October 7, 2021
When Mother Nature comes knocking, follow this plan to ensure your family stays safe and your home recovers quickly after a tree has fallen on your house.
Extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common worldwide and across Canada.
In both urban and rural areas, harsh weather means an increased chance of damage to homes and other property; trees play a role in this damage.
The role of trees in property damage
Severe storms that include excessive rain, heavy snowfall, or strong winds can wreak havoc on trees. This is especially true if a tree is old, sick, and/or poorly maintained.
Trees damaged from extreme weather pose a risk to nearby buildings. Homes can be especially vulnerable because of their proximity to trees.
Winter wind and ice storms are the most worrisome weather. They can inflict substantial injury to a tree resulting in fallen branches or its full uprooting. The resulting property damage can be a crumpled fence, shingle damage, or the complete collapse of a roof.
What, then, should you do if a tree falls on your house?
Follow our 10-step plan to protect you and your family, repair your home quickly, and prevent future damage to property.
1. Evacuate the home to a safe area. Be sure it’s the area you’ve moved to is not at risk of further falling trees.
The first priority when a tree collapses on your home is to ensure the safety of those who live inside it.
Like a house fire, protect people before property.
Create and practice an escape plan prior to an extreme weather event so that your family is prepared in the event of an emergency. The plan should outline what to do if someone can’t escape from a home damaged by a fallen tree.
Indicate a spot where everyone can safely meet after they’ve evacuated.
2. Call 911
As soon as you’ve noticed a tree has fallen on your house and everyone is evacuated, it’s time to get help.
Call 911 as soon as it’s safe to do so.
When a tree falls on a house, it requires more than hiring an arborist and a construction company to fix. A collapsed tree may cripple power or gas lines. If this happens, there’s an increased risk of fire, shock, or explosion.
Consider a fallen tree a serious hazard that needs the involvement of the police and fire departments. When you call 911, they’ll dispatch local emergency services to your home.
Firefighters are often first responders to emergency calls.
Police may have to get involved in the event of a burst gas line. Law enforcement will handle closing your street and alerting or evacuating the neighbourhood.
Where gas and electricity are concerned, this brings us to our next step…
3. Call the gas and power companies and let them know a tree has fallen on your home
Depending on where you live and the severity of the damage, the fire department may handle the initial call to the gas and power companies after a tree has fallen, or you may be required to do so.
Either way, follow up with your utilities companies once the initial threat to safety has passed to discuss next steps.
Here is a list we compiled with links to the major electrical and natural gas providers in Alberta & Saskatchewan:
- ATCOEnergy (Competitive retailer electricity and natural gas service for residential and commercial)
- Northeast Gas Co-op
- Enmax Energy Corp.
- Direct Energy Regulated Services
- EPCOR Energy Alberta GP Inc.
- Utilities Consumer Advocate Alberta (for a full list of retailers and distributors in Alberta)
Just to name a few.
3. Shut off utilities if a fallen tree has damaged your home, property or outbuilding
Even if the damage to your home is minor when a tree has fallen on it, it’s a good idea to turn off the power, water, and gas supplied to your home as a precaution.
As an extension of your evacuation plan, it’s a good idea to locate and practice turning off utilities to your home before a tree falls on your house. Make sure every member of the household knows where to locate shut off valves and power breakers.
How to shut off your utilities
To shut off the electrical supply:
- Find your home’s electrical panel. Locate the pair of main power breakers on the panel and flip them to OFF.
To shut off the gas supply to your home:
- Find the shut-off valve located near the gas meter. Turn the valve a quarter of a turn to the right to secure your home from a gas leak.
To turn off the water supply:
- The main water shut-off valve may be in one of several places in your home; in the basement on a wall near the front of the house, near the water heater or in the garage, or on an outside wall facing the street.
Now that you’ve secured your people and your property, and any imminent threat to public safety has passed, it’s time to work to mitigate further damage to your home.
5. Document everything
Everyone has a smartphone these days which makes documenting events easy.
Use your cellphone to take photos and record videos of your property damage—both inside and out—and make notes of everything that’s happened. Don’t leave anything out. This information will help you later when filing your insurance claim.
- Photos of the tree that fall on your home from every angle,
- Roof damage*,
- Broken windows and doors,
- Structural damage,
- The condition of siding, eavestrough, and the like,
- Landscaping damage,
- Damage to the inside of your house and photos of specific items that have been affected,
- Any water damage inside your home, and
- Any other details even if they don’t seem important (you never know what can come in handy later)
*When it comes to taking photos of the roof, leave those to the professionals at the roofing company.
6. Contact your home insurance company
As soon as you can contact your homeowner’s insurance company about a tree having fallen on your house, you should. If you delay making this call, it could void your policy.
Pre-planning comes in handy here as well. Use that trusty cell phone of yours to store the contact information of your insurance agent.
Your insurance company will tell you:
- What additional photos and information they’ll need above and beyond what you’ve already documented,
- What reports they’ll need from the police,
- How many contractors to contact to get a repair estimate (or, if they’ll send out their own claims adjuster to estimate damage costs),
- Which other types of professionals you’ll need to contact, e.g., emergency tree removal company, roofing company, plumber, etc.,
- What temporary mitigation measures and relocation expenses will be covered, and
- What you’re responsible for when it comes to paying a deductible.
Where your homeowners deductible is concerned, we recommend you consult your policy to familiarize yourself with what you and your insurance company are responsible for. You may be entitled to stay in a hotel for the duration of the repairs, for example.
Educate yourself on what you’re entitled to in order to make the ordeal easier to bear.
You’ve paid your insurance premiums—now’s the time to recoup them!
7. Prevent further damage after a tree has fallen on your house
When it’s safe to do so, do a walk-around of your home to survey the full extent of the damage caused by the fallen tree.
Look for broken windows, harm to brick and stonework, wrecked siding and eavestroughs, and holes in your roof.
Call a reputable contractor to professionally secure your home against further injury.
They’ll board up windows and doors, secure loose siding, and tarp up a compromised roof. The goal is to protect belongings on the inside of your home from further weather damage.
Leave it to the pros
As much as you may want to do this step yourself to save money, we recommend you leave the work to the professionals.
A job done by experts will not only ensure the work is done right but will also protect you against injury and denials of any future insurance claims.
Once you’ve done what’s needed to prevent further destruction of property, now it’s time to think about protecting your home.
8. After a tree has fallen on your home, be sure to secure your property
When you prevent future damage to your home this won’t necessarily mean your home is secured against theft.
If the damage is such that you need to leave to stay in a hotel, ensure your home is locked and secured before you leave.
Thieves target uninhabited properties that they know have been struck by extreme weather. Don’t give them a reason to pray on your belongings.
9. Hold off on repairs
We know the desire to repair your house so you can get back to pre-tree collapse living will be strong, but hold off.
Wait until the details of your claim have been settled and the amount allowed for repairs, including the cost of removing the fall tree, are established.
There’s no point dishing out money on rebuilding when you don’t even know your budget. You’d hate to overspend only to find out later you’re on the hook for the difference.
If the insurance company comes back with an estimate that is too low to make the repairs you can also file an appeal. This isn’t possible, however, if you’ve gone ahead and already done the mending.
10. Keep track of expenses
Even though we’ve recommended you hold off on making repairs, you still may need to incur expenses related to the fallen tree.
Track every expense. Use your cellphone (again) to add expenses in your notes or download a free app to track your costs.
Don’t assume every expense will be covered, however.
As we mentioned in the section about calling your insurance company, speak to them about what you can expect to be reimbursed for after the fact and be prepared to not have everything covered.
How to prevent a tree from falling on your house: Maintain healthy trees
The best defense against a tree falling on your home is to maintain the health of your trees.
Get to know the signs of unhappy trees and possible causes of tree falls:
- Look for signs of damage. For example, cracked or broken branches and trunk, dead branches, heavily exposed roots, or an overall look of distress could be signs of damage,
- Take note of dry and windy spells. Drought can severely weaken the root system of a tree making it more susceptible to being blown over in a storm,
- Watch out for trees which have grown too closely together. This could mean they’re trying to outcompete with one another making both root systems weak and vulnerable to being overblown.
Of course, nothing compares to hiring the services of a tree expert when assessing the health of your trees.
We cannot stress enough the importance of routine tree care. A certified arborist will identify risks before they become a serious issue. They’ll identify trees that are:
- Dry and unstable,
- Damaged, possibly from previous weather events,
- Old and unstable, and
- Too close to property or one another
In some cases, a tree specialist will recommend trimming parts of a tree; in other cases, they may recommend a complete tree removal.
Either way, you’ll know you’ve done your due diligence when it comes to preventing property damage due to a fallen tree.
What to do before a tree falls on your house: Call an Arborist
When looking to assess the health of your trees and mitigate a future fall on your home, call Pevach Corp.
Our arborists will help you inspect your trees and offer advice on how to ensure you and your property stay safe.
Contact us today and we’ll be happy to find a come to give you a quote and advice on keeping your property and family safe.