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Editorial: Beware if hiring out or not

Do-it-yourself projects can be rewarding, but may require caution.

Many homeowners are injured while trying to trim trees near overhead electrical wires, for example. They often underestimate the danger potential, according to information from the Tree Care Industry Association.

Terrible accidents can happen when a homeowner uses pole-mounted cutting tools and/or metal ladders to trim backyard trees and shrubs. Too often, an energized overhead wire isn’t noticed and is touched by pruning tools, causing injury or death.

Tree limbs can conduct electricity. When trees grow near overhead electrical wires, they can contact the wires and become energized. Trees and wires are dangerous, full of electrical power that can injure or kill humans.

Several things can go wrong for do-it-yourselfers trying to trim tree branches. If proper tree-cutting techniques aren’t understood, the cut branch can swing in unpredictable directions as it falls and could easily land on an energized wire.

Don’t be fooled by the voltage of the lines. It’s easy to think working on the trees or shrubs near a home’s service line is safer than working near the high voltage secondary distribution lines on the pole by the streets, but that’s simply not true.

There are three-wire (called “triplex”) lines connecting the power lines on the pole to the house (meter). Service wires leading from the pole to the house can pack a punch. The type of shock received (and survived) when changing a household light switch isn’t the same type of shock received if contacting a low-voltage utility wire.

A common house switch carries 120 volts, but the electric flow is usually limited to 10, 15 or 20 amps. A common “house drop” (service wire) contains 240 volts and up to 20 amps or more. Given the right set of circumstances, even the shock a person gets from a common light switch can kill, but at the same time, it’s easier to break electrical contact while standing inside a house. If a person is climbing a ladder or is in the tree, it may be more difficult to break contact with the energized wire. This means the service line over a typical yard could easily kill a person.

Here are a few tips to avoid trees in wires:

—Look for power lines before pruning trees and large shrubs. If lines are anywhere near the tree, don’t attempt any tree work. Professional tree climbers have the training and equipment needed to perform these tasks safely.

—Never climb a tree in order to prune it. Even if the wires aren’t currently touching the tree, remember the tree branches will shift once climbing or removing limbs is begun.

—Wearing rubber-soled shoes or rubber gloves while tree pruning won’t protect from a fatal shock.

—Never extend long-handled saws or pruners into a tree without checking for power lines. Electricity is always trying to go somewhere, and it will easily travel through metal, water, trees and/or the ground.

—Don’t move ladders or long-handled pruning tools around the yard without first looking up. Always read and heed ladder-use safety labels.

By all means, it’s better to hire an insured tree care professional with the experience, expertise and equipment to safely take down or prune trees in wires. Require proof of liability insurance and check to see if the cost of the work is covered by the homeowner’s insurance company.

Don’t fall prey to door-to-door contractors promising to provide quick help at a great price, however. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection offers these tips about getting help with trees or home improvement projects in general:

—Be wary of any contractor knocking at the door. Call the police or sheriff’s department to check them out.

—Hire a contractor based on referrals. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations, and ask contractors for references. Before signing a contract, contact the state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to see if any complaints have been received about the business.

—Try to get a local contractor. Ask contractors if they are subcontracting the job. Be careful if local contractors are using outside subcontractors.

—Get lien waivers from anyone paid for home repairs. It’s necessary to do this because, if the person collecting the money doesn’t pay the supplier or worker, a lien could be put on the property.

—Get a written contract with a start and completion date, and warranty information. Also, make certain the contract states exactly what work is to be done and what materials are to be used. Never rely on verbal commitment.

—Contractors registering with the state are issued a card. Make sure any contractor being considered for hire shows their state registration card.

—Have someone watch the work being done. Check with the local building inspector to see if the work requires a permit and make sure an inspector visits the job site before final payment is provided.