5 things to consider when planning a hardscape

5 things to consider when planning a hardscape

Installing your dream hardscape is exciting, but it is also costly and permanent. With a little planning, you can get your project right while saving time and money. Here are a few things to consider before calling the contractors, and some tips to help you along the way. 

1. Functionality

First, think function – not just what you want, but why? That's easy if you are installing a path or border, but it gets more complicated with living spaces. 

How are you going to use this space? Are you going to use it for entertaining? If so, how many people do you usually have over at a given time? Also, would you like a separate dining and lounging area or do you want to accomplish both in the same space? I

t's even helpful to consider the furniture you have or plan to buy. Do you want a round or rectangular table? Large sofas or cushioned chairs? Knowing beforehand and relaying that helps to determine the best size and shape for your space. 

A helpful visualization tip: Move a garden hose along the ground to visualize and “tryout” different options. 

2. Budget

Next, establish your budget and be ready to communicate it. Understandably, some customers feel uncomfortable discussing their budget with contractors, fearing they'll get taken advantage of.

Overcome this by interviewing three reputable contractors. Find out what they can offer for the amount you want to spend. This enables you to compare the designs, quotes and business styles of different contractors and make an informed decision. 

When you receive a quote, ask whether it is fixed or an estimate. You don't want to end up with a final bill much higher than the original quote (even though there were no changes in the scope of work) only to find out that the “quote” was really an estimate. 

Also, work often slows for contractors in the late fall and early winter due to holidays. Use this to your advantage by inquiring then. You may get a better price and more focused time!

3. Topography

The topography of your yard can impact your plans. Do you have areas where water tends to flow or pool when it rains? Be sure to convey this to professionals you are interviewing. Your hardscape and additional landscaping could be part of the solution. 

Also, designs may need adjusting depending on whether you have a relatively flat or sloped yard. Customizing designs to suit the grade can be a great way to save money. 

Rather than investing in tons of back-fill or large retaining walls, a good design will work with the grade so you can use your money on items that create more visual impact; such as stone step treads, lighting and landscaping. Work with your land, not against it.

4. Privacy

Be sure to consider privacy and sun exposure. If you want a secluded outdoor sanctuary, look for where that might be suitable. Will you want it close to home or in a far corner of your yard? Are there areas hidden from your neighbors line of sight and away from noisy air conditioning units, pets and play areas? 

If not, you will want to consider creating a buffer. Be aware that hardscapes absorb heat in the day and release it into the evening, so think about ways to reduce direct sunlight so you can enjoy your space more. There are many ways to create privacy and shade through positioning, landscaping and construction. 

5. Style

Now think style. Do you want a formal or natural look? Tuscan, modern or rustic? Brick, pavers, stone or a combination? Mark pages, take photos and print pictures of projects you like. Even if it isn't exactly what you want, show contractors examples of elements that appeal to you. This assists them in designing to best suit your taste. 

Also, take a look around. What materials were used in constructing your home? It's often possible to tie-in existing materials to achieve continuity. For example, if your home is brick, but you love stone, continuity could be accomplished through a brick accent in a predominantly stone feature. It’s always good to limit the palette of material choices to prevent your yard from looking hodgepodge.

Contractors make their living working with designs and materials. Put that experience to work for you by asking for their opinion. Professionals understand and can explain the strengths and limitations of different materials and layout choices. 

If the cost for your project is more than you want to spend, ask for cost cutting suggestions or ways to accomplish your project in stages. At times, it's necessary to step back, prioritize and make tough decisions. Take the time to go through this planning process so you can make sure your hardscape dreams come true!

About this Angie's List Expert: Clive Newey is the owner of Outdoor Artisan, Inc., providing landscaping services in Monroe, N.C. Since 2012, Outdoor Artisan has specialized in hardscape design and construction of outdoor living areas, patios, walls, pathways, water features, fireplaces, stone sculptures, boulder placement and other outdoor masonry services.

As of October 15, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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