How to Estimate Tree Removal Jobs

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Removing smaller trees that you can easily access is a lower-cost, one-person job.
Removing smaller trees that you can easily access is a lower-cost, one-person job. (Image: Shannon Matteson/iStock/Getty Images)

Tree removal is an inherently dangerous business, and the level of danger -- more than anything else -- should impact your cost estimate. Point out any mitigating factors to the land owner, such as proximity to power lines or the health of the tree. Other considerations include labor, equipment, disposition of the wood and transport costs. With more experience, you’ll be able to quickly assess a job and come up with a fairly reliable per-foot formula and a way of calculating extraneous expenses. Keep a detailed record of your first few jobs to help you with future estimates.

Safety Is Paramount

Tree removal is not just physically dangerous. If you have employees, a high-risk job increases the chances of a workers’ compensation claim in case of injury. A dangerous job also takes more time. One significant risk factor is proximity to power lines. Lines close to the tree can add 10 to 40 percent onto your regular time estimate. Also consider proximity to traffic and buildings. If you have to hire a flagman to control traffic while you work, that can increase your costs by 50 percent. Major decay can affect the tree’s integrity and require additional time, so add 20 to 50 percent to accommodate that risk factor. Working in bad weather can also be a safety consideration and take more time.

Jobs Needing Help

You can likely remove a tree that is easily accessible and not extraordinarily tall by yourself, which makes your job estimation easier. For larger trees or in dangerous situations, however, you may need to hire additional help. Jeff Raffaele, a tree removal expert from Austin, Texas, has a few workers he regularly calls on for large jobs. Because he has used the same workers before, he knows their hourly and daily rate and can easily factor that into the estimate.

Necessary Equipment

You may need more than a few chainsaws for a complex job; a tall tree may require a cherry picker or other vehicle with a bucket that can elevate a worker. If you need to rent one, include that rental cost in your estimate. Many clients want the wood chipped for mulch or easier disposal, so if you don’t own a wood chipper, that's another rental expense. Wood chippers work only on limbs and trunks up to 20 inches in diameter, so for larger trees you’ll need to account for additional time to cut these to size or burn them at the client’s request. If the client wants the stump removed, include time and any equipment costs for that, as well.

Transportation Costs

It takes fuel to drive to and from a job site. It can be more client-friendly to have this travel built into your hourly rate within a certain radius, such as 20 miles, and then add an extra cost for jobs farther away. You’ll incur additional travel costs if the client needs the wood disposed of at a dump site, so include your fuel and time for that trip. Some dump sites have tipping fees, so check before you give your final estimate.

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