Blizzards. Thunderstorms. High wind. Freezing rain. Flooding. Lightning.
Mother nature offers a host of weather events that may cause severe tree damage to your home throughout the year. And if you have trees in your yard, it’s always a possibility that a tree can fall on your house or other structures on your property.
In the event that a tree has fallen on your house, you can follow these steps to help ensure the safety of everyone involved and take the proper measures to get everything back to normal as soon as possible.
Step 1: Be Prepared
You should be ready in the case of an emergency to leave your home in a moment’s notice. If you smell smoke or gas, it’s especially important to immediately leave the vicinity until emergency personnel can check the area.
An evacuation plan and a preparedness bag are great resources to have in your time of need. Being ready to leave the house in a moment’s notice is the first step to disaster preparedness.
A preparedness bag — also known as a ‘go bag’ or ‘bug-out bag’ — is a duffel or travel bag filled with everything you need if you need to leave in a hurry. In addition to a change of clothes and travel documents, you can keep some extra cash, a spare set of keys and some non-perishable food and water.
When a tree falls on your house it is important to evacuate the house of loved ones and pets once you have taken stock of the situation. Although things may look to be secure, there may be structural damage to the home that would cause it to be unstable.
Let’s review who to call if a tree falls on your house.
First, call emergency professionals. This includes 911 and the electrical company to report the incident. In addition to your electrical provider, you should call your other utilities including the gas company so they can check to see whether any gas lines or buried conduits were damaged if the tree was uprooted from the ground. Do not touch or move any wires or cable laying about to prevent electrical shock.
The emergency dispatch might send a firetruck to be on the scene and the police may route traffic away from your property. The utility companies might send a repair crew to fix any downed lines. These professionals will be able to help you gauge whether you can remain on site or need to stay at a hotel or with family.
You will want to take photo and video evidence throughout the process in order to file an insurance claim. Emergency personnel may be able to assist you by taking photos of hard-to-reach areas of the home — like your roof — that may be dangerous to access.
If there has been any damage to the structure — the walls, beams or roof joists, for example — do not return until an engineer can ensure the structure is sound. Many people are killed each year when structures collapse around them while performing construction or repairs.
Before you leave your property you will want to secure the premises. Broken windows and holes in the wall and roof will need to be covered with composite board or tarpaulin. Do not climb on your roof or try to perform any emergency repairs immediately after the incident. Instead, call on a trusted contractor — and save all receipts in order to submit them to the insurance adjuster!
Step 2: Evaluate the Damage
Next, assess the damage.
Once you have contacted the appropriate emergency personnel, and are sure it is safe to re-enter the property, capture as much photo and video evidence of the damage as possible. Take images from inside and outside of the house, from as many angles as possible. While you should avoid being on the roof after damage has occurred, ask any emergency personnel or your contractor to record images and video for you anytime they gain access to the roof.
You will want to produce as much evidence of the damage as possible to your insurance company. Which brings us to our next point, likely the first thing running through your mind after going through this type of ordeal: Does homeowners insurance cover fallen trees?
The good news is that if the tree fell from natural causes — an ‘act of God’ or ‘act of nature,’ as the adjuster might say — then it will most likely be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. It will not, however, cover the cost if the tree was dead, decayed or otherwise damaged beforehand and it was likely you were aware of the problem.
Likewise, if a tree on your property falls onto a neighbor’s home, automobile or structure, you may be responsible for those costs if the neighbor can document that you should have been aware the tree was damaged before the incident occurred.
A tree service worth its salt will be available to repair and remove any damaged trees. If you notice damage to a tree on your property, including falling, cracked or dead limbs, changes to the color of the tree’s bark, a leaning trunk or root damage, talk to a professional to assess the situation and come up with a mitigation plan before disaster strikes.
Next, you’ll need to contact your insurance company. Depending on your homeowner’s insurance plan, you may have coverage for all or part of the damage — less the deductible, of course.
Again, make sure you document any emergency repairs, or costs resulting from the accident. This includes receipts for gas and hotel stay if you were forced to evacuate your home overnight.
Step 3: Repair the Damage
Do not begin the repair until the costs are agreed upon by your insurance. And, document all expenditures, including materials.
Having a roofing contractor you trust is paramount. Unfortunately, storm chasers are known to roam areas affected by storms and natural disasters. These nefarious characters can take advantage of homeowners who find themselves in dire straits.
It’s always best to find a licensed contractor to repair any damage to your roof, chimney, structure or other parts of your home. If you have a contractor you know, trust and have worked with in the past, it will save you a lot of time and frustration once disaster strikes.
The same goes for tree removal.
Licensed tree removal experts are the safest way to ensure the tree is responsibly removed from your yard. If you choose to remove the tree yourself, be aware that any additional damage caused during the removal process may not be covered by insurance. By using a trusted, insurance-holding provider, you ensure that the entire removal process is covered by licensed professionals.
Step 4: Plant a New Tree!
It’s the circle of life: A dead tree falls; a new seedling sprouts forth.
In addition to paying for the removal of the dead tree from the property, your insurance may pay for its replacement.
Contact a professional tree service to evaluate your lawn and outdoor space, discern what caused the original tree to fall and take mitigative steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If executed properly, you can get a replacement tree planted that will maintain the perfect aesthetic in your yard for years — or decades — to come.