better outdoor living at home spring

Building From Scaled Plans

Building from scaled plans or drawings, even for small projects, is important for the success of your outdoor project. Think of your house. What would it look like if all the different contractors involved in building your house, or an addition, hadn’t followed any plans, and just sort of made it up as they worked? Your outdoor projects are just as important to the aesthetics and function of your home.

Every outdoor project will benefit by using scaled plans.

RECENTLY MY NEIGHBORS WERE having a little work done in their yard. It wasn’t a lot of work, just some large concrete pavers (18”x18”) being installed along their garage which is about 4 feet from the side yard property line between my yard and theirs. After the contractor had been working for a bit, it appeared that the work was getting very near said property line, if not encroaching on it, as more and more of these large pavers were installed. So I had to go ‘investigate’ the situation.

I went over to get a closer look, and to talk to the contractor doing the work, who was very nice, by the way. In short order, I could tell that he wasn’t working from any plans or drawings (always a mistake). He was just really, making it up as he was building. And he was working in limited space, to boot!

Thus problems started popping up for him (and for me – hence the very real possibility of encroaching onto my property). Shall I list the problems? He was laying the gravel on top of the ground (no excavation was happening) and then placed two rows of pavers on top of the gravel (this wasn’t good for the garage either for the pavers were now above the sill plate of the garage stud wall), the length of the garage. This created quite an elevation change at the edge of the pavers near the property line. To fix this new problem, he said he was going to install 4×4’s to act as containment for the gravel and pavers to keep it all from spilling over into my yard. If he put the 4×4’s in, the project would have encroached over the property line.

Graph paper is great for laying out simple DIY projects

All this, because there was no plan, and the project was growing organically, so to speak. What if this had been a large and expensive project? Hopefully, you are beginning to see the importance of having scaled plans for your project. Scaled plans for either you (if you will be doing the project), or for your contractor. Scaled drawings will let you and the contractor know what will and what will not fit, and where all the elements of the project will be located. It’s probably safe to say that you don’t want to run the risk of a poorly executed outdoor project. You could be wasting money, and really not adding value to your home.

If you want to hire a contractor for an outdoor project in your yard, make sure you can give him scaled drawings to follow. For a simple project you may even be able to draw up your ideas on grid/graph paper. Also, it helps to assess the existing conditions in your yard, like slope and drainage patterns to name a few, so you can be knowledgeable about your yard when talking to your contractor. This can help you to know what questions to ask him and what concerns to have.

Remember, a contractor is not a landscape architect or an engineer, so for large projects and for drainage issues, it would be wise to consult with these professionals.

If the contractor explains how he is going to do your project, and it doesn’t sound right to you, you may want to interview more contractors!

A bunch of years ago new basement windows were installed in my house by a competent contractor. He was the third contractor I had talked to. The first two told me how they were going to install the windows and both installations did not sound right to me (poor construction methods). I talked with contractor number 3 and his method was what I would have done.

In our design profession of landscape architecture, a contractor always works from scaled designs and construction drawings. Nothing is ever guesstimated! Everything has to be considered in a project, including the drainage of your yard, underground utilities, functionality, and safety issues for the users of the space. And while we love a good contractor, customarily it’s not in their scope of work to ‘design’. Also, a scaled drawing will allow you to calculate material quantities and costs more accurately.

This scaled plan was used to layout a stone wall & separate plant groupings

You know the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’? It’s another reason to have scaled drawings for your project. You may think that verbally relaying your ideas and wishes to a contractor about what you want may be ‘good enough’, but what you are saying and what the contractor thinks you are saying could be quite different.

My neighbor finally appeared on the scene to check out the progress. I’m thinking that that saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ would have helped here. Apparently, what my neighbors wanted and what the contractor thought they wanted were two different things, because they told the contractor to remove an entire row of the 18″x18″ pavers and the gravel.

Again we ask, ‘what if this had been a large and expensive project?’









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