Maximizing Your Investment
Tips for Hiring a Landscape Contractor
Selecting a qualified contractor is a challenging task, and comparing quotes can be even worse. Before making a final decision, it’s important that you have: (1) a detailed estimate – in writing, (2) a thorough explanation of the installation procedure, and (3) a written service guarantee. To help you select a skilled landscape contractor, we’ve addressed common landscape and hardscape questions in the detailed frequently asked landscaping questions (FAQ) sheet below. Please read through this guide before making what’s likely to be one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make in your home.
I’ve spent decades in this business, and am always disappointed to hear stories of clients who have been misled by deceptive competitors. These clients are investing a significant amount of money in their home’s exterior improvements, and yet they have not been provided with a clear understanding of what really happens during the hardscape installation phase. Then, when walls fail, paver walkways collapse and patios buckle or shift, they’re understandably frustrated. It’s a scenario that Green Meadows insists upon preventing— through proper client education and industry-best design and construction.
Natural Stone Walls
Does the contractor’s proposal reflect a minimum 4-8″ base according to ASTM standards for graded aggregate material for bases or sub-bases?
Green Meadows: Yes. We meet or exceed all industry standards for every project.
Will the wall be completely dry laid, including the top?
Green Meadows: No. We do not install unsupported natural stone walls. Instead, we utilize concrete during the installation process, but concrete is not visible when the wall is completed (with the exception of joints along top of the wall).
If concrete is utilized, does the contractor clearly state in writing (a) how thick the wall will be; (b) the amount, if any, of gravel backfill; and (c) how the contractor will prevent expansion and potential collapse from aggregate expansion and contraction during freeze-thaw cycles? (The average winter consists of as many as 65 freeze-thaw cycles.)
Green Meadows: Concrete is used in the creation of all natural stone walls. In addition, we utilize the proper amount of gravel backfill to prevent settling, cracking and weathering.
Will the contractor install filter fabric between the earth and clean aggregate backfill to prevent cross-contamination of expandable material?
Green Meadows: Yes. We do this for every natural stone application.
Will the stone backfill be a minimum of 12″ thick with a 4″ drain, where applicable, for removing water that may collect behind the wall?
Green Meadows: Yes. Our skilled construction experts ensure proper design and drainage of each natural stone wall—so it will last for decades to come.
Is the capstone used during installation constructed of small, loose pieces or large pieces of stone cut and shaped to a depth of not less than 12″—with mortared joints?
Green Meadows: Yes. This ensures durability and longevity of your wall.
Will the contractor backfill and re-grade area upon completion, along with seeding and mulching where needed?
Green Meadows: Yes. Our wall installations include backfilling, re-grading and seeding/mulching, as required. We NEVER leave your property in a state of disrepair.
Interlocking Walls and Interlocking Paver Surfaces
One of the biggest reasons homeowners opt for concrete when constructing a wall or walking surface is because they have friends, family and neighbors who’ve had a disastrous experience with FAILING PAVERS. That’s why at Green Meadows, we go above and beyond to: (1) educate clients about the characteristics and uses of pavers, and (2) adhere to proper installation and construction requirements per manufacturer and industry guidelines.
First and foremost, it’s important to know that ALL interlocking paving stones are just a wearing surface. They offer no structural stability without the appropriate base and correct joint material. Instead, they’re just a veneer. Ninety five percent of failed paver projects occur as a result of an improperly installed base or improperly backfilled wall. If your contractor is an ICPI Certified Installer like Green Meadows, they should explain this to you in detail—and discuss their plan for base and backfill installation.
Second, an improperly installed base means an improperly installed product-which will fail in as little as one year and will VOID any manufacturer’s warranty on the interlocking product. As a result, you’re left with the expense and hassle of replacing your wall or walkway.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, remember to ask these helpful questions before selecting a paver contractor:
Will the contractor excavate your project to a minimum recommended depth of 8-12″, pending the application?
Green Meadows: Yes. We ALWAYS meet or exceed recommended industry standards.
Will the contractor use certified sub-base materials?
Green Meadows: Yes, always.
Will he/she apply filter fabric between the existing sub-grade and proposed aggregate base?
Green Meadows: Yes. Filter fabric prevents erosion from drainage and retains the integrity of your paver surface.
Will the contractor use stone dust as a setting bed for your product?
Green Meadows: No. Stone dust is NOT an ASTM-approved setting bed for any interlocking product. Many contractors use it because it’s inexpensive—but when your interlocking paver product fails and is inspected for replacement, stone dust installations WILL NOT be considered “under warranty.” Green Meadows ensures that all ASTM standards and manufacturer’s recommendations are met—so your warranty is never voided.
Will the contractor instead use concrete sand, which is an approved setting bed, for your interlocking product?
Green Meadows: Yes. Concrete sand is the ONLY recommended setting material for interlocking products.
Will the contractor be using polymeric (stabilizer) sand as a sweeping joint compound?
Green Meadows: Yes, always. Green Meadows offers two different types. Our staff will explain them to you in detail so you can make an educated selection.
Will the contractor guarantee the installation for two years?
Green Meadows: Yes. We guarantee the quality of our workmanship, and strive to achieve 100% client satisfaction for every project.
Landscape Plants And Associated Materials
Understanding the process and selection of quality plant material and soil amenities for your landscaping can be a very confusing. Differences can range from quantity of soil recommended for your site to the size of plant material recommended for project installation.
Plant size discrepancy can easily impact the price and appearance of your completed project. Unfortunately, all too often, contractors specify one plant size for a project, and then supply a smaller size upon installation. If a contractor specifies one plant size and delivers you something smaller, it is simply their way of making more money— at your expense. Younger plants cost as much as 50-percent less than more mature greenery. To avoid being fooled by a landscape contractor, know what you’re buying and ask to see all plant tags before installation. Green Meadows preserves every plant tag, and is happy to provide them after installation. If for any reason an agreed-upon plant size is unavailable, we ALWAYS supplement your order with comparable plants— or refund a portion of your money.
Other Important Information
Before choosing a landscape contractor, it is critical to ensure that they’re licensed and qualified. Always request proof of insurance, including liability and worker’s compensation for them and each of their employees. Everyone working on your property should be properly trained and insured so that injuries or liability claims do not fall on your shoulders.
Take time to inquire about certifications and professional affiliations, such as trade association memberships. These indicate industry expertise and a commitment to innovation.
A good landscape contractor should also be able to tell you whether special licenses or permits are required for any part of your landscape job. Ask about these permits before your landscaper begins work.
Request references from past or current clients. Don’t just acquire the references, though. Take time to call them in order to discern their opinion of the landscape contractor— and determine whether they would recommend the company. It’s also a good idea to check the contractor’s Better Business Bureau rating. (Green Meadows is proud to have obtained an A+ rating from the New Jersey Better Business Bureau!)
A final word of caution: It is not unusual for landscape contractors to run illegitimate businesses, setting up shop one day only to disappear the next. If a landscape contractor tells you he/she can start the next day, BEWARE. Most high-quality landscape contractors are booked weeks or months in advance, especially during growing season. And, remember: if a landscape contractor gives you a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is.
At Green Meadows, we believe that the quality of your installation can and will be the difference between everlasting and never-lasting. Our team of professionals includes skilled horticulturists, designers and craftsmen— and we stand behind our products for years to come. After all, our best advertisement is you!
We look forward to working with you on your project, now and in the future! Feel free to contact me directly with questions about your landscaping needs.
Richard Goldstein, CLT