You’ve finally decided this is the year you’re going to upgrade your backyard living space. Maybe you’re going to transform a concrete slab and a couple of lawn chairs into a stylish paver patio with a built-in fire pit. Or perhaps it’s time to replace that cracked, splinter-filled wooden deck with one of today’s low-maintenance composite products. Whatever the plan, this is not a job you want to leave to chance. A professionally designed and constructed outdoor patio will not only make your summer outdoor activities more enjoyable, it will likely increase the value of your home when the time comes to sell.
Choosing the right patio contractor can make all the difference; between a never-ending project full of delays and surprise expenses, and one that flows seamlessly from design to completion in time for your big summer family get-together. But where do you begin looking for the right contractor? Here are five tips to help you find just the right company that will turn your patio dreams into a reality.
1. Landscape Designer vs. Landscape Architect
As you launch your search for a company to build your patio, you will probably run across these two terms: Landscape Designer and Landscape Architect. What’s the difference? While there is considerable overlap in these two professionals, they do each have their specialties. A landscape architect will have a four-year degree and at least two years working under a licensed landscape architect. The architect focuses primarily on the planning, design, and direction of public and private outdoor spaces. They are more about the ‘big picture’, seeing how all the design elements will fit within the hardscape of the finished product.
According to www.TheBestColleges.org, Purdue University is on the list of the 10 Best Landscape Architecture Programs in America. Having a specific knowledge of plants and environmental factors is not necessarily within a landscape architect’s wheelhouse.
Much like the landscape architect, a landscape designer will also have a four-year degree. But, in addition to a knowledge of hardscapes (patios, walkways, decks, etc.), the landscape design degree also includes plants. Additionally, a landscape designer will likely have a horticultural degree, giving them expertise in the plants that work best in Indiana’s varied climate. So, think about what’s most important to you about your outdoor space – the hardscape or the foliage that will adorn it – and choose accordingly.
2. Licensing & Registration
Even though the state of Indiana does not require having a landscape architecture license to build a private patio (you could do it yourself or let your brother-in-law take a crack at it), finding a licensed professional will give you added peace of mind that they have been properly vetted and have received sufficient training to do the job right. To be a registered landscape architect, Indiana requires an accredited degree, or eight years of experience working for a landscape architect. They must also pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.) The L.A.R.E. is administered by The Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards, an organization of licensure boards across the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. When interviewing potential contractors, be sure to ask if they are registered with the state of Indiana.
3. Knowledge of Local Codes & Permits
Building codes and permits will vary from city to city and town to town and your licensed professional landscape contractor will know how to navigate the often confusing labyrinth of those state, county, and municipal building codes. According to www.MuniCode.com, in Indianapolis a building permit is NOT required for the construction of a deck or patio “where no part of the floor is more than thirty (30) inches above finished grade.” However, the contractor MUST send a notification of the construction to the county assessor and include the county and township of the property, the name of the property owner, the approximate size of the deck/patio, and the contractor’s name and listing number.
Then there are the Homeowner’s Association covenants, where applicable. Some HOAs are known to require pre approval before you can change the color of your welcome mat, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that something as substantial as a new deck or patio is going to require HOA approval. A good contractor can not only guide you through the process, but can supply a drawing or schematic of the proposed patio plan that the HOA will most likely want to see.
As with contracting for any major service, it’s always a good idea to get multiple estimates. When meeting with potential contractors be sure to be specific about what you want in your new patio or deck so he or she can give you the most accurate estimate with no significant surprises down the road. A good estimate will probably include drawings, specifications, and materials to be used, and putting that all together takes time. A contractor may charge you for that estimate, but then credit that amount back if you choose them to do the work. Having a general idea of the price before meeting with a contractor for the first time can be helpful in avoiding sticker shock. Based on research done by www.promatcher.com, the average cost of building a wood deck in Indianapolis is $13.52 a square foot. (Composite material will be higher). A concrete patio averages $5.91 a square foot.
During the initial meeting with any potential contractor, you’ll get a sense of their personality. Gruff? Jokester? All-business? Off-putting? Clearly, this is very subjective, but not entirely unimportant. Remember, this person and his or her team will be daily visitors to your home for weeks, maybe even months, depending on the complexity of the job. And no matter how well planned, issues will arise that require good communication between client and contractor. So hiring a landscape professional that you can have a good (personal) working relationship with is a legitimate consideration.
We hope you’ll find these tips for choosing an outdoor patio contractor helpful. Good luck!