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Tag Archives: hardscaping

Making the Right Hardscaping Choices

iStock 000003757736Medium 1024x682 Making the Right Hardscaping Choices

Our world is one that thrives on balance. We enjoy foods that are sweet and foods that are salty. We watch some movies that are funny, others that are serious.

And in our backyards, we mix hardscaping – patios, pathways, stones, rocks and decks — with softscaping: things such as trees, plants, flowers or grass.

Without softscaping, your yard would seem harsh and forbidding, a sterile, uninviting place.

But without hardscaping, it would feel messy and overgrown. As you search for hardscaping supplies in PA, think about choosing these materials to give your property the right balance.

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Are You Installing Polymeric Joint Sand Properly?

In July of 2013, we wrote an article regarding the proper installation of polymeric sand. That article is reprinted below with minor updates. However, a major change is occurring in 2016. Major polymeric sand manufacturers have revised their formulas to reduce the risk of polymeric haze. Products with this new composition will begin to appear this spring and should be widely available by summer.
Nothing has changed in the proper installation and maintenance, the new formula simply reduces the probability of residual hazing and clean up.

 


polymericsand 150x300 Are You Installing Polymeric Joint Sand Properly?

 

Polymeric sand is used to fill joints between pavers, including concrete pavers, stone pavers and brick pavers. The fine sand is combined with additives, usually silica, and forms a binding agent after it’s mixed with water.

Using polymeric sand instead of plain sand has many benefits including:

  • Prevents Washouts
  • Offers Different Colors
  • Improves Durability
  • Prevents Weeds

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Pavers and Slabs – You Have Options

When you are designing or building a surface, whether it is a patio, sidewalk, driveway, or any other surface, there are a myriad of product options available. Products used for these surfaces generally fall into two categories, pavers and slabs. The basic difference between the two categories is the difference in load that they can bear. The relative strength of each option is a result of the product’s thickness and surface area. The larger the size of the product, the thicker it must be to be considered a paver and not a slab. Manufacturing process also plays a role in the relative strength of the finished product. For instance, products made using wet cast manufacturing are inherently weaker and are nearly always considered slabs.

Pavers and slabs may look similar, and most manufacturers offer lines of both pavers and slabs in Bucks County PA. There are general rules regarding the use of these products. If the surface is designed for pedestrian traffic, such as a patio, sidewalk, pool deck, etc., then either pavers or slabs are suitable. If the surface application needs to carry a heavier (vehicular or commercial pedestrian) load, then pavers must be used.

Bucks County Pavers

resizedimage250187 Steckel Front Paver Walk Pavers and Slabs – You Have Options

Example of a paver

Pavers come in a breathtaking variety of designs, colors, and shapes. They can emulate many other surfaces, including brick, flagstone, cobblestones, and many more. They are made from a variety of materials, such as brick, concrete, and natural stone. Natural pavers are more expensive than the synthetic versions. However, in recent years concrete paver design has evolved in such a way that they can easily and convincingly emulate natural stone.

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How Much Should My Paver Patio Cost? – Guest Post

CKC Pool Deck How Much Should My Paver Patio Cost?   Guest PostThe home remodeling or improvement project that adds the most value to your home, behind only kitchen and bathroom renovations, is creating an inviting and functional hardscaped outdoor living space. If you have done work on your home recently, or if you are budgeting for an upcoming project, chances are you’ve searched the web for average project costs. Quite a few websites offer price ranges, most of which are loosely based on formulas, costs in your region, and average industry labor costs. Some even offer the dreaded “price per square foot” estimate that can leave you with more questions than answers.

When reviewing these websites, I found them to be severely lacking in both the information each provided, and the information each requested. They asked only for my zip code and the square footage (SF) of the patio. That’s it. Based solely on these two questions, I was given estimates ranging from $6 per SF to $15 per SF – not a helpful or informative range. No website asked me for my soil type and none seemed to care about the access to my property and to the project area (maybe they could just carry 50 tons of stone through my 3′ fence gate).

They didn’t specify, so I was left wondering if all paver types and styles cost the same. I also hope the fact that my yard drops 2 feet from one side of the house to the other side will not be a problem. In short, I was left with quite a few questions. Are there any special considerations because I am in a new home? What if I don’t want a square patio? Where will all of the runoff water go? What about adding steps, walls, stone pillars, or a fire feature? Do I need to worry about permits?

The bottom line is that dozens of questions need to be considered when budgeting and planning for your paver patio project. Only a qualified hardscape contractor is equipped to look at all the factors that affect price, functionality, and the feasibility of your dream outdoor oasis. An experienced, accredited contractor builds 50 or more projects like yours annually. He or she will determine what makes your project unique. And what makes your project unique will influence the price – never accept a generic estimate that is drawn up on a “price per square foot” basis. You want a unique project, so demand a unique design and a detailed price. Continue reading

Green Pavers Reduce Runoff

resizedimage250187 Steckel Front Paver Walk Green Pavers Reduce RunoffWith spring on the way, rain is in the air. Rain means runoff, an environmental issue about which homeowners, business owners, and local municipalities are growing ever more concerned. A traditional paver or slab installation has a solid stone base underneath and tightly filled joints. This surface is almost completely impermeable. Because of this, it is graded to force water off the hardscaping area and onto surrounding ground or other permeable structures.

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Fire Pit Kits: Easy and Attractive Outdoor Enhancement

Major manufacturers of hardscaping products, such as EP Henry and Techo-Bloc, first introduced packaged outdoor fire pit kits around 2009. Prior to that, fire features were limited to portable options, such as Chimeneas, and complex custom installations. Since the first fire pit kit was introduced, kits have evolved to offer a variety of colors, textures, fire options and even alternate use options such as water features.

Outdoor fire pits can be built from a wide variety of materials (see our article on fire pit basics for an overview). However, kits are definitely the easiest, fastest, and safest approach. Most outdoor fire pit kits consist of concrete manufactured wall material which assembles in to a circular “pit” and a set of accessories which contain the fire protecting the concrete. The accessories include a screen which can be placed over the dwindling fire to prevent sparks from escaping.

The wall material forming the outdoor fire pit comes in a variety of textures. Each manufacturer tends to select a finish and a set of colors that will match their major sitting wall products making it practical to add a fire pit to an existing patio or to build a sitting wall around an existing outdoor fire pit. The accessory kit usually includes either a bowl or a liner. The bowl option also includes a grate on which to build a fire generally suitable for warmth, ambiance, and perhaps toasting a marshmallow or making a s’more. The liner option shifts the fire down to the bottom of the pit making larger cooking projects possible.

The accessory package is usually at least half of the total cost.  That is because the metal inserts are specially designed to dissipate the heat and protect the pit wall.  The wall / pit may usually be purchased without the insert but in that case the wall must be protected with fire brick and fire mortar or fire clay.  Although not expensive options, fire protection installed in this way can be messy and may detract from the appearance of the fire pit.

Fire pit kits are generally a perfect circle, meaning that once tightly in place, nothing is going to move the wall block.  Consequently, no gluing is necessary.  The insert sits on the top of the pit and can be easily removed.  This presents the opportunity to use the “pit” area for other applications when summer heat does not inspire building a fire. Other outdoor fire pit uses include planting, installing a water feature, and creating a cold drink cooler.

Building a Natural Stone Fire Pit

Granite Fire Pit 300x225 Building a Natural Stone Fire PitBuilding an outdoor fire pit can create both an attractive and functional addition to your outdoor living environment. Many material options exist. Read our article on fire pit basics for an overview.

Three major natural stone approaches can be considered: Boulders, wall stone, and packaged stone outdoor fire pit kits.

Natural stone provides several advantages:

• Naturally fire-resistant. Natural stone is not combustible and will absorb and dissipate heat naturally. It gets hot, but it will not “pop’”

• Relatively low in material cost. Boulders and wall stone have a wide range of costs but very attractive alternatives exist at the low end of the cost range. A standard pallet of wall stone (3000 pounds) will allow you to build 22 facial square feet of fire pit, e.g., a round fire pit 18” high and 4 ½ – 5 feet across. You would need about 2 tons of boulders to build the same shape. Starting cost for this quantity of stone should be under $300. And there is no additional cost to create fire-resistance.

• Flexibility of design. Natural stone be stacked or laid in whatever shape you desire. Boulders will tend to fit best in a rounded shape. Wall stone can be stacked in angular or rounded designs. Both wall stone and boulders are available in a huge range of colors, textures and individual shapes. The uniqueness of each piece of natural stone provides one of its greatest appeals.

Installation cost presents the biggest variable with natural stone. Whether using a contractor or attempting a DIY project, the larger the natural stone you select, the more difficult it will be to move and manipulate. Special equipment may be necessary to put a large boulder in place. If individual stones need to be shaped to achieve your hardscape design, you or your contractor will need special tools. These factors can overwhelm the cost savings in the raw materials.

FireBoulder 300x225 Building a Natural Stone Fire PitAlthough limited in availability, packaged natural stone outdoor fire pit kits do exist. One interesting option is a kit made from granite counter top scraps cut into wedges to form a circular outdoor fire pit. The price for the kit varies based on how high you want the structure to be but it is an interesting “green” alternative which is extremely easy to build, relatively low cost, and quite unusual in appearance. Most recently, FireBoulder has introduced a fire feature made out of one large boulder. The manufacturer selects suitable boulders, drills out the core to place a gas burner and lava rock, and provides the installation kit for connection to natural gas. Clearly not a DIY install, this new product definitely expands the scope of outdoor fire pit kits.

Fire Pits: Where to Place

Finnerty Patio w Pit where to place it 300x198 Fire Pits: Where to Place Adding a fire pit to your outdoor environment is a perfect fall hardscaping project. Many design and material options exist. Read our article on fire pit basics for an overview.

Once you decide to build a fire pit, where are you going to put it? If you have a patio already, you might want to place it on the patio. Or you could create an addition to the patio just for the fire pit. Or maybe just off the patio, in a near-by but separate area. Or you may have a spot in your yard where it is hard to grow grass that beckons for a touch-up.

If you are considering placing a fire pit within an existing patio, you need to evaluate both your fire pit and your patio materials. Although some fire pit designs will support being placed on top of an existing patio, it is generally not the best approach. If your patio is made from manufactured or natural stone pavers dry set on sand or stone dust, you can remove the patio materials where you want your fire pit and place the fire pit directly on the patio base. If your patio is concrete or a wet set installation, you will not have the option to remove it. In that case, you will be limited in what type of fire pit you super-impose on top of your patio.

If the design of the fire pit places the fire on the ground, the fire pit cannot be built on top of existing patio materials without damaging the patio. If the material in the fire pit is not completely flat on the bottom and / or the surface of the patio is not completely flat, the fire pit cannot be built on top of the patio without being unstable, i.e., wobbling or potentially falling over.

If you want to create a new area, adding an extension to the patio or creating a nearby free-standing fire pit area can be the easiest options. If placing the fire pit on what is currently dirt or grass, the area needs to be dug out, lined with separation fabric, and filled with 4-6 inches of stone. (This will create a base for your fire pit very similar to the base that is placed under a paver or natural stone patio.) This base will create a solid underpinning for the fire pit so it will not move (wobble) or sink while also avoiding the risk of burning dead branches or roots in the ground.

One final thought on location: Avoid areas under trees or too close to your house or other flammable objects on your property. You don’t want your beautiful warm and inviting addition to produce a catastrophe.

Fire Pit Basics – A Perfect Fall Hardscaping Project

If you have ever enjoyed sitting around a campfire, you will love the addition of a fire pit to your outdoor living area. Fall is the perfect time for adding a source of warmth to your outdoor environment. Building a fire pit can range from a simple do-it-yourself hardscaping project to an elaborate custom design.

Issues to consider in selecting an approach to your fire pit include:

  • Appearance – texture, shape, color
  • Use – ambiance, warmth, toasting marshmallows, cooking
  • Ease of installation
  • Fire-resistance
  • Cost – materials, labor, maintenance

In choosing the appearance you desire for your hardscaping project, you will determine the primary material.  This selection will significantly influence the other issues above. Options for fire pit materials are extensive and include:

  1. Natural stone boulders
  2. Natural wall stone
  3. Packaged natural stone kits
  4. Packaged manufactured kits including fire-resistant inserts
  5. Concrete forms requiring customization
  6. Customized from manufactured materials.

The chart below provides basic comparison of key elements of the different approaches.

woodward1 Fire Pit Basics – A Perfect Fall Hardscaping Project

Capping Walls – Proliferation of Options

Landscape walls take a variety of forms – garden walls, retaining walls, sitting walls, privacy walls. And each can be implemented in a variety of materials – manufactured materials, natural stone, cinder block with veneer. The resulting “look” of the wall consequently has a similar variety of appearances from traditional manufactured split face to rustic natural stacked stone.

Historically, natural stone walls were capped with larger pieces of the same stone as part of the overall hardscape design. Manufactured walls were capped with a cap thinner than the wall block but with the same color and texture. Over the last few years, many new options have emerged.

The traditional options still dominate customer installations. But if you are seeking a different look, two major categories of new products can be considered for hardscape design: treads and simulated stone.

Treads are pieces of natural stone or concrete which are at least three-foot, straight sections providing for longer expanses without seams. Treads can be finished on one long side or both or even the two long sides and an end. The most common edge in natural stone treads is flamed. But rock-faced edges are also available or can be added by a skilled mason. These looks are mimicked in simulated stone treads. Natural stone in the Pennsylvania area will most likely be flagstone, blue in color or variegated which adds greens and browns to the basic blue color. Natural stone treads can found in sandstone (beige), limestone (pale gray) or west mountain where each piece presents various combinations of brown, beige, gold and salmon. EP Henry, Techo Bloc, and CST are leading vendors in providing manufactured simulated bluestone treads which are generally blue or brown but can sometimes be produced in custom colors.

Techo Bloc has pioneered simulated stone wall caps. They offer Portofino, Muro, Venetian, and Niagara caps (in addition to multiple concrete tread options). These caps are double sided and trapezoid in shape making both straight and curved walls easy to cap. They are designed to look like natural stone but offer the advantage multiple colors in addition to easier curves.

Hennessy Venetian 300x224 Capping Walls – Proliferation of Options

Hennessy Landscaping, Venetian Caps

Wall caps are generally either 12 or 14-inches deep. This is usually wide enough to top any wall or step structure. Treads can be found in depths up to two feet. Deeper concrete products are usually special ordered.