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A Closer Look

We hope you're beginning to notice as you look through our website that communication and education are very important to us.  In fact, it's a part of our Company Vision.  (Go check it out under the About Us menu if you haven't already.)  On this page, we'll walk you through a sample patio project and give you a behind the scenes look at what needs to happen in order to put a landscaping project in the ground.  This also includes how your decisions would affect your project.

With each phase we highlighted some key points.  

-Things to consider about us:

-Things to consider about other companies:

-Things to consider about you:

Some points may seem obvious.  Others may not.  Some may come across as a bit blunt. We certainly don't intend to be rude- just honest.


The phases for a hardscape project are typically the same regardless of the size and scope of your project.  For simple projects the phases move quicker and a few steps may not be needed.  For larger projects the phases may be more involved.  The important part to remember is that no matter what company you choose to hire, the professional, knowledgeable ones should have a firm understanding of each phase and communicate clearly with you every step of the way.

 

Contact

It all starts with a phone call. Or text. Or email.  Or website inquiry. Or,...well, you get the idea.  There are many different ways to get ahold of us, and we do our best to reply back to you in less than 24 hours. 

Things to consider about US: 

  • We don't do free estimates and there is a reason for this.  Check out our Dig Deeper page for more info.

  • Our schedule is usually full at any given point, anywhere from 2 to 6 months out. If you have a quick deadline for completing your project, we may or may not be the right company for you.  (This depends on how large your project is.) 

  • We are a very "tech heavy" company.  Regular communication about your project is done electronically.  We do request that you be able to email and preferably text too.  Of course once you're project starts, we'll see you regularly and communicate in person as well. 

Things to consider about OTHER companies: 

  • Any company, no matter the size, should reply quickly to your interest.  If they take several days to weeks to return your call, how will they treat your project?

  • Question a company that says they have immediate openings to do your job.  Why are they so available?  Good companies are always booked out. 

  • Consistent, timely, and detailed information needs to be communicated regularly.  Lack of communication almost always results in surprises (usually not the good kind) as your project progresses.

Things to consider about YOU:

  • Leave clear information about the best way to get ahold of you if you have to leave a message.  Phone messages are sometimes hard for us to understand if you don't speak clearly.  Leave your phone number at the beginning of your message and at the end.  

  • Have a realistic time frame for your project and plan well in advance. If you call us in April, we cannot have your project done by Memorial Day.  The temptation is to go with the contractor who can get you in the quickest- that may not always be a good choice.  

  • Have a budget in mind that you want to work within for your project before you call us.   You may not know what your ideas will cost, but you do know what your overall budget can handle.  We want to respect that and not offer suggestions that would not be in your best financial interest.  The project budget serves both as a design tool and a reality check.

Consultation

After the initial contact is made, we will schedule a consultation with you at your home or business.   We charge for this.  We do our best to get all the information we need to provide you with an accurate price to do your project.  Think of this visit as a part of the cost of your project.    


We'll spend time discussing your ideas for the area you would like to landscape and how you plan on using the space.  We want to know the amount of people you plan on using in this space at any given time, and your preferences for style and decorating. There's a lot we'll talk about.  


We'll also use a computerized level to get accurate measurements and elevations.  If possible we get soil samples of your property to help determine the difficulty of excavation.  We explore options with you about additional features that could enhance your space.  We'll leave you with idea catalogues to help with choices on material options.  We talk with you about styles and different quality options for various materials.  Yes, there are quality options and it's important to choose the right ones for your project.

Things to consider about US:

  • We stay up to date on the best practices for installation and the latest material and technology.  This is important because our industry is always improving.  We don't want to be left behind and provide you with outdated information.

  • We do our best to eliminate as many surprises as possible by assessing everything we can about your property. Surprises are usually bad and costly, both for you and for us. 

Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • Experience should be coupled with training.   It's possible to have a lot of experience doing things the wrong way.  Communication should be a lot of listening on the part of your contractor.  Your ideas and plans, no matter how big or small need to be heard and understood. 

  • If an estimate is free and handled like a consultation, you are getting a very valuable gift.  If it's free and treated like an estimate (a guess), then hope that the guess is accurate. You may end up paying for a wrong guess.

Things to consider about YOU:

  • Don't be afraid to share any design ideas you have.  Rough sketches, no matter how rudimentary you may think they are, are actually quite valuable to your contractor.  

  • Do your best to have everyone at the consultation who will be making decisions or having input.  Conveying information and ideas afterwards, or repeating a conversation slows down the design process.

  • Remember: this consultation is an investment into your project.  You should expect value from this part of your investment just like you fully expect value from the patio that your are paying for.  Your patio is not free.  Skilled planning and design should not be free either. Don't sidestep cost on the most critical phase of your project.

Concept

While you're deciding on your product choices, we're compiling all the information we gathered from your consultation into an initial concept, incorporating any ideas you gave us.  This is a part of the cost of the consultation.  We send over a rough draft to give you an idea of the general layout of the project.  This helps with a visual for curves and placement of features.  Depending on the size of your project there may be some back and forth as we work through ideas.  

Once a layout is finalized, we provide you with a price range for your project.  We say price range to help give you a better understanding of the scope of the project, any features you want to include, and the costs associated with different product choices.  The traditional price estimate is usually a single number. Accurate or not, it tends to stick in your mind for the cost of the project and locks in the concept "as is".

Things to consider about US:

  • We appreciate your feedback!  We are not tied to our design ideas and it will not in anyway hurt our feelings if you don't like them.  

  • We tend to design big.  This doesn't mean you have to buy big.  We do this to show you options and possibilities within your budget.  

  • Our goal is to lay out all of the information you need and combine it with our recommendations. Then, you can decide how it fits into your plan.

Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • Don't let the concept phase be overlooked. Sometimes a contractor will combine Concept, Design, and Cost all into one and you lose out on an opportunity for communication and feedback.  So, the Concept (or idea) is the Design (or final layout), and the Cost (or final quote) is based on that final layout.  Changes to the design at this point usually end in a guess at additional costs because the work of calculating materials all over again is frustrating.

  • Don't let yourself be pressured into a certain product because the contractor is familiar with it. 

  • Don't let yourself settle on a concept that you don't like.  You're paying for it, you get to decide.  Not your contractor.

Things to consider about YOU:

  • Share your ideas and/or dreams.  Don't be shy just because you think you aren't the "professional". 

  • Take time to think about what is really important to you for your new space.  This will help keep things prioritized when we start talking prices.

Design

The concept phase is critical for a good design to be practical, logical, and beautiful.  Concepts are ideas to be refined, critiqued, and discussed. Design is bringing the end product of the concept to life.  What better way to do that than through a 3D design. The power of being able to virtually walk through your design cannot be underestimated.  Think of it like taking a car for a test drive. 

While not every project needs a 3D to help you visualize what you're buying, it is a small price to pay for the incredible benefit of seeing the project before you commit. For large-scale projects, this is a must have.

When the 3D design is completed we set up a meeting with you to do the presentation and virtual walk-through.  These meetings are downright fun. You get to literally see what your property will look like.  A common phrase we hear during these meetings is, "That's my house?!  I didn't know it could look like this!"

Things to consider about US:

  • Designs take time and resources dedicated to developing your project.  We charge for 3D designs, but they are yours to keep. 

  • If you choose to have another contractor install our design, it won't offend us.  

Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • A design, even if it's a simple drawing or blueprint is a must for any project.  Without a visible design to follow, communication becomes much more difficult.  The end product may not be what you had visualized in your mind.

  • Designs should be the end product of conversations about your goals and ideas.  It should be a result of accounting for the unique features of your home and property.  Designs that don't take all of this into consideration are nothing more than a predetermined item on a menu.

Things to consider about YOU:

  • Try not to change your mind about big items in the design phase.  Like, "Can we add a lower level to the patio?" or "Can we move the pool over about 10 feet?"  Depending on the elevation changes for your property, these requests could mean very time consuming changes to a 3D design.  

  • The 3D is tremendous, but that being said, don't expect your home to look exactly the same as it does in real life down to the most infinite detail.  

Proposal

After the presentation of your 3D design including your virtual walk-through, we work through the remaining details to prepare for the proposal.  These include deciding on specific hardscape products (pavers, wall material, etc.), approving any plant designs, discussing involvement of any sub-contractors (electricians, plumbers, etc.) and setting expectations for the project (more on this later).

All the information about your property that we gathered during the Consultation will directly impact the cost for your proposal.  This can be things such as ease of access (how much work can we do with machines vs. by hand), soil conditions, location of the project on your property, utilities, etc. 

If there are other trades involved (electrical, carpentry etc.) we will discuss how this impacts the cost of your project.  Most homeowners do not have the time, desire or experience to be the general contractor.  We handle coordinating all trades involved on the project and is included in our costs.  We don't mark-up the quotes from other contractors but do include the cost of managing in our proposal.

Things to consider about US:

  • Our proposal is not an estimate.  The price on the quote will equal your final invoice.  There are, of course, things that could affect the price: change of design, buried objects we couldn't have known about, material costs changing dramatically or anything that we do not have control over at the time of the proposal.

  • We don't give cash discounts.  We accept cash as a payment option, but we handle the payment as we do for any other form of payment. A cash discount usually implies that we won't claim taxes on the money and we don't operate that way. Not only is it illegal, but it's important that you know we do things the right way.  If we were to cut corners here, what would stop us from cutting corners later?

  • We provide a lot of information about your project, about our company and about the proposal itself in easy to understand terms.

  • We provide you with copies of quotes from any sub-contractor involved.  We handle everything about your project including submitting and paying invoices from other contractors.   

Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • Look for the "fine print" in the proposal.  Nothing is perfect, including your project site.  Proposals should have disclaimers of some sort included so you know what to expect in case of a surprise.  If you don't see any disclaimers, don't sign it without getting some clarification (preferably in writing).

  • Look through the proposal carefully for anything that you don't understand.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Proposals should be detailed and in easy to understand terms.  

  • Question cash discount offers. See above.

  • Look for an insurance certificate.  

  • Look for line items on the quote that reference any sub-contractors involved on your project.  If the landscape contractor is communicating with and paying them have a discussion about those details so you don't have an unexpected bill later.  

Things to consider about YOU:

  • If you change or want to change anything about the design of your project, it will most likely change the cost listed on the proposal.  

  • If you want to pay by credit card, plan on paying an additional 3% more than the proposal amount to cover the cost of the credit card fees.  We don't build those costs in to our rates.  

Expectations

We have learned over the years of working with all kinds of different people, that setting expectations early for a project is important.  Details that may seem obvious to us as a contractor may not be to the customer, and vice versa.  There are a few really important details that seem to come to the forefront on every project.

The location of your project exactly on your property and in relation to your home, directly affects the scheduling, progress, and timing of construction.  For example, if we're putting a patio on the north side of your home with a fair amount of shade, we may encourage you to wait to begin construction until the dry summer months.  The reason being, if we open up the ground in the wet spring, the ground may not be able dry out enough after a rainfall to be able to work for several weeks.  The lack of sun and air movement will prevent usable working conditions.  You would have a muddy mess of a yard while we wait for the ground to dry.

It gets worse before it gets better.  This is true for landscaping, especially when it comes to the areas directly around your project.  Besides the project area itself there's also the working space around it.  This area is bigger than what you may expect.  We need space for stockpiling excavated soil as well as base aggregate.  We also need space to place all the pallets of material.  And we need space to turn around with machines, trucks, and fork lifts; and get all of this in and out of your yard.  This could extend the area of your lawn that gets torn up to 2 or 3 times the size of the patio itself.  

Your specific soil type as well as the surrounding topography of your property and neighbors' properties are directly impacted by rain.  Clay type soil, and locations that collect water from surrounding areas take a very long time to dry out and makes progress on your project very slow.

Communication with us during your project while we are at your property needs to be very prompt and efficient.  One of the things that we appreciate about what we do is that we enjoy getting to know our clients throughout the course of their project.  It is a part of the experience we try to create.  But at the same time, when it's time to work, it's time to work.  A half hour conversation with the foreman when he arrives prevents him from getting the crew busy or focus on productivity.  Depending on how many people are on the crew this could result in an hour or more of lost man hours completing your job.  Multiply this by the length of your project and it could easily prolong your job several extra days.  Time is money and it would make our rates go up if we were to charge all of our clients for conversations that could be streamlined through other means.   

Things to consider about US:

  • Communication is very important to us and we work hard to keep you up to date on what is or is not happening on your project.  This is especially important when it comes to weather concerns. 

  • The Consultation and Quote phase addresses your specific site concerns so you know in advance what you can expect.

  • Our clients have their own customer portal for their project online where they can log in and see project updates, rain delays, job pictures, job notes, etc.  This is free by the way.

  • If your project needs sub-contractors, we have a checklist of items to go over with them and how they will affect your property.

Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • Ask contractors what their plan is for staging materials on your property for your project. Their plan should indicate how the rest of your property will be affected.

  • Ask other contractors what their policy is for rain delays and how or if you will be contacted if they don't plan on working a given day.

  • If your project requires sub-contractors, what's the plan for any damage that they cause to your lawn?  Will the landscaper fix just his own damage or his sub-contractors' as well?

Things to consider about YOU:

  • ​Let us know anything- and we mean anything, that would impact how we install your project.  This could be something as simple as telling us not to block the driveway at a certain time during the day because you have to get out to go to work.

  • We don't recommend you be the general contractor if you are having a large outdoor living space installed.  The availability and experience needed is very demanding and could cost you significantly more in terms of time and money.

  • We like to talk with you, we really do.  But please make use of the other means of communication we have available to be efficient with our time while we are working.  Some conversations need to happen in person, especially when it concerns design questions, or change orders.  But many questions can be answered via text, a phone call, email, or through the client portal.  

Schedule

Schedule ties in very closely with Expectations, but there are some key points worth mentioning separately.  The first is how we schedule projects.  For the most part, it's first come first serve to get you placed on our schedule.  But when we start, and how we progress through your job depends on a lot of factors.  The Expectations from above play a large part in this.  As an example, we would not want to promise you that we'll get your job completed in 2 weeks, when we know your site would take 3 or 4 days to dry after a rain.  A 2 week time frame is not feasible unless we could guarantee ideal weather.

Secondly, the size and scale of your project may have sub-contractors involved.  If other trades are involved, then there is also an order in which things have to be done.  For example, running a gas line for a firepit has to be done after we excavate for the base, but before we install the filter fabric or base material.  We would need to coordinate with the plumber running the gas line so neither one of us creates a problem for the other.

Third, it seems like the expectation is that once a project is started, the contractor will only work on that job until it's finished.  Every nice day, it's expected to see the contractor outside working on that project only.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  A rainout day may force the project to be on hold for several days, even if that rain day is followed by several nice days while it dries out.  If that's the case, not only can we not waste those nice days by not starting another job, but you also would probably not want to pay for us to stand around our shop waiting for your property to dry out. 

Things to consider about US:

  • We do our best to schedule efficiently.  If we are not going to be on your job a certain day, we'll tell you that and most likely have an explanation for it.  

  • We don't make up excuses as to why your project is "dragging on" or why we aren't there.  This is why we love our client portal.  You can log in anytime and see your own schedule.

  • We limit our "open" projects to 3 or 4 at the most, and these usually vary in size.  We realize we can't open up a new job every time it rains and we don't want to spread our resources too thin.

Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • Any delay in your project should not be connected to an excuse and you should have some advance notice.  This is true whether it's information you receive before the job begins or during the course of installing your project.

  • Try to reduce any frustration by asking your contractor if they have a communication plan so you can plan your life around when they will, AND when they won't be at your home.  

Things to consider about YOU:

  • Your project is important to you and to us.  But remember that to keep costs down for everyone you have to share schedule space with others to accommodate for bad weather.

  • Please make use of our client portal as your go to for scheduling questions.

Ground Breaking

Let the fun begin!  A few things need to happen after your project is on the schedule with a start date.  We need the down payment to order materials; have utilities marked; order materials; and have any sub-contractors lined up and scheduled.

The day we break ground we must first transfer the design to the ground with all the correct elevations and measurements.  This can take a few hours for larger projects.  Trenches for wall base and patio base must be excavated.  Depending on the load bearing requirements and soil type, this excavation could be anywhere from 8 inches to 2 feet in depth or more.

Coordinating other subcontractors at this time is very important to ensure all aspects of the project are being installed without delay.  For example, if your project includes a pool house then the foundation, plumbing, sewer, electrical, and gas lines all need to be installed before we can continue.

Things to consider about US:

  • Our experience with small to large scale projects combined with working through the design with you, allow us to be a logical and capable coordinator for the entire project.  This eliminates the need for our clients to have to work their schedule around multiple other schedules and know details about each industry that would allow them to maximize efficiency with their project.

  • We provide you with a payment schedule so you know when payments are due and how they are to be used.  

Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • Communication is vital for the progress of any project, large or small.  Consistent, reliable communication will help reduce or eliminate confusion and costly re-work.  For example, a lack of communication with the plumber burying a gas line for your firepit under your patio could result in the plumber backfilling the trench with loose dirt.  If that is allowed to remain, your patio would sink all along that trench as the dirt settles.  Communication would prevent this.

  • Make sure you have an understanding of what invoices are your responsibility.  The last thing you want is to have a completed project and then have a lien placed on your property because the contractor did not pay a vendor.

Things to consider about YOU:

  • Please move anything in your yard out of the work zone that you do not want damaged.  We don't want to have to move toys, lawn furniture, or set aside your favorite rose bush when we get there. 

  • You are not responsible for calling JULIE; Those who are doing the digging are required to do that.  That being the case, please do not move any marking flags either.  

Installation

As your new patio starts to take shape, it will seem like not much is getting accomplished for quite a whille. There is much that needs to happen before we get to the "pretty stuff".  If there are any vertical aspects to your project, such as retaining walls, steps, elevation changes, etc., those all need to be built before any pavers are laid.  This requires drainage, filter fabric, base rock, wall installation, and compaction.  

Once all the base is in, screeded, and compacted we can move on to installing pavers.  This is the fun part and moves very quickly.  It also provides the most visual impact.  

Any other features of your project are also being installed at this point and requires more coordination with the other trades so we aren't walking over each other.

Things to consider about US:

  • The "boring" part of base work is also one of the most critical.  The base materials and construction are crucial to the durability and longevity of your project.  We stay up to date and trained on the best practices to engineer and install the correct base material, correctly. We spend a considerable amount of time on the base to ensure it's correct.

  • As we move on to paver installation, we pay close attention to details. Straight lines, smooth curves, and clean cuts all point to quality craftsmanship.

Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • Industry standards for base material and installation methods have changed and improved over the years.  If your contractor is installing the same way as they did 10 years ago, chances are it's outdated and not the best practice.

  • Craftsmanship and careful planning of paver layout to minimize cuts will be evident as the project moves along.  A lot of small sliver cuts, large gaps between pavers, (especially on curves) and crooked lines, stand out as a lack of attention to detail.

Things to consider about YOU:

  • Be patient.  In terms of installation what's under the surface is more important than what you can see on the surface.

  • Unless you see something glaringly wrong in terms of design, reserve your questions about finish details until the project is over.  We install your project in phases, and sometimes different sections of your project are at different stages.  Don't be concerned if we move to a different section of your patio and another section looks unfinished.  There is a method to our madness!

  • If you want to make changes to your project, let us know as soon as possible.

  • If you want to add on to your project, we will need to talk about what that looks like in terms of schedule. This is very important and often misunderstood!  It's common to think that because we are already on your job that it is easy for us to just add on more.  While it does make construction sense, it does not make scheduling sense.  Just like we schedule your job with an anticipated timeline, we are also scheduling jobs after yours the same way. To add on to your project would mean we would have to go back to our other clients and ask them to adjust their start date to accommodate your additions.  That being said, we would love to add on to your project, but plan on your project timeline being extended.

  • Please do your best to limit foot traffic through our work zone.  As we prepare to lay pavers, foot traffic from people or pets through the work area can create re-work if our base material is kicked around or disturbed.

Finishing Touches

At this point, most of the hard work is done and we are moving on to finish work.  This includes any special details such as patio inlays, finishing features such as firepits and waterfalls, sweeping in the correct joint sand and beginning any plantings and mulch.  Lighting is being completed and sub-contractors should be completing any finish work they have remaining.

Things to consider about US:

  • We offer full service maintenance for all of our installation project clients. As we are installing the finishing touches, now is a good time to consider if you want to handle any upkeep for your new landscaping or if you would like us to do that for you.

  • If there are additions to your project that affect your original design, we'll communicate with you about how we'll have to leave the job until we can return.  

Things to consider about OTHER companies: 

  • Ask about the type of sand used in the joints. It should not be plain sand!  

  • If landscape lighting is being installed, pay attention to placement.  Lights should be used to highlight, accent, and create shadows- not spotlight and "wash out" the landscaping.

  • If your additional requests are being installed right away and extending your project length, they may be coming at the expense of the customer after you.

Things to consider about YOU:

  • If you have new plants in your project, be ready to water them!  We can't guarantee your plants if you don't water them. If you don't want to do that, let us know so we can get you a price to do that for you.

  • If you added on to your project, ask us any questions you have about how you can use your space until we return.

Completion

It's done!  Transforming your landscape into a unique, custom creation just for you is a lot of fun.  We really do enjoy it!  It is a process, and takes communication and planning for things to go well and your experience to be great. While hardscapes have minimal maintenance, there are some items you should consider for your new patio and landscaping to look great for years to come. The biggest concern is sealing the pavers to protect them from fading. This depends on the pavers you selected for your project. Some pavers come with a built in sealer, while others do not.  We go over these details in the Design phase.

Another detail is maintenance on any new planting beds we installed. Weeds can grow anywhere, and if left unattended will quickly take over.  

Lastly, is the warranty for your investment. Most of the products we install have a manufacturers lifetime warranty to cover material defects. As a company, we offer a 5 year warranty on our labor. In addition to that, we are an Authorized Unilock Contractor- which means Unilock will also warranty our labor.

Things to consider about US:

  • We offer hardscape maintenance for your patio, including pressure washing, re-applying joint sand, and sealing.

  • We offer full service landscape maintenance, including lawn care and landscape maintenance for your whole property.

  • We warranty install projects for 5 years and plant material for 1 year.

  • We provide custom owner's manuals for every aspect of your project.  


Things to consider about OTHER companies:

  • Ask about the warranty. For every part of of your project, including labor and materials.

  • Ask about upkeep. Sealing a patio should only be done every 3-5 years, if at all, depending on the pavers.  If your contractor recommends yearly sealing, politely decline.


Things to consider about YOU:

  • Enjoy your new space!  This goes without saying.

  • We love referrals. Tell your friends and give us a review online.

  • Reflect on your experience with us or the contractor you hired.  What did you like?  What did you not like? Then give us your feed back so we can improve or continue doing things well.