Dear Barry,

The neighbors who live behind us have three large, but dead, cottonwood trees that border our back fence. A few years ago, our insurance company informed us that they would no longer insure our roof because it has wood shingles. If our neighbors’ trees should fall on our roof, who would be responsible for the repair costs? –Leslie

Dear Leslie,

The exclusion of the roof by your insurance company may only involve fire damage or rain leakage. You should contact them to see if you would be covered for damages caused by a falling tree.

As for your neighbors, their dead trees constitute a significant public safety hazard. They should be notified immediately that you want these trees removed and will hold them legally and financially responsible for any personal injuries or property damage that may be caused by their failure to perform accordingly. If they do not respond, the municipal authorities should be notified of this hazardous condition. The appropriate agency should then give notice to your neighbors to have the trees removed. If your neighbors still fail to perform, the municipality can remove the trees and bill the neighbors for the work.

Dear Barry,

The people who are buying our home ordered a radon test. The radon readings in the basement were high — 7.7 pCi/l (picocuries per liter) — and the company who did the testing quoted $975 to mitigate the problem. We’re concerned that the company who provided the test is also proposing to do the repairs. Isn’t this a conflict of interest? –Diana

Dear Diana,

Conflicting interests of this kind occur in a number of service businesses, including termite extermination, septic system maintenance, roof repairs and many others. This kind of dual-purpose business, with inspections and repairs being performed by the same persons, is likely to raise suspicions. But this conflict is only a problem when practiced by unethical people. If those who operate such businesses are honest, then the conflict should not pose a problem.

If you want to confirm the radon findings, you can order radon test canisters from an environmental testing lab and perform your own test. But another aspect worth noting is that the price the company has quoted for mitigation is very reasonable.

Dear Barry,

I have a problem with uneven heat in my home. It’s a trilevel with the thermostat in the upstairs hall and a vaulted ceiling above the stairway. For some reason, the downstairs living room never gets as warm as the upstairs bedrooms. Is this normal and can it be improved? –Patricia

Dear Patricia,

The upstairs temperature is warmer for the simple reason that heat rises. To counter this natural effect, you can install a ceiling fan at the vaulted ceiling. The fan will push the warm air downward, and the resulting circulation should help to equalize the warmth throughout your home.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at

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