Why do tree services cost what they cost?

People are often unpleasantly surprised by the quotations they receive to remove or remediate their trees. Whilst some contractors may well be chancing their arm with an inflated price, the cost base and demands of competent, properly equipped and legal tree services can often “appear high” because of what it must contain.

The following article is written to help potential customers identify where the price they are offered comes from and to reassure that Happy Banana Tree Services and many other reputable arborists don’t dream up a figure then add a zero to their quotation.

Crew £330 to £400 per day

Any work which requires operators to be off the ground is immediately governed by a catalogue of regulations such as LOLER (Lifting Equipment Lifting Operations Regulations), WAHR (Work at Height regulations), PUWER (Provision and Use of Equipment Regulations) and other rules, all of which sit beneath the Management of Health and Safety at Work Act. This act empowers the Health and Safety Executive with the legal authority to prosecute operators and their customers if they are in breach of any of the regulations which apply to their works. In practise this means that if a tree cannot be felled directly onto the ground because of insufficient space and/or surrounding targets beneath its footprint, the minimum crew required to remove or work on the tree, if they are not in contact with the ground, will be a certified primary climber who also has certification for use of chainsaws from rope and harness, and a standby certified climber with full climbing equipment to provide sufficient redundant back up to the climber and perform a rescue from the tree in the event of a failure of the climbing system or a mistake leading to injury of the primary climber. Typically this standby climber will conduct the ground operations and support the work of the climber while he or she is off the ground. This allows the standby climber to provide a redundant safety role whilst being fully employed in keeping the base of the tree clear as it is dismantled, feeding the chipper and consolidating the arisings as the primary climber generates them, providing lowering and rigging support where necessary and supplying the primary climber with tools, equipment, saw refuelling and anything else he or she needs. The standby climber will also protect the site and the radius of operation of everything going on overhead.

A competent two person crew will be able to produce a significant volume of work in a single day, given good organization and planning, ease of access to the site and well specified equipment. Not all of these parameters are under direct influence of the Arborist but, assuming favourable conditions, many domestic applications will be fully served by a two man crew for a single day. Typically a certified standby climber who acts as groundsman and controls the site will cost between £120 to £150 per day. Typically a skilled, experienced climber with certificates of competence in rigging and the sectional felling of larger trees will cost between £210 to £250 per day.

Tools and equipment £40 per day

In a two man crew working on a medium tree, the following schedule of equipment may include but not be limited to, a large ground chainsaw, a medium ground chainsaw, a top handled chainsaw. These will be worth about £2250. Both operators will have climbing rigs to include carabiners, slings, pulleys, friction hitches, harness, lanyard and climbing line. A typical high quality basic rig will be worth about £1200 per climber. Each operator will be wearing about £600 worth of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in the form of chainsaw boots, chainsaw trousers, chainsaw gloves, safety helmet with visor and ear defenders. All these items have a practical life of about three years or less, subject to operating conditions. That is about 600 working days between overhaul or replacement. The climbing equipment is subject to detailed professional inspection by a certified LOLER inspector every six months, so that would be about £1800 worth of inspection over a three year life for two independent climbing rigs. The fuel and oil consumption for the chainsaws would be around £7 per day. Other items such as signage, fuel cans, breaker bars, high viz tabards, specialist access equipment and rigging equipment including ropes, tapes, slings, pulleys, snatch block winches and GRCS which cost many thousands of pounds to purchase are not included directly in this calculation but may be present depending on the site conditions prevailing. Based on a six hundred day life span for the quoted items here and a small notional figure for everything else, a figure of £40 per day would be a conservative one for tools and equipment.

Plant £270 per day

This figure is based on a tipper truck and a chipper capable of processing branches up to 150mm in diameter. Many arborists run their own plant. A six inch chipper costs £120+VAT to hire per day and a 3.5 tonne GVW tipper would be a minimum of £150+VAT. If the Arborist has to collect these items (and many hire rather than own the chipper so they would have to) this adds time and fuel cost to the operating day, typically 45 minutes to hire and 45 minutes to off hire and about £6 worth of diesel depending on the location of the site relative to the hire centre. If the Arborist owns both these items of plant, it is worthy of note that a medium duty chipper such as a Greenmech Quadchip 160 costs about £22,000 to buy and something like a standard Ford transit with a tipping body and a purpose built chip box on the back would be about £20,000. Whether hired in or owned, typically £270 per day in financial liability has to be covered for any tree works where the arisings cannot be disposed of directly at the site and must be processed and transported away as part of the specification.

Tipping charges £30 per tonne

This is the minimum charge for green waste. Typically some sites may handle chip by the load (about 1500kg in a ford transit size chip box) and the fees vary, but in a day, a two person crew may generate two loads which would add between £40 and £100 in tipping fees plus the time and cost to transport these waste loads during the day’s operations. For this narrative £50 of tipping fees are assumed in the cost estimate.

Insurance £9 per day

Public liability and employer’s liability insurance for arboricultural operations including aerial work will cost anywhere from £600 to £1000 per annum and the cost of insuring the plant and equipment of a typical contractor will be about £1000 per annum. Notionalised over 200 working days per year this generates a cost of £9 per day.

Site conditions and Access

Getting a tree on the ground is the most technical part of any felling or dismantling operation but the work of getting it processed and removed from the site is often many multiples of the labour and equipment cost from felling or take down. A fast climber on a big tree can out run two or three ground crew depending on the site and how far the tree is from where it can be processed. Gardens with difficult access routes and long paths between the tree and the chipper can literally triple the workload for the ground crew, especially if they have confined gateways or bounded routes to drag the branches through as they are removed from the tree. Many sites demand the addition of two or more ground crew to ensure the climber is fully supported at his or her work rate and in these circumstances a two person crew may just not be adequate for the job. In this event, the additional labour force is a little bit less expensive than a standby climber and typically ground crew will cost between £90 and £120 per extra person per day.

If the tree itself has many targets beneath it such as buildings, sheds, green houses, fences, walls etc. it may have to be rigged to the floor. Depending on the species of the tree and the space in the drop zone beneath, it may be possible for the primary climber to “hand cast” or free fall everything he or she cuts from the tree during the dismantling. However, under other site conditions it may be a requirement to rig most or even the entire tree to the ground. In such an operation the climber has to secure every branch before it is cut. Slings and ropes are used with a pulley system attached to the tree or a neighbouring tree and, in concert with a groundsman and possibly a control anchor such as a capstan bollard or a GRCS, all the branches and the stem are lowered to the ground in manageable pieces. In any event, this operation slows the climber down and commits a grounds person exclusively to the rigging operation. In such a setup, the minimum crew required would be a three person team so that at least one person is actually removing the arisings generated by the climber and the operator who is lowering them. If access is difficult this could demand a bigger crew than three.

There are many other unchargeable costs which arise from running a tree work operation. Operators have to be trained and re-trained at a minimum five year interval. A climber will typically have about two thousand pounds worth of training to certificate him to perform work on trees off the ground. Further certificates of competence to handle bigger trees and supplemental plant can run into hundreds of pounds of one off costs. The cost of estimating and winning work with site visits and back office organization, as well as maintaining equipment, particularly the cleaning and sharpening of chainsaws and the daily inspections of all lifting equipment all consume unbillable time and decrease the ultimate pay rate that operators receive for their services.

If you consider an average single day for a two operator team who has to remove the arisings from site, but with no extenuating site conditions, access problems or rigging requirements and assume that all non-billable costs are not allowed for in the quotation, a one day job could look like this:

  • Crew £380
  • Tools and equipment £40
  • Plant £270
  • Tipping Charge £50
  • Insurance £9

Total per day £749

If the company is VAT registered it would be £899 per day including VAT

If rigging operations were required, there was difficult access and it was a big tree which needed a four man crew for two days (not an uncommon scenario) the price could escalate to something like £3500.

This is just a theoretical scenario based on maximum output under a specific set of circumstances. Many jobs do not require this and that would be reflected in the contract price. Smaller jobs can often be configured to be done in concert with other assignments in the same day, they generate less waste and require less equipment and sometimes cheaper crew, so don’t worry that it might cost you nearly a thousand pounds to get rid of a little dead apple tree. Indeed during summer months, where there are more daylight hours, it is not uncommon for one of our team to visit a site and offer a verbal quote there and then and actually do the job straight away. Some small jobs cost tens of pounds, not hundreds. The figures quoted in this article are not a minimum typical charge but hopefully give you some idea of how prices for tree work are generated in applications demanding maximum output from a two person team.

Why can’t the operator sell the logs and reduce the price?

Handling firewood without specialist plant is very labour intensive. Most Arborists aren’t set up for it and the job could actually be priced cheaper if the operator didn’t have to remove the logs from site. Many trees are not suitable for domestic wood burners. Species like Oak, Ash, Alder, Birch make good firewood but conifers, firs, cypress, willow and other sappy and evergreen woods are useless in anything other than industrial incinerators and have no inherent value as domestic firewood. Generally the less material that has to be removed from site, the significantly cheaper the job becomes.

Happy Banana Tree Services advocate transparent pricing and flexibility. If you ask us to quote we will, on request, provide you a comprehensive price breakdown and wherever we can reduce cost to you we will.

For friendly free advice, quotations and positively no obligation, call John now to discuss anything your tree(s) need.