Dan's Blog

Dead Oaks
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Across the street from my first Atlanta home was a small house set well away from the road. The older woman who lived there passed away, her family rented the place for several years then sold it to a builder. You never really noticed the house; more likely you noticed the large white oak in the front yard.

The builder tore down the home and built a large two-story using the "normal" setback from the road. He built a detached garage-suite towards the rear. The city of Atlanta tree ordinance required the oak be preserved. 

Dead Oak Tree Atlanta

The oak died this summer, a few years after the new home was built. This happens all the time. Trees in construction areas may linger a few years but sometimes the combination of excessive trimming, construction distress, loss of roots and growth area, re-grading and drought take their toll.

The tree thrived because it had the right kind of environment and died when the environment changed dramatically.

I get a kick out of riding past a subdivision named Seven Oaks and seeing seven dead Oaks a few years later. I was at the Atlanta Homebuilders main office the other day and noticed a small grove of (you guessed it) dead Oaks.

In any event the homeowner is stuck with a dead tree. Before it died they landscaped and fenced the front yard. Whoever removes the tree will have to rope the branches down in order to avoid damaging the house, fence and landscaping; this will cost a lot. Since the tree is obviously dead their homeowners insurance won't pay if the tree falls and damages their neighbors' property.

The location of the tree is awkward and it doesn’t look "natural." Sitting at the front and center of the lot its’ tilted trunk upsets the symmetry of the front façade. During construction a lot of the lower branches were cut; the tree looks spindly and misshapen. 

A few doors away they are building another house with a large tree in the front yard. The protected radius of the tree is not nearly large enough to assure the trees’ health. It will most likely die too. It comes down to this: is the tree too big to save or the house too big for the tree?

West of the Mississippi River trees are more valued than in East. Rainfall in the West averages less than 20 inches per year; large, desired species are a luxury. In the East trees are commonplace.

In Austin, Texas a large oak tree invariably increases the resale price of your home. My grandparents lived in Chico, California where Hooker Oak stood until it toppled in 1977. I remember visiting the tree as a child.

The City of Atlanta tree ordinance forbids removal of large trees in most circumstances. In this case I would have preferred it be removed. Moving the house farther back from the road (therefore reducing its’ size) could have been another option. In hindsight building the house without either adequately protecting the tree or removing it was a waste of time and money. This scenario is being repeated down the street and all over town.

Wholesale removal of vegetation, including desirable mature species like White Oak, is common in the metro area. It’s a whole lot cheaper to build a subdivision without having to worry about saving trees.

But of course there is a price to pay. What many homeowners are not aware of is that home maintenance costs are higher without the trees around. The dead Oak in this case provided some shelter on the West facing side of the home. Direct sunlight will cook roof shingles and exterior paint, accelerate thermal expansion and consequent failure of doublepane windows and increase the amount of energy needed to the cool the home. Multiply this one example by all the new subdivisions in metro Atlanta and you’ve lost a lot of money. (There are other things lost but that’s another subject)

There are some houses where removing trees is a good idea. Trees too close the house, thickets of trees, trees out of symmetry with the facade or blocking the view of the front entry are candidates for removal.  Some native species like Magnolia are really messy. Pine branches spear the roof in ice storms, Oak limbs rip power lines to the house, Pecans drop limbs with regularity.

  • Saving trees where you can and where it makes sense is a laudable goal.
  • They are part of what makes many intown neighborhoods appealing and comfortable.
  • Take a look around your yard or neighborhood and REALLY look at the trees.
  • Maybe you will see them as a commonplace nuisance or maybe as beneficial luxury.

Just give trees some thought and remember how much people value them out West. And if you live in Shadyside Oaks…..

Dead Oak Tree in Atlanta, Dan Curl Comprehensive Home Inspections

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