610.530.8752

Tag Archives: Lehigh Vally PA

Paver Patio Projects, Choices of Styles and Costs in Residential Landscape Projects

Paver Patio Projects

Paver Patio
Paver Patio with Outdoor Fireplace

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

landscaping
landscape planting

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.

 

 

Outdoor Fireplaces, Fire Pits & Fire Features – Options, Elements & Costs

Outdoor Fireplace_Lehigh Valley_Landscape Company

When colder weather settles in, adding a fire element to the landscape can extend your outside enjoyment throughout all four seasons. And an outdoor fire offers more than just heat to gather friends and family around. Fire is an experience of multiple senses. The deep warmth, the romantic smells, and the beautiful flames, create intriguing and memorable times. In our area of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits can be enjoyed for several months in both the fall and the spring. The experience of lighting and managing the fire fascinates children or all ages, including those young of heart if not as young in years. Creating a wood burning fire feature in your home landscape involves some key choices relating to scale, type of fire, budget and the overall program of uses for the space.

Fire features can be created in a wide range of scales from the small fire pit to the large fireplace. When deciding what scale will work best, homeowners need to consider the scale of the existing spaces and determine how significant a role the fire will play in the family’s outdoor living. Homeowners with plenty of space and a strong history of gathering around fires could thoroughly enjoy a custom stone fireplace, so long as it is in the budget. A more cost conscious and flexible option for fire in a smaller landscape would be a portable fire pit. There are a number of other ways to incorporate fire features in the landscape, but this article will stick to wood burning fireplaces and fire pits.

A full custom outdoor fireplace is a significant architectural feature at a home. Careful design and planning is required to make sure it fits with the style of the other architectural elements including the home. If done right, it will be a gorgeous addition. The fireplace and chimney need to be grounded into the landscape with additional architectural features such as walls to define an entire space and/or plantings to nestle the fireplace into the landscape. Custom outdoor fireplaces are also a significant investment so a family needs to evaluate the cost compared to the amount of use and value the fireplace will provide. Wood burning fireplaces require very specific engineering of the firebox and chimney size to ensure proper draw and prevent smoke from constantly billowing out the front. It is a time consuming construction process for the masons. A full custom outdoor fireplace can cost between $25,000.00 and $40,000.00 or even much more depending on the homeowners desires. But, if the budget and the program work with a custom fireplace, it can be a beautiful and functional area that builds memories for years.

A pre-fabricated outdoor fireplace is usually a smaller and less expensive option for the homeowner who wants a wood burning fireplace without the size and price of a custom version. A number of companies make such units. Some of the segmented concrete block companies make versions that can match their pavers and seating walls for a unified design palette. Unilock is one such company and their fireplaces start at around $12,000.00 fully installed. There are also companies that make modular fireplace shells that can be quickly installed. These shells can then be adapted to a specific design style with a little extra masonry, and the exterior can be finished in a variety of materials from stucco to stone. Depending on the finishes and amount of style customizing, these fireplaces can cost between $16,000.00 and $24,000.00.

Fire pits are a good option when the space, the program of use, or the budget prohibits a full outdoor fireplace. Fire pits can be made or bought in many forms from the campout style with a basic stone ring to the portable type sold by various retailers. The portable fire pit has become popular enough that certain boutique retailers are producing some very unique and higher end models (see ORE containers for example). A portable fire pit is a great option when flexibility is important. It can be moved around to various areas in the landscape as preferences and moods evolve, and it can be put away if more space is needed for a special event.

If you are attracted to adding a wood burning fire feature in your landscape, the options discussed fit a full range of budgets and lifestyles. If you live in the Allentown, Bethlehem or Lehigh Valley regions of Pennsylvania, call Garden Design Inc. and speak with Frederick Learey about your project. He has designed and built many outdoor fireplaces and fire pits in all the styles and budgets discussed above.

Outdoor Kitchens – Overview of Elements & Costs

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.

 

Outdoor Kitchne_Allentown Pa
Outdoor Kitchen with grill, sink, side burner, trash drawer and refrigerator.

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 in Formal Landscape Design

 

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 patio
Formal Bluestone Patio in landscape design courtyard project

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.

Deck Design & Construction – Options for Deck Materials & Styles

TimberTech Deck
Deck with Gazebo and Outdoor Kitchen

Deck designs have evolved in recent years. The range of decking and railing choices has expanded drastically. Designers are expanding the program for uses and finding new, creative ways to combine materials to make each project unique. Homeowners have a wide range of decisions to make when designing their dream deck.

The deck industry has continued to grow even through this recession. Designers have capitalized on this by expanding the planning of uses that can be choreographed into a deck project. Outdoor kitchens, pergolas, gazebos, porch roofs, hot tubs, fire features and more are all now commonly included in deck designs when the budget allows. The vast array of decking styles and colors allows deck designers to create patterns within the decking that can delineate the various use spaces. The same is true with railings where a design can combine aspects of varied railing systems.

For years the choices for decking were cedar or pressure treated wood (redwood on the west coast & mahogany for the big budget projects). Then composite decking was invented in the early 1990’s, and has since become the predominant decking material used today. Trex Inc. developed the first composite decking, and along with TimberTech Inc., they have led the way in developing the highest quality and most attractive products. Each company makes several lines to fit varied budgets. Beyond the variety of choices in style & color, a benefit of composite decking is reduced maintenance since they do not need to be stained & sealed regularly. Composite decking still needs to be cleaned regularly with soap and water to keep that sharp appearance.

Exotic tropical hardwood decking is an option for the homeowner who may be averse to synthetic decking. These woods are very dense and have natural tannins that resist decay over time. And they are beautiful wood. Brazilian Ipe is one of the more popular and highest quality choices in this class because of the rich, dark appearance, high density and high tannin levels. Batu, Cambara, Garapa & Tiger Wood are other readily available choices in this category. The installed cost of exotic hardwood is about 15% higher than the highest quality composite decking.

Homeowners and designers have a wide range of choices when it comes to picking a railing system and design. The composite decking companies (Trek and TimberTech) make railing systems of the same materials as the decking to create a unified appearance. The composite choices range from a railing that looks like the standard deck railing used for years to higher price options with ornate spindles, detailed rails, and integrated lighting. Iron & Aluminum railings have become increasingly popular due to the ‘lighter’ profile appearance. These railings allow greater visibility through the railing and create less of a sense of being fenced in on the deck. Fortress Railing Inc. makes both iron and iron simulated aluminum railings with a variety of decorative detailing options and integrated lighting. Iron, Aluminum and Composite railings are all generally in a close cost range, so the choice tends to be one of preference and not budget. Braided cable railings create a distinctive contemporary appearance, a very light profile and the best through visibility, but homeowners will spend significantly more for this system.

Pergolas, gazebos and porch roofs on and over a deck have become increasingly popular. These elements allow homeowners to escape the rain and/or sun, while also designating specific use areas of a deck. Gazebos and porch roofs allow for ceiling fans, recessed lighting and infrared heaters to extend the use late into the fall and early in the spring. Outdoor kitchens and bars on a deck create variety and interest within the space, and keep everyone from running in and out of the house for food and beverages.

As with any project, proper planning by an experienced, creative and qualified designer will lead to the best final results. Hire a company that employs an educated design professional, has a track record of building unique decks, roofs, kitchens etc., and uses in house journeyman carpenters for the construction.  There are plenty of companies that can slap up a deck, but there are few that can provide high quality, experienced design and construction.

Reasons to Hire a Landscape Architect to Design your Swimming Pool

Landscape master Plan
Landscape Master Plan with Swimming Pool, Pool House, Patios and Landscape Plantings

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.