.

If you have a dead tree on your property, don’t ignore the potential for damage to your own property and liability for damage to your neighbor’s property. Now is the time to call a tree trimming service and have it professionally removed.

If the house next door has a dead tree that could cause damage to your home if it falls, it’s time to speak with your neighbor about having it removed.

I keep hearing how most local roofing contractors and tree trimmers are now at the busiest time in their careers as homeowners are calling for work leading up to a second very wet season, but leave a message and ask to get on their schedule as soon as possible.

Most people only think of the damage caused by a falling tree to fences, sheds and roofs, but a whole different set of problems can be caused if a falling tree damages power lines that provide electrical service to your home.

Several years back, a friend of mine, unfortunately, had a neighbor’s tree fall over his property line into his yard and onto the power lines connecting his house to the power pole.

The tree was on a steep slope, had needed trimming for many years, and my friend had asked the neighbor on several occasions to please get the tree trimmed or cut down without success.

In a relatively light rain, the extra weight of all the wet leaves and branches combined to become the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and down it fell, over the fence and through the power lines to my friend’s home.

Typical residential electrical service is delivered to your house by three steel cables, two of which are “hot” cables, each with 110 volts of service, and a third “neutral” cable that allows the electrical current to cycle in alternating directions, creating what we know as AC (alternating current) power.

Keep up with Noozhawk's daily news coverage, delivered at 4:15 a.m. right to your inbox.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The branches of this falling tree spared both the hot cables but severed the neutral cable, which immediately caused the alternating voltage to sort of stack up, in a sense creating a voltage spike in the electrical wiring inside his house.

Most all of your home’s appliances now have some type of circuitry, rechargeable batteries or electric motors of all different sizes that can be voltage sensitive and easily damaged by a voltage spike.

In my friend’s case, most every appliance in his home that was hard wired or plugged in was damaged by the voltage spike and had to be replaced — including the cook top, cappuccino maker, ceiling fan, refrigerator, two televisions, an electric toothbrush, a rechargeable cordless wine cork puller, range hood, five motion sensor lights, and a handful of circuit breakers, among them the expensive 220V GFIC circuit breakers for a outdoor spa.

Not only did he experience this very significant property loss, but he then spent weeks preparing his claim, documenting the damage, getting quotes for replacement appliances, and of course haggling with the always helpful insurance adjuster.

The only good news was that his homeowner’s insurance eventually paid for new appliances, but only because the actual damage to the power lines serving his home occurred on his property, even though it was his neighbor’s tree.

If the falling tree had damaged the power lines where they had crossed over his neighbor’s property, his homeowner’s policy would have paid nothing. His recourse would then have been to politely ask for reimbursement from his neighbor and possibly pursue a lawsuit in civil court if the neighbor could not or would not pay.

The power company doesn’t accept any liability for this type of damage regardless of whose property the line was severed on, based on the premise that the utility company was not the owner of the tree and had no responsibility for its trimming or removal.

Trimming or removing a large tree can be a very expensive project and not a particularly fun way to spend your hard-earned savings.

But it could be a lot less expensive than paying to repair the damage the tree may cause if it falls. And if you have a dead or dying tree on or near your property, it will fall sooner or later.

Santa Barbara general contractor Mark Baird is a UC Santa Barbara alumnus, a multigenerational handyman and a longtime DIYer. He is the owner/manager of Your Handyman, a family-run company that has been helping local homeowners since 2006. Email your questions about your homes to [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.