Northeast Times

When the bough breaks

Con­cerns for fallen trees dur­ing Hur­ricane Sandy con­tin­ue to loom in North­east. 

  • Danger looming: A fallen tree destroyed the Ostrowski family swimming pool during Hurricane Sandy. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Danger looming: Christine Ostrowski looks out her back window into an area where damaged trees from Superstorm Sandy could still potentially damage her property. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Large branches of another tree outside Christine Ostrowski’s Kismet Terrace home fell into the woods while her kids were playing outside nearby. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

Christine Os­trowski looks out her kit­chen win­dow and wor­ries.

The view is nice enough, even tran­quil. The back­yard of Os­trowski’s Pine Val­ley home drops down to Bal­lard Brook and slopes up again in ground covered with grand old trees.

It’s the trees that con­cern her. And Os­trowski’s con­cerns might be shared by any homeown­ers who have trees on or near their prop­er­ties.

Os­trowski has good reas­on for un­eas­i­ness. When Su­per­storm Sandy hit in Oc­to­ber 2012, its winds blew down a 30-foot-tall beech. The tree missed the Os­trowski home when it crashed across the creek, and nobody was hurt. But the beech creamed the fam­ily’s above-ground pool.

That’s not all. Out­side her Kismet Ter­race home, Os­trowski poin­ted to large branches of an­oth­er tree that Sandy had dam­aged. Well after the storm, they had fallen in­to the woods. Again, no one was hurt, and that time, there was no prop­erty dam­age.

Still …

“My kids were out­side play­ing,” she said in a Ju­ly 17 in­ter­view.

She now is so con­cerned about trees fall­ing onto her house that she has her chil­dren sleep in the base­ment dur­ing windy storms.

OUT ON A LIMB?

Os­trowski and her hus­band, Steph­en, learned plenty when Sandy caused dam­age on their and their neigh­bors’ prop­er­ties.

The first thing they found out is what their in­sur­ance com­pany covered.

“They were great,” she said of her in­surer’s ad­justers. The cov­er­age was good.

The tree that crushed the fam­ily pool was re­moved. The pool was re­placed. Yes, the fam­ily took some loss, Os­trowski said, but most of her re­pairs were covered.

Since the tree did not hit the fam­ily home, she said, the Os­trowskis’ home in­sur­ance would not have covered re­mov­ing it, she found out.

“The tree had to hit a struc­ture,” she said. “The pool — be­cause it had run­ning wa­ter and elec­tri­city — is con­sidered a struc­ture.” If the tree had hit a shed that had neither wa­ter nor power, the loss would not have been covered, she said.

“If a tree hits a home or oth­er in­sured struc­ture, such as a de­tached gar­age, stand­ard homeown­ers in­sur­ance policies provide cov­er­age for the dam­age the tree does to the struc­ture and the con­tents with­in it,” Lor­etta L. Wort­ers, vice pres­id­ent of the In­sur­ance In­form­a­tion In­sti­tute, wrote in a Ju­ly 18 email to the North­east Times. “This in­cludes trees felled not only by a wind­storm or hail, but also winter-re­lated dis­asters caused by the weight of ice, snow or sleet.”

And, it doesn’t mat­ter, Wort­ers wrote, that it’s your tree or a neigh­bor’s that falls onto  your prop­erty.

“If it landed on your house, you should file a claim with your in­sur­ance com­pany,” she stated.

“Trees, shrubs and branches can be­come pro­jectiles cap­able of trav­el­ing sig­ni­fic­ant dis­tances and can cause con­sid­er­able dam­age to prop­erty dur­ing an in­tense wind­storm such as a hur­ricane, trop­ic­al storm or tor­nado,” she con­tin­ued. “In most cases, an in­sur­ance com­pany is not go­ing to spend time try­ing to fig­ure out where a tree, shrub or branch ori­gin­ally came from.”

Then, there’s the mat­ter of pay­ing for tree re­mov­al and prop­erty re­pairs.

Os­trowski said the tree that hit her pool was cut up and re­moved. A neigh­bor, she said, paid much more for a fallen tree to be re­moved and then the work­ers didn’t haul away most of it.

Wort­ers sug­ges­ted that homeown­ers look at their in­sur­ance policies and talk to their agents about what spe­cific­ally is covered.

For stand­ard policies, an in­surer will cov­er tree re­mov­al costs from about $500 to $1,000 if a tree hits an in­sured struc­ture, Wort­ers wrote.

“There is gen­er­ally no cov­er­age for re­mov­al of trees and branches that may simply fall in your yard,” she stated. “However, some in­sur­ance com­pan­ies may pay for the cost of re­mov­ing the felled tree if it is block­ing a drive­way or a ramp de­signed to as­sist the han­di­capped.”

Stand­ard home in­sur­ance policies provide cov­er­age for dam­age to trees and shrubs due to fire, light­ning, ex­plo­sion, theft, van­dal­ism, ma­li­cious mis­chief and dam­age cause by air­craft and vehicles not owned by the res­id­ent, Wort­ers wrote.

Such cov­er­age, she stated, is gen­er­ally lim­ited to up to 5 per­cent of the amount of in­sur­ance on the struc­ture of the house.

Op­tion­al com­pre­hens­ive por­tions of stand­ard auto in­sur­ance policies cov­er cars that are dam­aged or des­troyed by fall­ing trees, Wort­ers said. Sev­enty-sev­en per­cent of all Amer­ic­an auto in­sur­ance poli­cy­hold­ers have com­pre­hens­ive cov­er­age, ac­cord­ing to Wort­ers.

LOOK­ING FOR TROUBLE

Point­ing to a tall tree lean­ing slightly across the creek, Os­trowski said she won­ders wheth­er she should have it re­moved now.

It’s ex­pens­ive, she said.

And, ac­cord­ing to Sam­antha Phil­lips, the city’s deputy man­aging dir­ect­or for emer­gency man­age­ment, trees on private prop­erty are the re­spons­ib­il­ity of prop­erty own­ers.

“Pre­vent­at­ive main­ten­ance is a good way to min­im­ize the po­ten­tial for weak­er or dead limbs to come loose or fall dur­ing a storm,” she stated in an email to the North­east Times.

A homeown­er can eye­ball a tree to see if something is wrong, said Steve Goin, an ar­bor­ist with Bart­lett Tree Ex­perts in Bala Cyn­wyd.

There could be trouble with trees that have no leaves dur­ing the sea­son, car­penter ant in­fest­a­tions, wood­peck­er holes or cav­it­ies, he said. Bark that looks de­graded or is fall­ing off is an­oth­er in­dic­at­or. Double-stemmed trees have a tend­ency to crack, Goin said in a Ju­ly 18 phone in­ter­view.

If a homeown­er sees any of those signs, he said, it’s time to call in tree-care pros.

Bet­ter still is to have an ar­bor­ist check trees on a reg­u­lar basis.

When Sandy hit, Goin said, many trees were pulled out of the ground from the roots up. He said he saw a lot of black lo­cust trees des­troyed that way.

The tulip pop­lar is an­oth­er tree that is prone to be knocked down dur­ing a storm, Goin said. That tree also is the one most fre­quently hit by light­ning, he said.

Nor­way maples were com­monly planted along city streets, Goin said, and Sandy felled many of them in North­east Philly.

“They kind of split,” he said.

Homeown­ers shouldn’t just cut down trees, Goin said, without con­sid­er­ing the be­ne­fits they of­fer. They provide plenty of shade and pre­vent much rain­fall from flow­ing in­to and flood­ing wa­ter­ways. ••

Tree lines

In­sur­ance In­form­a­tion In­sti­tute, www.iii.org

The in­sti­tute has an “Un­der­stand­ing trees and in­sur­ance” pod­cast in Eng­lish and Span­ish avail­able at  ht­tp://www2.iii.org/videos/ and on iTunes by typ­ing “In­sur­ance In­form­a­tion In­sti­tute” in­to the search field.

Bart­lett Tree Ex­perts, 610-664-3200, www.bart­lett.com

A pre­vi­ous North­east Times art­icle on hur­ricane pre­pared­ness at ht­tp://www.north­east­times.com/2013/jun/19/weath­er­ing-storm/#.UehL­WNKyC94

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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