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The weather seems to be getting worse each year. Damage from wind, ice and snow can cause downed power lines from broken limbs. Trimming back trees and removing broken limbs on your property can save you time and trouble.

Tree services can help you deal with sick or overgrown trees. They might even be able to save injured trees with pest infestations.

Trimming trees can be dangerous, but the right company can do it safely and effectively.

Follow these tips to find a qualified, professional tree service in your area:

1. Ask friends, family and neighbors. You may know someone who has used a tree service in the past. They can tell you who does the best work. Also, check newspaper, phone and Internet listings.

2. Contact at least three tree services. Inform them of the situation and request a site inspection. It gives you the opportunity to ask about issues and get a feel for the experience and expertise of each company. Take notes so you can compare your results afterward.

3. Find out how long each company has been in business, their experiences, references and whether they are licensed and insured. Check with the Better Business Bureau for outstanding complaints. Even reliable companies may have a few problems. It is how they resolve the issue that counts.

4. Request estimates. These figures can vary widely. Some companies are better equipped for certain jobs, so they can offer more competitive pricing. Other companies are slow or may be trying to "fill in" appointment slots with smaller jobs just to keep their crews busy. Don't choose a company strictly by cost. Tree work is dangerous. Proper equipment, well-trained employees and insurance create high operating costs. It is worth paying more for peace of mind and excellent service.

5. Look at a copy of their insurance policy. Coverage should include personal liability, property damage coverage, workers' compensation and damaged vehicles or home coverage.

6. Inspect their previous work by looking at their portfolio. Each tree service company has a work style. Verify that it suits your needs. Photos of past work might also be on their website.

7. Get a detailed written estimate of any work to be performed before signing a contract. Responsible companies will provide detailed descriptions, along with the time and cost for your records. This estimate should also offer information about cleanup expectations. Are logs to be cut up or left for firewood? Will the company haul everything away or leave it for you to manage? Will leaves and twigs be raked up or run through a chipper? If they are removing an entire tree, what will happen to the stump?

8. Verify the workers wear property safety gear. They should be wearing helmets at all times. In addition, they should use face shields or protective glasses and steel-toe boots. The person who climbs the tree should have arborist climbing ropes, specialized safety and climbing gear, the proper saddle, helmet and safety glasses. If you find they aren't wearing safety gear, contact the company to discuss the matter.

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