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Hardscaping Projects: DIY or Hire A Contractor?

You’ve decided to invest in a new patio, paver driveway, garden wall or other hardscaping project. You have an idea in mind for a beautiful outdoor home improvement project. Now you must decide how to make your vision a reality. Should you do it yourself? Or should you hire a professional?

Certainly, both cost and scope are key factors in your final decision. But to make the best decision, begin by considering the list of responsibilities that a competent professional hardscaping contractor will handle and ask yourself to what degree do you want to or are you willing to perform these roles. Treat the contractor responsibility list as your check list for your “DIY or Not” decision.

Once you have completed this evaluation, if you believe you want to DIY, you need to look at the project scope, i.e., complexity, and cost. Visit your local hardscaping dealer to discuss your project and construct a bill-of-materials. This will identify the bulk of your costs. (Your other major costs will be equipment rental and tools.) During this process, the dealer will develop a good idea of what you are planning to do and can help you determine if you are taking on too much.

If you complete the checklist and decide to use a contractor, you should identify three contractors to give you cost estimates. Based on these estimates, you can make the final decision whether to proceed as planned, scale down the scope to reduce costs, or postpone the project until it is affordable. Before selecting the contractors to bid on your project, please read our article on how to select a contractor. Selecting a good contractor is critical to achieving the end result you crave.

Responsibilities of a Professional Hardscaping Contractor

(or the “Do I Want to Do This Myself” Check List)

• Design – a professional contactor will convert your ideas into an executable design taking into consideration the specific physical characteristics of the area (such as grade, drainage, underground limitations) and of your home (style, color, texture, space).

• Permits – if your project requires township permits, your contractor will usually obtain these and bill you for the cost. For homeowner associations that require pre-approval, the contractor will provide drawings and material specifications but you must submit the request for approval.

• Power and Water Lines – the contractor will contact utilities to have underground lines labeled to ensure that nothing is damaged during excavation.

• Materials List – after you select the products you want to use for your project, the contractor will determine how much of each is required to implement the project. The contractor will order these products and take responsibility for the accuracy of the order within a standard margin of error determined by the size and type of materials involved.

• Material Availability – the contractor will time ordering materials so that they will be available as needed, whether he picks them up or has them delivered. This will keep the work moving at a planned pace, eliminate wasted time, and ensure that the project finishes as promptly as scope and weather permit.

• Equipment & Tools – the contractor will provide all equipment and tools needed to implement the project. For example, excavating equipment to dig out the area; a plate tamper for compacting subsoil and base; a diamond bladed saw for making finishing cuts; a laser level to assuring correct placement of material to achieve desired grade. In addition to major equipment, the contractor uses specialized hand tools for measuring, leveling, adjusting, lifting, moving, cutting, and splitting materials.

• Material Removal – if materials must be removed during the preparation of the area, the contractor will remove and dispose of these materials, e.g., concrete, soil, brush, rocks.

• Ground Restoration – when the project is complete, the contractor will clean up the area and leave it neat and orderly. You may also choose to include post-construction landscaping to finish your project.

• Warranty – professional contractors will provide a minimum three –year warranty on their work. Any flaws in your project that emerge that are caused by contractor error will be repaired at no cost. Contractors who provide such a warranty rarely need to return for repairs as they take care to implement properly.

• Insurance – professional hardscaping contractors will carry insurance which protects you in the event of unplanned damage such as hitting underground lines incorrectly marked by the utility companies or equipment damage to property that should not have been in the way.

• Heavy Lifting – finally, the contractors and their teams move, lift and place all of the hardscaping materials used to build your project…and everything is heavy!

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