Concrete paver patio projects are the most common material used for residential patio projects in our region of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. A variety of regional manufacturers produce a range of paver styles, colors and textures. Paver styles tend to evolve with popularity trends. One manufacturer may develop a new stone face texture that gets popular, and then other companies copy that style. The more complex the style, the larger the individual piece sizes, the refinement of the manufacturing process and the companies marketing, administration and overhead costs are all factors in the final product price.
Ten years ago our choices were largely between EP Henry and CST concrete pavers. At that time, EP henry was the first and most highly regarded paver in the region. But CST had a good, simple product line and kept overhead costs low. We liked the color process and the end color appearance of the CST over the EP Henry at the time. We at Garden Design Inc. used mostly CST Roman Cobble pavers back in those days because we liked the colors best and the cost to quality ratio (value) was greatest. In the late 1990’s, all pavers were basic smooth surface and sizes tended to resemble a range of brick sizes or cobblestone sizes.
The choices of styles and paver companies grew significantly as the demand for the product expanded. Techo-Bloc entered the paver market and had been a leader in developing new paver styles that break the old paradigms. Technically speaking, some of these new paver products are considered ‘slabs’ and not pavers, but that level of conversation is not needed for the typical homeowner. Techo-Bloc introduced a textured top meant to appear like the cleft of natural stone. And the larger ‘slabs’ have appealed to more contemporary landscape architectural design. CST, Unilock and Cambridge have all followed suite in their new product lines, neither quite as nice but nor as expensive as Techo-Bloc. EP Henry lost significant market share for a while and struggled to hold its market position without innovating and evolving. But they have come back strong and developed new products that appeal to the consumer today.
Paver patio projects material costs can vary as much as $5.00 per square foot or more. A simple CST roman cobble paver will cost less than $3.00 per square foot. A Techo-Bloc high end ‘Slab’ paver can cost more than $7.00 per square foot. The result is that a paver patio may cost $16 – $24 per square foot for everything involved. The price depends on the total size of the patio, the amount of preparation, and the access to the area. The larger the patio with great access will cost less per square foot than a small patio with terrible access.
The price of paver patio projects is not only linked to the quality of the product. Techo-Bloc is a high quality product, but they also have a large overhead burden based on administrative salaries and a large marketing budget. If your budget is limited, Cambridge or CST make a great product with a streamlined business model to minimize overhead. As with any design material choice, we encourage clients to make timeless choices. Trends and styles come and go, but certain pavers have a character that will always be quality.
Fall landscape planting projects are ideal. The reasons are both ecological and economic. Cooler fall temperatures leave plants less stressed as they adapt to their new environment. But more importantly, fall soil temperatures are ideal for root growth. Plants can get six to eight weeks of root growth before winter. This gives them a big advantage when next summer’s heat arrives. The exception is that some trees, such as many Oak varieties, are ‘fall dig hazards’ and are best not planted in autumn. (Ask your nurseryman for more information). Don’t forget to water your new plantings, as fall can sometimes be very dry.
Deals can often be had on plants in autumn for fall landscape plating. Nurseries may drop prices if they are anxious to get rid of planting stock to avoid winterizing it or if they need to make room for holiday decor. Nursery plants will be larger at the end of the season, so you may get more plant for less money. Perennials can often be bought for half price or less since they are starting to die back. But put them in the ground anyway, and next spring they will shoot out strong. Landscape contractors may even lower installation prices if they want to get a little extra revenue before the seasonal shut downs.
Fall is perfect for pruning. It is much easier to see the branches and structures once the leaves have fallen from shrubs and trees. You will be able to determine which branches have die back and where certain diseases may need to be cut out. Thinning out trees and shrubs properly can also reduce potential winter damage from heavy wet snows or freezing rain. Pruning back perennials is a personal choice. Some professionals are adamant that perennials should be cut back in the spring so that the die back provides a winter blanket of protection. But if that is a messy look that drives you wild, go ahead and cut your perennials back in the fall.
Cooler weather does not mean the end to gardening. Autumn is a great time for fall landscape planting and pruning.
An outdoor kitchen is a well used addition to any outdoor living spaces. After all, families spend most of their time in the kitchen, so why not get that gathering outside. The outdoor kitchen design can range from a simple grill station to a complex design with all the elements of an indoor kitchen. The biggest factor in the design is the budget so let’s look at the basic elements and costs.
The first element of an outdoor kitchen is the base which will hold the appliances and countertop. The most economical kitchen bases are built on concrete slabs with steel or wood frames and exterior grade sheathing. A higher quality base is built with concrete block on a concrete frost footer. The exterior of either structure can be covered with wood, stucco, tile or stone with natural stone being the most expensive. Expect to spend anywhere from five thousand to fifteen thousand or more on your outdoor kitchen base.
The range of potential outdoor kitchen appliances is vast, so we will stick to the basics. The outdoor kitchen starts with the grill. If you are going through the expense of building a kitchen, you are going to want a professional quality grill, built with high quality stainless steel, very high cooking heat potential and excellent long term durability. A medium size high quality grill will cost around three to four thousand dollars. The next requirements are stainless steel cabinetry for utility drawers, trash drawers, and storage space which will add another thousand or so to the project. Beyond those basics, you can add refrigerators, sinks, beverage centers, side burners, griddles, smokers and more spending upwards of fifteen thousand or more on outdoor kitchen appliances.
The last elements of the outdoor kitchen are the countertop and the utilities. Granite countertops are by far the most popular and will cost anywhere from twenty five hundred to sixty five hundred or more depending on the kitchen size. When you add the costs for a licensed electrician and plumber, an outdoor kitchen will cost anywhere from fifteen to forty thousand or more depending on the size and the elements included.
Pennsylvania bluestone is the most prominent paving material in formal outdoor living spaces throughout the northeast regions. Some people may refer to it as flagstone or slate, but the proper name is bluestone and the majority of it is from Pennsylvania. The natural stone paving material can be found in estate gardens from northern Virginia to Boston. Here in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, bluestone patios are common around the majestic old homes of West End Allentown, Saucon Valley Bethlehem and College Hill in Easton.
In formal landscape designs, the natural stone is cut in rectilinear patterns for patios. The limit of the pattern design is tied to the creativity of the landscape design and the landscape designer. Random patterns are the most common, but a good landscape designer can come up with multiple paving pattern options to uniquely fir the design. One approach is to install a band of stone on the perimeter of the patio, a running bond pattern in the field and a diamond pattern as medallion in the center.
Pennsylvania bluestone is sorted into various colors, grades and sizes. When left natural cut, the top has a finish known as ‘cleft’, meaning that it has ridges and variations. This rougher finish can be refined by flaming the tops which causes the stone to regularize and leaves a more even textured finish. This finish is most common on the uniformly color range called ‘Blue Blue’ or ‘Thermal Blue’. Classic and formal landscape and patio designs tend to call for the uniform color. Pennsylvania bluestone also comes in ‘Lilac’ ‘Green’ ‘Brown’ and a full color range mix.
Bluestone patios can be installed several ways. The stone can be installed on a concrete slab with mortar pointing in the 3/8” joints between stones. Bluestone can also be ‘dry set’ on compacted stone base much like a concrete paver patio is installed. In that approach, polymeric sand or screenings are swept into the stone joints. A good installer will cut each piece of stone such that they all fit into the pattern with less than 1/8” joints, but 3/8” or more is the common joint for ‘dry set’ bluestone installers. A hybrid method involves installing a bluestone curb and then setting the stone on a damp masons mix mortar bed with each stone custom cut to make the tightest joint possible. This technique is expensive and reserved for only the best masons and the higher budget projects.
I worked on this front of house landscape design and construction project several years ago in Bucks County PA. The homes design was developed around a rustic barn type architecture that fit naturally into the rolling agrarian landscape of the large property. To create architectural interest to the otherwise flat front of house façade, a pergola was added in a rough timber style. The pergola support columns are natural stone masonry construction with a taper to create dynamic interest. The pergola is designed as a ‘roof’ for the front porch outdoor living space.
From the front porch, a wide set of bluestone steps flows to the front motor court. The motor court is designed in classical form on axis with the front door and the symmetry of the home. A natural stone masonry wall with bluestone caps delineates the gardens from the cart way. The concept is to create a garden experience and transition as the visitor moves from the motor court to the front porch outdoor living space and entry to the home.
The design axis of the front door, the front porch and the motor court is accentuated by a central fountain. The fountain is located in the center of the motor court and serves as a functional organizing feature for traffic flow as well as an aesthetic attraction. The fountain surround is a masonry stone wall using the same stone as the transition walls and the pergola support columns. The water feature itself is a granite millstone handcrafted in Maine. Water circulates up and through the stone, over the edges and back into the pool.
The form of the motor court is delineated with concrete paver bands and patterns. Concrete pavers were chosen over granite cobblestones as a cost savings option since the entire long driveway to the main road also received a triple band of concrete pavers on each side. At the main entry to the property, a 15’ skirt of concrete pavers was installed as a transition to denote the entry.
Plantings in the front garden included boxwood hedges, shrub roses and groundcover. The garden design is classical in form, linear and organized in a geometric principle appropriate to the style of the home. A more intimate and informal cottage style garden was developed at the side porch where the family tended to spend more casual outdoor living time together. That side garden includes a wider variety of flowering shrubs organized around a pallet of hydrangea varieties and perennial geranium varieties.
If you are considering a swimming pool, start by calling a qualified landscape architect or designer who has experience with custom swimming pool designs. If you call a pool construction company first, they will encourage you to install one of the standard pool shapes that are easiest and cheapest to build. The pool company will also encourage you to put the pool in the easiest place to build it. Sometimes those are the right answers, but most of the time some more thorough and professional landscape design attention could be applied to the project. If you are looking for a custom swimming pool that is fully incorporated into your total outdoor living design, then a landscape architect is the right person to work with. However, it is important that you review the designer’s previous work and make sure they have experience with outdoor living projects and custom swimming pools. Not all landscape designers are created equal and many landscape architects have little if any skill with residential outdoor living projects. The most skilled landscape and custom swimming pool designers tend to be associated with landscape design companies who also manage landscape construction projects. The designers and project managers have learned from firsthand experience the elements of design that are most successful in a built project and result in the greatest quality outdoor living spaces.
Once you have hired a qualified landscape designer for your swimming pool project, then it is time to review the elements, character and locations of the swimming pool in relation to the other elements of a landscape master plan. Will an outdoor kitchen be integrated into the project? If so, will the outdoor kitchen be in the swimming pool area of associated with another outdoor living space at the back patio of the house? Will there be a pool house or pool side cabana either now or in the future? Is the pool meant for lots of family activity and play? If so, then there needs to be plenty of pool decking in various areas around the pool to accommodate outdoor dining areas, outdoor furniture arrangements, chaise lounges, umbrellas and kids toys. Or maybe the pool is a classic design surrounded by lawn and meant as an architectural feature in the garden. Such a swimming pool may be ideal for a swimming pool that is more often viewed than actually used. Will there be fire features around the pool? How does the overall landscape lighting plan fit into the swimming pool lighting plan?
The above questions and concerns are part of the approach a professional landscape designer or landscape architect will take when designing a swimming pool with a client. This approach tends to dig far deeper into the entire range of design considerations required to design the most successful swimming pool project. Then once the pool is designed, the client is open to interview multiple swimming pool companies in order to get the best product at the best price. Garden Design Inc. has the professional design experience to guide you in this process. Call Frederick and ask to review his portfolio of swimming pool designs and installations.
There is nothing more refreshing than a cool swim on a hot summer day. If you are thinking about building a custom pool, the first step is to pick a landscape architect or a professional landscape designer. Do not start with a pool contractor. Very few pool contractors employ landscape design professionals who are trained to look at the big picture of the entire project in the context of the existing landscape, the house and the overall site. A professional landscape designer will work with you to answer a series of questions about the location, size, style and elements of the pool you desire and then incorporate that into a master plan for the project. Once the plans are complete, then it is time to get estimates from pool contractors, hardscape contractors for the decking around the pool, fencing contractors and landscape contractors. You may want to work with a designer from a professional landscape design & construction company since they will pull together all of the pricing into one contract then manage the entire project saving you time and money while ensuring the best result.
One of the first major decisions is where to locate the pool. Consider the opportunities and constraints of the property and how you see the pool being used. When will you be using the pool and where will the sun and shade will be during those times. Will the pool be an extension of the house where friends and family gather to play? Or is the pool its own outdoor room and a private destination? Often people are inclined to place the pool right out the back of the house. This can work well for families with children since the pool remains visible from inside. It may also fit your families entertaining style being closer to the house. Keep in mind thought that in colder climates the pool will be covered for many months and is not particularly attractive from the inside views. For this reason, you may choose to site your pool in a less central location and make the pool area a destination.
The form and the style of a pool should be based on your own personal preferences. Some people love the natural character of free form pools with boulder waterfalls, while others prefer the elegant sophistication of a rectilinear or formal pool. If the pool is going to be located in a direct relationship to the house, consider carrying the style of the homes architecture into the style of the pool design. If you have a home with a strong architectural character, a formal pool will generally be the most aesthetically appropriate. How the pool will be used may also influence the form. Free form pools work well when the pool is actively used by children because they tend to be more playful in character and provide dynamic interests when inside.
What elements do you want to incorporate into your pool? A spa is a popular element to include, but in colder climates the spa won’t be usable in the off season and for many people that is when a spa is most appealing. One option is to place the pool and spa in close proximity, but to separate the water and mechanical systems in order to use the spa year round. Sun ledges have grown in popularity. These are area of the pool that is 12” underwater, and big enough to place a lounge chair and umbrella. A beach entry eliminates the steps and creates a smooth transition into the pool that is especially nice for younger children. Waterfalls, spillways and water spouts can create visual and auditory interest. Playful options include slides, diving boards and dive rocks. Maybe you want to include a pool house or cabana providing some luxuries and amenities at the pool area.
If you are considering a swimming pool and want to enjoy it this year, then hire a design professional in the winter or early spring and get started. It can take two or three months to get the plans done, get the estimates together, hire contractors, and get the required permits to begin the actual construction.
EP Henry Incorporated sponsored the Mid-Atlantic Hardscape Trade Show (MAHTS) in Atlantic City, NJ from February 11-13. The trade show offers a wide range of educational seminars tailored to hardscape installation crews, landscape designers and landscape company managers. Approximately fifty vendors attend and set up trade show booths to promote their products.
Much of the show is a marketing platform for EP Henry products. EP Henry paver and wall system products were some of the earliest available in the industry. Though an early innovator, EP Henry products have not kept up in aesthetic appeal when compared to other producers such as CST, Techo-Bloc or Unilock. It seems they have realized this in the last few years and made some positive advancement in both the colors and the styles of the product. In wall systems they have added the 3-length Coventry wall which allows for a variety of block sizes and a much more dynamic character. The 3 piece modular, the Cobblestone & the Bristol Stone are paver systems with an end product that has a character at the higher aesthetic and quality end for paver installations. EP Henry still produces the Coventry paver lines, which for many people look unattractive and outdated. Overall, I see EP Henry moving in good directions. It is not my first choice, but if a client asks for the product I have and will continue to use it.
The vendor line up at the show is limited overall. Focus Industries was there with a display of landscape lighting products. I’ve known these guys for a few years and like the products. Focus Lighting has a wide range of budget oriented LED landscape lighting products. The ratio of quality to price is outstanding and I especially like the Small Ledge LED light (SL-42). Ray Murray Incorporated was there with outdoor kitchen product displays. I have worked with them on FireMagic and Twin Eagles brand orders in the past. The Twin Eagles is an outstanding grill with a very positive price to quality ratio. The company was started by an innovator who helped develop some of the better known company products over the years and recently started his own venture. All products are made in the USA. Aquarius Irrigation was at the show presenting a wide range of products for water features. The aqua bloc system is always a show stopper for an efficient approach to building pond less water features in the landscape.
The education seminars range in quality. Installation oriented seminars tend to get moderate reviews from the field installation teams who attend. I received my International Concrete Paver Institute (ICPI) certification at the MAHTS show during two day long seminars several years ago. Those courses were taught by an especially well qualified concrete paver installation professional and I learned a good deal. This year I focused on internet marketing seminars. They were also taught by an extremely well qualified professional who understood the topic in specific relation to the landscape industry.
Overall, I recommend the MAHTS show for any landscape contractor in the Pennsylvania & New Jersey regions. It is rather inexpensive overall and well worth every penny in my experience. The show is an opportunity to stay current with landscape industry products, knowledge and other professionals in our industry.
With the recent snow storms, the Garden Design offices are a winter wonderland. It is hard to imagine that spring is less than a month away. Winter a great time to start planning your spring landscape projects. Visions of outdoor living can warm the freezing days of winter. Start the process by contacting a qualified landscape design professional. During this slow season, landscape designers will have more time and energy to devote to your project since most people aren’t planning that far in advance. You may also save money in design costs since designers aren’t as busy. Planning garden designs early can allow your projects to be constructed in spring and you can start enjoying your outdoor living spaces.
People aren’t commonly considering landscape design in the winter. Therefore, landscape designers aren’t as busy and they may be anxious for new projects. This is the time to get the most value for your design costs. Landscape designers will have more time to devote to your project during the slower winter season. That can result in a more personal attention to your design and a more expeditious process.
If you wait until spring to start thinking about your landscape designs, it could be the end of summer before you see those visions get built. Complete the designs in the winter and get the project under contract. Then your project construction can start early and you can be enjoying your new outdoor living spaces once the weather is inviting. You may also save some money on construction. Some companies will provide a winter contract discount if you sign and provide a deposit early enough.
Start thinking about landscape designs now. Hire a qualified professional landscape designer such as the design team at Garden Design. The design process will warm your spirit as you dream of your future outdoor living spaces.
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