Ask the Landscape Architect Expert

Part Four: The Final Phase: Construction and the Bill – Project Delivery

We have arrived at the final section of this multi-part series, covering the many phases of a professional landscaping project.

We’ve discussed many topics, including planning, budget, design, and the expectations that need to be set amongst all the service providers working on the project. Paul Brydges, owner of Brydges Landscape Architecture, has guided us through the “life-cycle” of a complete landscape project, and now we turn our attention towards the final, yet very exciting phase; “Construction and Delivery.”

Once again, Paul reminds us that setting realistic expectations and establishing clear communication between the contractor and the client, remains key in ensuring a successful outcome.

For the homeowner, one major element to anticipate is what life will be like while living through a construction project. A successful project begins with communication on the start date and end date, and what “unknowns” might affect the project timelines right from the beginning. Paul explains, “The start date is not set in stone, and the main reason is simply Mother Nature. This past spring is a perfect example of how the weather can affect a contractor’s timelines. While contractors were getting ready to begin their very busy months ahead, winter decided to stay a little longer, and then April brought us ice. While most landscape projects can often begin in late March or early April, this year’s weather set back most projects to the beginning of May.”

Another very important topic to discuss and agree upon between homeowner and contractor is the payment plan. There’s often different ways for this to be arranged, but the homeowner needs to work with the contractor to ensure that this topic is clearly discussed, whether it be through progress payments (most common), or other methods as agreed upon in the contract. As well, the contractor needs to ensure that this has been made clear to the client, so that there are no misunderstandings when it comes to the finances, a factor that can bring a project to a standstill.

Once the project does get underway, some of the “unknowns” discussed in previous articles can affect a project in different ways. Something as small as the client’s choice of natural stone can fall into this category. “Natural stone, as the name implies, is just that, natural,” explains Paul. “The beauty of using it is that no two pieces are alike. When a client chooses a grey coloured natural stone, it will not show as one uniformed colour, as it could have marks of white or brown throughout.” This is where the designer and client will need to have had a discussion prior, so that a client understands exactly what they have chosen, and know clearly what they’re getting. This is also where communication between the designer and contractor becomes essential, and that the contractor understands the designers vision, so they are both aware of the expectations regarding the final project outcome.

Paul has stressed before that communication is key, and this remains true for every aspect and phase of a successful landscape project.

With almost every landscape design project, and more often with larger ones, the “digging” phase can turn up all sorts of hidden dilemmas and unknowns, which clients, designers, and contractors all need to be prepared for. It is essential that if a major issue arises when digging, that the entire team acts quickly to identify and rectify the problem. Paul explains, “On a recent project, once digging began, gas lines were found buried at a depth which did not align with code. The gas lines were found 6 inches below the ground, whereas code calls for 18 inches. So while the gas lines need to be dug up and re-installed to proper code depth, the project comes to a full stop. In a case like this, the contractor will most likely be off the job for some time; and move on to another project while the lines are re-installed. A good contractor will hopefully have projects that they can slot in while waiting to get back to the original project, but regardless, it can be frustrating for all involved.” This is where Paul again speaks on the importance of good communication between contractor and client. The contractor should reassure the client of the timelines and resources to get the project back on track, and the client needs to understand that the contractor cannot sit idle, waiting for every issue to be rectified. For contractors, every minute of the day counts. The key here is to have everyone working together, to get the project back on track as soon as possible. Septic tanks, old wells, hitting bedrock, are just a few of the unknown underground variables that can affect a landscape project, but it’s being prepared for them that will make the difference.

Changes to the project scope. This happens more often than not; where a homeowner might see something midway through the project that they want changed, altered, or added. Contractors need to inform the homeowner that if the changes are significant, these will require re-assessment. The contractor will need to stop the project, quote the changes, and then it’s up to the homeowner to decide if the change request is approved, or if they’ll just stick to the original plan. The worst thing a homeowner can say is, “Just bill me at the end”. While some changes may seem small to the client, the amount of work that goes in to a change, even a small one, can be significant.

Ok, so now the fun part, your project is complete! The contractor, designer, and client should do a “final inspection walk through” of the finished product. It’s essential that the client know how to take care of their lovely new design, as the maintenance for gardens, water features, wood, buildings, pools, and patios can be a major undertaking. “This is where the designer and the client hopefully did their work at the beginning, in the planning process,” says Paul. “The design will be built for the long-term enjoyment of the homeowner, and how they care for their new space is an essential part of the design process.” The great news for some clients is that most landscape contractors will offer not only a warranty on their work should something go wrong, but also provide ongoing maintenance services, should the client not necessarily want to be responsible for this aspect going forward. There are elements that the client needs to be aware of before the contractor and designer walk away, so, this final walk through is critical when it comes to the overall success of the finished product.

Having it all “done and dusted” at each completed phase of the process is what a professional landscape designer and architect do best. Having a professional on the project can be the difference between an “ok” design, and a dream design coming true. Paul and his team at Brydges Landscape Architecture deliver just that; the designs that dreams are made of!

Written By: Kelli M. Maddocks | Resources: Paul Brydges, Brydges Landscape Architecture Inc.

Author: Living Spaces

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