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April 30, 2003

Spending Dilemma, Episode 1:
The Silver Maple

No, I didn't want to spend the money. I mean, it's coming out of my emergency savings, which bugs the heck out of me.

But not as much as the tree did.

You see, until this morning, my home's backyard was populated by a very large silver maple. For whatever reason, in whatever year, either this tree got planted entirely too close to the house or the house got planted entirely too close to the tree. Now, I'm no tree expert, but according to my father-in-law (who is a tree expert), silver maples such as mine are notorious for (1) growing real fast, and, in related fashion, (2) breaking very easily.

Well, my wife and I bought our home in 1996. Since then, personal experience has taught me that indeed, silver maples do grow real fast and break very easily.

The "growing real fast" part is a hassle, mostly. It means I get to spend a nice chunk of time every year stretching and cramping my back and arms, pruning and bundling piles of maple tree. The "breaking very easily" part is just plain bad. Here in central Oklahoma, the last thing in the world you need is a weak-jointed tree anywhere near your home's structure. Or, more truthfully, anywhere near anything of value to anyone. We Oklahomans have these darn things called straight-line winds; they get just common enough around March and April to make homeowners nervous and fence-builders giddy. Plus we have nasty thunderstorms. Sometimes, if we've been particularly bad, we get to be up close and personal with every double-wide's worst enemy:   The tornado.

Anyway, here was this big tree, giving my home some amount of summertime shade, but growing fast fast fast and living a mighty precarious existence every time a decent wind came sweeping down the plains. A tall and unprunably large chunk of it overhung the $650 stretch of brand new fence I installed late last year. That meant it also overhung my neighbor's property, which, as Martha Stewart might caution, is not a good thing. Another large portion of it used to directly overhang my home, too, but that came down in an overnight storm last year. (Yes, it landed on our roof ... partially. Heck, even a refrigerator-sized section of tree that didn't overhang the house at the time got blown onto our roof as if it had been right above it.)

But what really made me nervous was continually seeing how easily tree limbs could be dislodged by only-average-for-Oklahoma winds. One long, stout gust blowing just the right direction, and it didn't take much imaginative effort on my part to see the whole tree cracking near its split "V" trunk base, toppling, and taking out about fifty percent of my home's roof.

Over the last few weeks, thoughts like these were literally keeping me awake on stormy nights. It just isn't much fun laying in bed, listening to the approaching thunder − which I normally enjoy − and wondering if tonight is the night you'll get to hear (again) that unnerving thrunk that happens when Mr. Large Tree Chunk meets Ms. Shingled Roof. And wondering how much damage it's gonna do this time.

I guess a switch just flipped in me this past Monday, because I'd had enough. I asked around a bit and then called a reputable tree-removal service. He came out Tuesday, took a look, and said he could get the silver maple gone for $550.

"Do it," was my response, probably faster than he expected. Why? Because I'd already run some numbers:

If the tree or any portion of it came down due to wind (which seemed more likely with every passing week), my homeowner's insurance deductible would be $2,000. (That's an Oklahoma thing; this year, all insurance companies around here skyrocketed their deductibles for claims wherein damages were caused by wind.) So if the tree were to somehow take out a portion of my new fence, I'd be looking at repairs of at least around $200 − if I did it myself, which I wouldn't relish. If I hired a fence-repair service, I'd be looking at a minimum bill of $450 (one full panel replacement).

And last year, when chunks of the tree came down on our roof and yard, a friend and I took care of the chopping and removal of the tree parts, and the small repairs to some roof shingles. Our insurance adjuster gave me over $260 for this, factoring in our (at the time) $250 deductible. So that fairly small remove-and-repair operation would have cost, in the adjuster's opinion, over $500 if I'd hired an outside service do it.

So it wasn't much of a reach to see myself spending $500 easy, should any sizeable chunk of the tree come down and cause property or structural damage. Repairs would likely cost me at least $500, and still I'd have the tree itself to continue worrying about. Unless the whole tree came crashing down, of course. In which case I'd be out ... well, $2,000. I elected to spend $550 now and take care of the problem altogether. I figure I'm securing a future with no more "Silver Maple Down" home repairs. This seems infinitely better to me than simply rolling the dice and hoping no large part of the tree ever gets toppled by strong winds. Ever. Or at least not until we no longer live in the home. (Unlike storms and straight-line winds, us moving is not on the horizon.)

I'm in Oklahoma, remember. Oklahoma. Hoping for strong winds to ignore your weak-limbed tree is just not good odds.

Anyhow, it's Wednesday afternoon, and the tree is gone. As well as my $550.

But at least I can sleep better now. Maybe I can even get back to enjoying the sounds of nighttime rains and thunderstorms again.

So here's what I learned:   That big price tag that's making you cringe today? Well, it might just include your peace of mind tomorrow.

And that, friends, carries a big leafy value all in itself.

Michael | April 30, 2003

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