After the tree is gone then most often than not a stump remains. If the area isn’t going to be used for anything in the future than sometimes the stump can be left, but many times it must be mechanically removed by either grinding or excavating depending on the end use of the area.

Reasons to remove a stump are to:

  • Replant in the same vicinity of the removed tree
  • Aesthetics, the stump is an “eye sore”
  • Prevent regrowing – the tree won’t grow back if the stump is removed
  • Trip hazard
  • Building, landscaping, or new construction
  • Facilitate access to repair root damages to utilities such as sewer pipes, foundations, driveways, sidewalks, retaining walls, and drainage.

The pros and cons of grinding vs excavation are:

  • Grinding is less expensive than excavation because there is no stump to dispose and haul. Additionally, heavy machinery is not needed to mobilize or transport.
  • Grinding is less invasive to the landscape because it requires a much smaller machine footprint and doesn’t rip out all the roots and risk collateral damage to nearby utilities and such.
  • Grinding can be typically accomplished the same day as the tree removal whereas excavating is usually a separate site visit.
  • Excavating does remove almost all the bio material and allows for better compaction for building and grading and usually preferred by engineers.
  • Excavation gets all the stump out whereas grinding gets most depending on scope.
  • Excavation is best for root removal although grinding can accomplish the same but leaves integrated wood debris in soil. Depends on final end use to determine which method should be used.

Another option associated with stump grinding rarely discussed is the hauling of the grindings which greatly affect the pricing. This service should be specified with detail as such:

  • Leave grindings at stump (lowest cost)
  • Spread grindings on-site
  • Haul excessive grindings and leave hole level with grade
  • Haul all grindings and leave hole
  • Haul all grindings and backfill with soil (highest cost)

Additionally, the depth of grinding needs to be specified. Again, this greatly affects the cost because the stumps diameter increases as the depth is increased. Keep in mind that most big stump grinding machines only go to 14” below grade at best, but what most people don’t understand is that the majority of stumps are only 10-12” below grade. This is how the grinding should be specifically written:

  • Grind stump to grade
  • Grind stump 2” below grade(this is used where utilities may be present)
  • Grind stump 6” below grade (this is the most common choice, usually gets the bulk of the stump)
  • Grind stump 8”(10”)(12”)(14”) below grade (this should be specified to exact depth, but normally anything over 12” is excessive)

Root chasing is rarely talked about but an important factor to consider if there are surface roots present and you want to re-landscape the area. This is a specified option that basically entails grinding up to a specified radius from the edge of the stump, normally at a depth of 2-3” below grade to remove the surface roots. Keep in mind that this is a very invasive service that will leave the area looking like it was rototilled, normally the client has a landscaper follow afterwards to restore the area. Grindings are not removed with this option because it is mostly soil that is left, but usually larger roots are hauled. An example of a written specification would be:

  • Root chase 6’ radius (typical specification)
  • Root chase 6’ radius, 2” depth, leave grindings, haul roots over 2” diameter(detailed specification)

A risk associated with stump grinding or excavation is damaging underground utilities (eg. gas lines, irrigation, sewer)or hardscape(eg. driveways, fencing, sidewalks). The law states that underground public utilities must be located before digging by your local utility providers. The contractor calls to get a “dig ticket” usually 72 hours in advance to legally commence excavation or grinding. This ticket provides protection to the contractor and homeowner by marking public utilities in the field with paint and flagging and giving assurance of what is underground. If the contractor does damage a public un-marked utility thereafter, the costly repair is covered by the utility company. Although this covers public utilities, it does not account for private utilities or underground pipes in the landowners yard, this is the responsibility of the landowner to mark or locate their utilities and convey locations to the contractor. Most any contractor will state in their contract that they are not responsible for any un-marked underground utility damage as a result of work being performed. This meaning if a private utility is damaged during stump removal, the contractor is not responsible and the landowner must pay the cost of repairs.

We at Hamilton use experience to estimate the locations of private utilities to an extent by determining where these are located on the structures and running straight lines to the locations on the street or nearest marked public utility. This usually “ballparks” the location of a sewer, gas, electrical or water main and then we trace out irrigation lines from the valves to the lateral lines to the emitter heads. Utilizing this information we can then make the “best” guess of depth and radius that we may excavate or grind in an area without damaging anything underground. Most often then not, this method works well.

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