Planning to redo the landscape around your house can be an extremely challenging yet rewarding job. You might have lots of ideas on what plants you want, how the stones should look and all sorts of extra features in mind. The only problem however is that you’re not a professional contractor. Finding a good contractor is tough so we have compiled the best information to help you choose the right paving stone and retaining wall contractor for the best results possible.
How to Start
Before you start narrowing down your choices and planning your budget, here are some details that can help.
Pick a Product
Whenever you pick up anything for your backyard, there are a few questions that will be best to keep in mind. This is before you even get a contractor, when you’re thinking about working with a specific manufacturer. Even with one type of stone, you should ask yourself a few important things like:
- Is there a lifetime guarantee?
- Would the product manufacturer support your contractor in carrying out the job?
- Are any retaining walls engineered, and is there engineering support?
- What colors can you pick from?
- How about designs and borders?
- Can you construct seat walls, outdoor grills, and pillars?
- How readily available is your product?
Keep in mind that these are the questions you ask when you’re looking only at the products. You haven’t even got to the contractor’s yet! But knowing these answers will help you more easily set things up.
How to Pick a Brick Paving Contractor
You’ve got your stone, your colors and all the information you need on your product. Now you need someone to help you plan it and install it. Here are a few things to consider with all brick patio contractors.
Once you’ve met up, you’ll want to ask all the right questions. Ask about advice and suggestions to get the job done. You can possibly also get a rough estimate depending on the size and complexity of your project. A good contractor won’t pressure you to sign right away, so just relax and ask away.
You’ll want to have as much information as possible about your contractor to be sure you’ve got the right person. These questions will help you out a little:
- How long have they been in the business?
- Is there liability insurance and workers’ comp?
- Do they have appropriate licensing?
- Have they done jobs similar to yours?
- What about a list of references?
- What is their background in landscaping? How are employees trained? How are they trained?
- What is the warranty they offer? How about the warranty on products?
- Did they give you information on design ideas?
- What’s the reputation of the manufacturer?
- Is anything subcontracted? Who are the subcontractors?
- Do you need permits? Who gets them?
- How do they handle base preparation and drainage?
- Any retaining walls over 3 and 1/2 feet high need engineering help, so does your contractor have an engineer?
- Timeline and cleanup routine?
- Is there a written contract?
- How does payment work?
These are a lot of questions to consider, but knowing more about your contractor will help you more easily get the job done. After all, you want to make sure nothing gets done halfway. You can also look for a website for your contractor for extra information too.
Anatomy of an Estimate
When you decide to hire a brick paving contractor, the first thing you should ask them is to present you with an estimate which should include material cost, specifications and accurate drawings of the project. Those three things should be enough for you to make a decision. Don’t just contact one contractor. The Proper thing to do is to contact three different contractors with three different estimates. Sometimes a contractor might charge you for drawings since they take time and effort to produce, but once the proposal is accepted, the cost of the design is usually written off.
You might question the necessity of having three quotes but having three different estimates means having three different price tags and three different plans. Once you are presented with those estimates, most people make the mistake of choosing the contractor with the lowest fee. Just because it means that you won’t pay as much as you would pay to those two other contractors doesn’t mean that you will receive the service you expect.
It might be possible that the contractor is underestimating the extent of the project or they plan on cutting corners by using the cheaper, lower quality materials. Even though low fees are something you should avoid, sometimes it might just mean that the contractor is skilled and efficient.
Another thing you should pay attention to is the contractor’s reputation, warranties, and skills. After all, it is your money and your property on the line, you can’t just give those things to a complete stranger without running at least some kind of a background check on them.
Getting It In Writing
Most important thing you need to do when hiring a contractor is to get everything in writing – every last detail, just to be safe. The truth is that, once the project is underway, you will probably be forced to make some changes which will likely affect the final price and that is why it is important to document everything and sign off with your contractor ahead of time.
Also, you will probably need to be flexible on the deadline. Most landscapers have chaotic schedules because the tempo of their work is often dictated by the weather. In addition to that, delays can be caused by product availability or shipping.
Paving Stone Installation – The visual signs of quality workmanship
Another thing you can do is to contact the previous clients of your contractor and ask them about their experiences. Also, it is recommended that you see some of their past projects, how they are done and how are they holding up.
How does the design “talk to you”? Does it have a soul? A flair? Does it give you a feeling of organization and a sense of flow? Does the color match the color of your house? Is it a good combination? Are there any plants or trees? How does everything together look?
If you don’t want to damage your entire home’s foundation then grading is imperative. Make sure that you check it. Patio grade shouldn’t exceed a slope of 2% because everything on the patio will look like it’s leaning. On the other hand, that slope shouldn’t be less than 1,5% because everything below that won’t be able to drain the water.
Proper base installation is crucial, and the problem is that you won’t be able to tell if the job is done correctly unless the project is older than two years. If the base is poorly installed, problems will arise in the first couple of years. If you notice any indicators of settling, rutting or ponding near the edges, it might mean a number of things.
- Incorrect water absorption and base material were used.
- Bad compaction caused by a contractor using the equipment which is too light for the job
- Not enough base for the application.
- Bad compaction caused by a brick patio installer using the equipment which is too light for the job
- No edge restraints.
If you notice signs of rutting, the contractor is the only one to blame. Rutting is caused by poor installation. Sometimes this can be caused by an inadequate soil, but most of the time the fault for rutting falls down in the lap of the contractor.
Pavers are often cut, and the quality of the cut shows you with who you are dealing with. Are the cuts straight and clean? Do they align with each other? Gaps between pavers shouldn’t be greater than ¼”. This is usually unacceptable unless the product or the project is designed to create bigger gaps and joints purely for aesthetics.
- Landscaping and Finishing
The finished result is everything. Here you can see how is it really done. Is it tidy and neat? Is everything placed correctly? Are the flower beds and planting areas set in such a way that there won’t be dirt on the pavement every time it rains? All these little things have so much to tell you about your contractor so always be on the lookout.
Retaining Wall Installation – the visual signs of quality workmanship
As with the paving stone project, if you are not certain as to the capabilities of the contractor you can ask to see past projects.
Does the design compliment the design of a home? Is the design practical? Will it serve its purpose? Is it practical? All of this is important in order for a job to have a creative signature and uniqueness.
There’s a chance that you might not be able to ascertain the quality of workmanship because every project is different. A great number of retaining wall products can be repurposed and used for other things such as fire-pits, mailboxes, steps, seatwalls, fences, planters, outdoor grills, and pillars. Every element has unique installation requirements and specifications, but the base is still the most important part of every project, as well as the drainage.
If there is any kind of a slope present on the landscape, the retaining wall should always stay level and follow the landscape. Building retaining walls at angles is impractical and unattractive. It is also structurally unsound. If the wall is not built level, there can be problems if there are corner or curves present.
If wall units are used to build steps, take a walk up and down them to see how they feel. They should feel sturdy, comfortable and safe. The main purpose of retaining walls is to change the grade to fit with landscape and to level off an entirely different area. Make sure that the drainage behind the wall is engineered and constructed correctly.
- Landscaping and Finishing
This is pretty much the same as with a paving stone project. Think about it for a second and ask yourself how do you feel about the project. Is it done correctly, neatly and tidy? Are the flower beds and planting areas properly graded, so the dirt won’t wash out during the rain or the wind?
It may seem exhaustive to run through all of this, but it could be even worst if you end up with a patio that is not properly constructed. Having these key elements in place and following these suggestion will get you one step closer to having the patio of your dreams. I truly wish you the best of luck in selecting the right contractor for yourself.