It’s a common dilemma: you have an outdoor project and you don’t know whether to use landscape contractors or to do it yourself. Are landscape contractors worth the expense? What value do they add? How do I determine which landscape contractors are competent? Where do I start?
Landscape Contractors: An Overview
Landscape contractors bring to the table an understanding of the plans and documents that the landscape designers and architects have prepared. They understand the proper terminology. They know the tradesmen and subcontractors who can do excellent work. They organize the workflow. They turn the ideas into a practical and coherent reality.
For landscape contractors, this project management is the skill that proves their real worth. In general, the more complex the project, the more important it is to have a single experienced professional overseeing the job. If nothing else, it eliminates the finger-pointing when conflicts arise. You then only have one person to deal with.
Many landscape contractors are often further engaged to handle the ongoing landscape maintenance of the projects they install. This long-term partnership benefits the homeowners because they can be assured that the integrity of the overall design will be maintained—for example, when a particular style of garden has been chosen: a formal landscape design with its meticulous attention to line and form or a Mediterranean garden design that gets much of its style from plant choices.
What to Know Before Talking to Landscape Contractors
There are several issues you will want to understand for yourself before interviewing landscape contractors. They include:
- Deciding how you want the landscape to be used. Will you entertain? Do you have children and therefore want a play area? Would a swimming pool be a worthwhile investment?
- What services do you want? Consider design or architectural services, plant and material choices and construction.
- Will you care for the landscape yourself or do you want to hire out the ongoing landscape maintenance?
Questions to ask Landscape Contractors
Once you have a general idea of the project you want to undertake, you are ready to talk to the landscape contractors. Here is a short list of questions to ask:
- How long has the firm been in business? Has it always been in this part of the country? The answers give you an idea of their knowledge of the Houston area’s particular climate and environmental conditions.
- Does the firm intend to use subcontractors? If so, how long have they been working together?
- Request proof of insurance for liability and workers’ compensation. Ask what local licenses and permits will be required.
- Ask for references.
- Ask to see a portfolio of completed projects. It might even be informative to visit a project that’s in the works, something that will give you a good idea of what the crews and their work habits look like.
- Request the bid in writing. Professional firms will have written estimates and contracts that include the scope of work, estimated time of completion, total costs, payment methods, warranties and possibly dispute resolutions.
- Is the contractor professional? This last question is really one that you’ll ask yourself after your initial impression, and it’s an important one—is this person someone you want to do business with?
The Value-Added of Landscape Contractors
The true value that landscape contractors provide can be summed up in two words: construction management. It entails the implementation of the project’s requirements in the correct sequence, which is integral to a successful installation. The list may include:
- Site grading
- Landscape installation
- Tree planting, tree preservation, tree trimming or removal
- Landscape drainage systems installation
- Irrigation systems
- Hardscapes (driveways, sidewalks, patios, walls, gates, fences)
- Outdoor kitchens
- Luxury swimming pools
- Outdoor water fountains
- Landscape lighting
Many homeowners mistakenly think that a landscape project is just as simple as putting the different parts into a logical order—get the pool done, then call in the lighting guys, for example. However, in most cases, one piece of the overall design is rarely installed in its entirety at one time; rather, it is installed in parts and starts with the subcontractor coming back to the project several times before his part of the installation is finished. In many cases, a single subcontractor may be called back five different times to complete incremental steps leading up to the completed installation.
“The different sections of a major landscape installation need to be interwoven, very similar to how a dance is choreographed,” explains Jeff Halper with Exterior Worlds. “The subcontractors keep coming and going at different times, doing one step in concert with ten others. For instance, before the pool subcontractor pours the decking, you want to get the electricians and the irrigation specialists out there. Otherwise you’ll land-lock that beautiful planter that you had specially built to mark the end of the pool area. You’ve left it stranded without electricity for lights or plumbing for easy watering.
“We try to be frank with our clients as to where we can be most valuable. If a customer only wants an arbor built, I may tell them to just call the arbor builder. But if they want, say, the arbor wired for landscape lighting and integrated into the irrigation and drainage system—that’s another matter. Landscape contractors, in particular, add value when you want the hardscapes to relate to one another—the pool, the irrigation, the outdoor kitchen, the drainage system, the lights, the whole deal. The more sophisticated the design, the more important landscape contractors become. In these cases, we become a necessity, not a luxury.”
Since 1987, Exterior Worlds has been successfully contracting landscape projects thought-out the greater Houston area including the Memorial Villages, Tanglewood, River Oaks, West University, Bellaire and the greater Houston area. Call Exterior Worlds at 713-827-2255 to get an appointment .