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Hardscaping tips for those new to the trade
Jill Odom | October 11, 2017
hardscaped patio

Hardscaping can be used to bring together outdoor living spaces.
Photo: Belgard

As outdoor living spaces develop into more of a staple in homeowner’s backyards, hardscaping becomes an even more lucrative service for landscapers.

While some like to stick to what they know and hire subcontractors with the skill set to properly install a gorgeous hardscape, others prefer to branch into this business themselves.

Experience may be the best teacher, but going in with some prior knowledge can save your company from making costly mistakes. Here is some of the advice from industry experts about hardscaping.

Planning

 Discuss with your client what they plan to use the space for to determine the proper size of the hardscaped area.

Don’t keep your design all in your head. A scaled drawing can help you calculate exactly how much material you need as well as how to manage the surface drainage. After multiplying the width by the length, you’ll have the square footage of the site, but you should always add five percent to this figure to account for any pavers that will have to be cut to fit curves or odd spaces.

When it comes to estimating the job, it is important to calculate the overhead along with materials. There isn’t a magic formula as each job and crew is different, but calculating your jobs correctly will keep your business from finishing in the red. Alex Burke, owner of Burke Environmental, Inc. based in Manasquan, New Jersey, advises landscapers to avoid the square footage trap of telling their customers what they charge per square foot.

“The cost to install a 200-square foot square patio in a front yard with easy access is different than a 200-square foot circular patio in a backyard that you can only access via a small gate.” Burke told Rutgers’ Office of Continuing Professional Education. “You can use a machine to dig one but the other requires hand digging and lots of cuts. Another big variable is the paver chosen by the homeowner, paver costs vary widely.”

He suggests telling the homeowner a large price range if the client insists on having a square-footage rate.

Installing

When it comes to installing the hardscaping, there’s a lot that can go wrong and some rookie mistakes won’t be noticeable until a few months or a year later. Most of the issues appear from poor base prep, so take your time making sure the base prep is done properly.

hardscaping edges

Edging is crucial to prevent pavers from spreading.
Photo: Belgard

“Using 1-inch PVC pipe, place two pieces parallel to one another across the base rock,” said Joe Raboine, national design and training specialist with Belgard Design Studios. “Spread your leveling sand between the pipes, then smooth the sand out to be completely level with the PVC. Remove the pipes and fill in any voids.”

Three common mistakes that Raboine notices are poor leveling, hand cutting and inadequate edging.

Raboine says that a steel hand tamper should be used to ensure the ground is level before placing the pavers. As for hand cutting, while it may be a quick solution, it can lead to uneven cuts and an amateur appearance. Raboine recommends using a wet masonry saw or Belgard’s selection of precut pavers.

Some people believe that edging can be skipped, but all projects regardless of their use need this restraint.

“If you skip the edging, don’t use a durable material or fail to install it securely, the patio will spread,” Raboine said.

When it comes to actually placing the pavers, Raboine says you should work your way outward and begin laying your pavers in a staggered pattern. Measure over to your string line often to stay on track.

Maintaining

Properly installed hardscapes shouldn’t require a ton of maintenance, but sealers can be applied to protect the pavers’ surface and color.

“Sealers should not be applied more than once in three years, to a maximum of two applications,” Raboine said. “Too many applications will create a film on the surface, which may discolor in the sunlight.”

Regular cleaning and sweeping is recommended, as allowing leaves to settle on hardscaping increases the chances of them leaching pigments into the material. This is more of a problem if the hardscape has not been sealed.

An annual washing with paver cleaner can keep the pavers looking like new year after year.

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