Monday, December 29, 2014

Mastering the Art of Permeable Pavers

As development increases pervious surfaces are decreased. This removal of vegetation and natural infiltration points creates more runoff and increases the likelihood of flooding. Historically, large amounts of rainwater were stored in detention systems. These large storage systems wouldn't be necessary if we allowed a portion of that rainwater to infiltrate rather than flow away from the surfaces we construct. Decreasing run off is especially important in the isthmus area as city storm sewers flow directly into our lakes carrying pollutants such as phosphorous and sediment into the water. Residential properties throughout Madison can impact our lakes water quality as if they are all waterfront properties. One of the best management practices we use to mitigate run off is permeable paving.

Permeable paving doesn't just reduce flooding, it also increases groundwater recharge by allowing what falls in a given area to recharge locally rather than directing the water to another area. The further rainwater is directed, the greater the risk of a back up or failure of the storm water system. We measure runoff as a C Value or runoff coefficient. Asphalt, for example, has a C value of .85 meaning that 85% of the water that falls on it runs off. A typical lawn has a C value of .15, a permeable patio has a C value of 0! 

The design and construction of permeable patios requires specific tools and experience beyond what is required for a typical patio or brick driveway. Be sure your contractor is well versed in the materials and engineering required to take on a permeable paving project

For more information read Unilock’s Directions in Sustainable Design. You can also take it a step further and collect the captured water as in the video below.

watch video

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Apples to Oranges; Raising the Bar & How to Get the Best Bang for your Buck

Enhancing your outdoor living space is often a large investment. It's also an investment that pays large dividends in your quality of life. When working with contractors inside or outside your home the process is very different than, for example, purchasing a vehicle. Unlike comparing prices on the same car, it is rare that two contractors propose exactly the same scope of work. Consider what you are getting for your hard earned money. It's a question of value, not necessarily price. Naturally, the car with few options purchased from a dealer with poor customer service is cheaper when compared to a dealer dedicated to customer service selling a vehicle loaded with options. If you want to compare the value of the vehicles themselves, you have to ask the dealers to price the exact same car. The next step is to compare the businesses.

Home owners who have been through many large scale projects operate more like general contractors. They may pay for  an architect to draw a specific plan and write a detailed scope of work. Contractors then price the execution of the same project. The owner is left with only the companies to compare. This is rarely the case for projects under $40,000 as the cost of the plan and scope is too high. Most homeowners provide a general concept and let each company "run with it". This is great for inspiration and when price isn't much of a factor. What you should consider is working with a budget from the start. Ask each contractor what they can do for $10,000. Personally, I'm very upfront with budgets. I prefer not to waste time for either of us and a set budget provides a framework allowing for more design creativity. More often than not, we have an eye for a Mercedes and budget for a Kia. It's part of the professional contractors job to ground these lofty visions in reality. The typical response to this is, "I have no idea, we are just getting started." While you may not have said your budget out loud, you certainly have one.

The budget discussion works both ways too, I've had $100,000 landscape budgets for a $225,000 home at which they didn't plan on retiring. While I have experience in real estate, I didn't need a license to explain why that may not be the best long term financial planning. Be honest with your contractor and yourselves from the start. If you tell me you have no budget, I'll propose an outrageous number. Most likely you'll say I'm nuts and we will shortly arrive at a budget you didn't think you had. With a seasoned professional, this can and should be accomplished on the phone saving us both time and money. We haven't even met yet and we are now both comfortable with the parameters of the project. I know I can deliver on your realistic vision and we both know that we value each others time. Using the car dealership analogy, how different of an experience would it be if you told each dealer, "I have $35,000 to spend on a Mercedes." It's now up to them to show why they are the best dealer for you and how much value they can provide within your budget.

Products and Materials
The products and materials proposed for a project can represent 35% or more of the total project cost. When comparing products and materials you must also consider the manufacturer of them. Are they local, or at least a US Company, what are the manufacturer warranties? Are they an industry leader in their field? What is the relationship with the contractor, have they purchased from them before?
One contractor may be more or less expensive than the other based on different material types, quality, quantities, and/or measurements. Are there more or fewer plants, what size are the plants, are they locally sourced? Again, working with a budget narrows the differences in measurements and quantities, now you're working with comparing value.

How do the consumer reviews about the contractor look? How about the individual representing the company? If he or she is an employee and not an owner you should feel comfortable asking how they like their job and the company they work for. How a company contributes to our local economy, and society for that matter, also affects their pricing. Greenscapes provides benefits like dental, health insurance and retirement. We have extensive training and safety programs. Our equipment is maintained by our staff as if it was their own. When you instill a sense of ownership in your crew, they will, in turn, treat your clients property as if it was theirs as well. We have incorporated environmental practices and reward our employees for volunteering in the community. Does that make us a little more expensive than the guy with no name on his truck who doesn't even pay taxes? In the short term it might, but what it certainly does is ensure you have a safe, high quality job being installed at your home. It's being completed by well trained and educated employees who are happy at their place of employment. In my experience, happy people do excellent work and excellent work makes for happy clients!

Unilock's Before You Start Guide

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Getting Salty Over Winter Paver Care?

To Salt or Not to Salt?
Winter care of your pavers is about the same as your average Wisconsin concrete driveway or walkway although you have several advantages right off the bat!

Nearly all professional pavers have high compressive strength
and far lower water absorption rates than standard poured concrete. What's that mean to you? The pavers will not absorb as much water as there are far fewer small voids compared to poured concrete. This means less cracks as water is not freezing inside the paver itself. Most pavers also have a beveled or tumbled edge and possibly even a textured surface. This means better water movement off the surface of the paver and better slip resistance.

Plastic over Metal
If your snow blower or snow shovel have a metal edge, change it to a plastic poly edge. While you won't hurt most professional grade pavers with metal edges, you will leave behind enough metal shavings for rust lines to show up on the surface a few weeks later.

Don't get too Salty
De-icing substances, when used in proper amounts, will not damage good-quality concrete. They will, however, speed up the surface wear on some styles of pavers. Many of the exposed aggregate products and tumbled products are unaffected by virtue of their style. As a general rule of thumb, less is more.

De-icing salts:
• Sodium chloride (common rock salt) is the most popular de-icing salt. It is widely available and it will melt snow and ice at temperatures down to approximately 16° F (-9° C). Below 16° F (-9° C), rock salt stops melting snow and ice. Sodium chloride can damage adjacent grass, plants and metal.

Apply with caution and use as sparingly as possible.
• Mix with sand to increase effectiveness and to reduce the amount of salt used. Do not use calcium chloride,  potassium chloride or magnesium chloride. These will have harmful effects on the concrete.

Pondering Winter and The Holiday Pond

As they say in Wisconsin, "If you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes." Yes indeed cold weather and the holidays are officially upon us, and that means the pond out in the backyard has taken on a different personality. For us, ice on the pond is fast approaching, we dodged a bullet by missing the forecasted 5" of snow earlier this week.

Prune the Plants Back, and Net the Pond
The cold snap hit us early this year and the leaves have all fallen. In many cases, as you read this line, the lilies, the water iris, and the cattails are all pruned back. The water hyacinth have been eliminated from the waterfalls and thrown into the compost pile. The activity of your fish has slowed down dramatically, and you've eliminated the fish feeding cycle because the water temp has been below 55 for several weeks now.

Inside vs. Outside Enjoyment
Maybe you decorated your Halloween pond with pumpkins and scarecrows this year or you are willing to brave these temperatures and will have something in honor of Thanksgiving as well. But for many of us, the time is already here when the pond enjoyment is going to happen from inside the warm house, instead of outside on the patio. But there’s a decision you must make first.

The Winter Decision You Have To Make
Are you going to leave the waterfalls running, or are you going to shut the pond down for the winter? For what it’s worth, most local enthusiasts shut their pond or pondless down in order to avoid having to monitor ice build-up in the stream, which can untimely lead to a leak if you’re not careful. And if you choose the shut down option, don’t forget to unhook your pump, remove it from your skimmer, and store it in a warm place for the winter. Also, remove all the filter mats from the BIOFALLS® filter, hose them off, and put them in a warm, dry place for the winter.

And for the Winter Adventurer
On the other hand, if you’re a winter adventurer, and you choose to leave the falls running, the artistic beauty of frozen icicles forming around the waterfalls will always be something at which to marvel. And either way, as the surface of your pond freezes over, make sure to keep a hole in the surface with an agitating bubbler so that gasses can be safely exchanged, and your fish can complete their winter hibernation successfully without complications. If you’ve covered all these bases, congratulations, you’re ready for old man winter. 

Until next month, have a Happy Thanksgiving.

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