Reduce the risk of tree damage to your home

  @Money October 12, 2012: 5:15 PM ET
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Spend a little now to stop a tree from turning into a big cost for your home later.

(Money Magazine)

Does the severe weather of the past several years have you looking up at your trees in fear?

It's an understandable concern. A big storm could destroy the plants' majesty in a flash -- and send a quarter-ton branch crashing down onto your roof.

Still, before you preemptively chip a favorite tree into mulch, consider this: It may be contributing 8% to 10% to your home's value, according to Scott Cullen of the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers.

Here's how to keep your leafy assets from becoming a liability.

Schedule regular upkeep

Have your trees inspected every five years or so -- a free service offered by tree-care companies. An arborist will look for branches that are weak or hanging within 10 feet of a building, and send workers to remove them.

If necessary, they'll also buttress the tree against high winds by cabling limbs together. All this work costs about $200 to $400 a tree and is typically needed only once a decade.

Related: Tips on homeowners insurance

In many cases the tree will more than cover the cost of its maintenance over a few years; a big shade tree will knock nearly $70 off annual air conditioning bills, says David Nowak of the U.S. Forest Service, and a large evergreen that blocks winter winds will reduce heating costs by around $60 a year.

Bonus: Trees also provide protection from road noise and basement flooding.

Get removal right

When a tree becomes diseased or dangerously overgrown given its proximity to a house, your arborist will recommend taking it down.

Inside one of America's largest homes

Removing a substantial tree could cost $2,000 to $5,000, depending on its size and whether it is accessible by truck or requires climbing -- and what's underneath that the crew must protect.

Related: 4 ways to save on landscaping

You can have the stump ground down to just below grass or mulch height for $50 to $200 more. Or carve a trough in the top, drill some drainage holes, and use it as a planter.

Invest in new growth

To replace an unsafe tree or propagate a bare lot, look for varieties that grow quickly and have compact spreads to minimize pruning headaches, says Charlotte, N.C., landscape architect J'Nell Bryson.

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She favors versatile deciduous species like pyramidal European hornbeam, Brandywine red maple, and serviceberry, as well as evergreens Japanese cedar and Little Gem magnolia -- but you'll need to check what's best for your climate and terrain.

A local nursery can suggest good options and plant eight-footers for $250 to $500 each. In about a decade they could add tens of thousands to your property value, probably the best investment return you'll ever make. To top of page

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