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7 Tips For Getting Through The Landscape Construction Process

A few weeks ago I was talking shop with my good friend, architect Francisca Alonso of AV Architects. No matter what projects we’re discussing, the conversation always comes back to the people for whom we’re doing the work. Anyone in my role who doesn’t realize that we’re in the people business is doing his or her clients a disservice.

It’s easy for me to remain calm throughout a project because I know what the outcome will be, I know what the next steps are, and let’s be honest – I live with construction-based chaos every week. My landscape design clients? Not so much. They may get it – intellectually – that things will have to look worse before they look better, but seeing a swath of destruction where just last week the kids were playing soccer can be a little jarring. Having helped lots of folks through the process, I came up with a few ways to make getting from demolition to amazing finished product a little less painful.

1- Have a plan

Yes, a designer is telling you to have a design. Shocking. The thing is, that drawing is the only way that you can be certain that what you want, and what your installer thinks you want, are the same thing. I’m amazed when I hear people say things like “I signed a contract for $20,000 worth of work. I really hope I like it.” What?!

2- Hire people you’re comfortable with

This sounds so perfectly logical that it seems stupid to even say it, and yet we ignore our gut instincts way too often. Part of being comfortable with someone is a personality fit, but doing your homework will also make you more comfortable. Trust, but verify. On a large project you’ll be seeing these people for months.

3- Define a realistic communications process

Especially on a bigger project, questions will arise. If we need to ask you something, how readily available are you? Along the same lines, find out who your point of contact is on the job. Is it the foreman, the contractor, or the designer? Who’s the backup? What’s a reasonable time frame to hear back?

4- Be an active participant

Ask questions. If something isn’t what you expected, let’s talk about it. If you can be there when everything is being laid out with string lines and marking paint, that’s a great time to get clarification. After the concrete is poured is NOT a great time. It’s your house – never, ever be shy about asking a question.

5- Keep track of changes

Ideally, you started with a detailed plan and a solid contract that spelled out the details. If you have the contractor make changes along the way, make sure you know what the changes add to your price. I know of one carpenter (who will never be allowed on one of my jobs) who happily makes all kinds of changes throughout the course of the job and whenever he’s asked how much that adds to the cost, says “it ain’t that much, we’ll just settle up on everything at the end.” The final bill comes in, and it’s 20-30% more than the original contract. Not cool. Change orders protect both parties.

6- Keep a photo journal

First, it gives you a record of what’s been done. Second, it lets you go back and see that, ok, a lot of progress really has been made. And finally, if you always take your pictures from the same spot you can create a really cool time-lapse slideshow. Neat.

7- Give yourself an alternate space to use while we’re working

If you’re living in your house during a kitchen remodel, you probably have a fridge, microwave, and hotplate set up in the dining room as a temporary kitchen. Treat the outside the same way. If it’s going to be a long, protracted process, make sure you have somewhere for the kids to play, for you to grill, or even just to grow some herbs. Whatever you love about being in the yard, try to keep a piece of that available.

If you’ve been through a big project, what’s worked for you? If you’re in the industry, what helps your clients?


    May 22, 2011 REPLY

    I always try to keep a neat job site. I find that though my customers may be able to tolerate weeks of a mud and a work in progress, piles of trash are just too much to bear. There are times that the schedule may necessitate more junk to remain on site during construction, but I make sure all trash and debris is picked up at the end of each day – there is no functional reason for that to be left behind.

    May 22, 2011 REPLY

    Sharon – good call! There’s no reason that this should be such a big deal, but having worked with many, many contractors – it is. Too many contractors forget that there are families living in the space while the project is underway. Thanks for commenting, and I love that that’s part of how you do business.

    April 15, 2015 REPLY

    First of all, I love the motivational No Fear poster tying in how landscape construction is like going down a roller coaster on a tricycle. I can definitely see the tie in, because landscaping can be exciting, but also a little terrifying if you’ve never had experience with a landscaping project before. Secondly, I thought that you made a very good point about the importance of drawing up a plan of how you want your yard to be landscaped before going to a landscaper. If you don’t know what you want, then your landscaper won’t be able to guess what they think you think you want, so it’s important to know the design that you have in mind, and make sure that the landscaper is on the same page.

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