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  • Writer's pictureMatt Daly

Richmond, VA Landscape Design: How To Properly Phase Your Project

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Water and Earth loves Richmond, VA. So it should come as no surprise that we want our clients here in Richmond to feel confident as they begin to navigate the first steps toward a new backyard. This means understanding some of the less-talked about truths of outdoor living renovations and landscape design.

The first truth: Great things take time. And we know this as well as anyone else. That’s why when our clients approach us about taking things slow with the construction or renovation of their outdoor living space, we understand where they’re coming from.

Whether it’s here in Richmond, VA, or across the coast in California, if you’re looking to break up your big backyard overhaul into smaller, bitesize pieces, you’re not alone. Clients come to us all the time looking to spread out, or “phase”, their overall project. Usually, the reason for this is one driving factor: cost.

Many people believe that they will be able to split their backyard reno into bite size pieces... start and finish a swimming pool now, move onto a nice paver patio later, then tackle the landscaping a few months or a year down the road.

It’s a nice idea. And in theory, it sounds like it should work. But the reality of approaching a project in this way is a lot different than you may think, and it usually doesn’t work out the way the homeowner intended.

So before you start entertaining the idea of breaking up your backyard construction, ask yourself:

Are you phasing your project, or piecemealing it?

When a client approaches us with a description of slowly constructing their backyard over several months or a year in an asset by asset way, they usually describe it as breaking the construction into phases.

Maybe they’ve saved enough money for a patio and pergola, but don’t think they’ll have enough money for the pool until next year. After all, this is Richmond, VA. Seasonality is a thing. They want to do what they can now, and finish the rest later. To them, this is phasing!

What they don’t realize is that this approach is really just piecemealing their renovation. Doing a little bit now and a little bit later can work, (we’ll cover that in a minute), but not on a section by section basis. Ultimately, starting and completely finishing one area of your yard at a time is more likely to be harmful to the overall design, inefficient cost-wise, and wholly impractical.

And this is why:

Repetitive Spending:

When you piecemeal or divide out your yard into mini projects, you probably are envisioning each project existing in a bubble. In other words, what is done to your pool won’t affect your yard, your deck, etc, etc. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality, and this approach causes clients to spend the same money twice.

For example, when you approach a project holistically, you pay for each part of the project to happen simultaneously. The entire yard is demoed, then graded, then construction begins, etc. But when you break your yard up into multiple sections over a long period of time, you pay for each phase of construction many times over.

When all is said and done, you may have a completed backyard, but you probably spent a great deal of unnecessary money to have similar steps redone for different projects. At the end of the day, the price of your backyard has actually raised significantly due to the piecemeal approach.

Too Many Contractors

Another huge issue with splitting one big project into a list of mini renos is ending up with too many cooks in the kitchen. Or in this case, too many contractors in your backyard. You should expect that each area of your space will demand work from different skilled tradesmen. Masonry takes one skill set, while carpentry is a whole different animal.

When you do your entire yard at once, the same contractor from each field can work the entire space. When you split it up, you may end up with one mason working on your pool deck, while another comes to finish your paver patio a year later. This might not sound too problematic, but there are a few key issues that tend to occur here.

First, different contractors have different styles. No two carpenters will build a pergola exactly the same way, no matter how similar their experience or tools. And this idea persists across the board. The more tradesmen who make their mark on your space, the more disjointed the final product may feel.

Furthermore, even if you think you will be able to hire the same company later on down the road to tackle a new section of your yard, it can’t be guaranteed that the company will still be employing the same workers. People quit, change companies, and even leave the industry altogether every single day. So when it comes to achieving cohesion between projects, it’s far more secure to tackle all parts of the puzzle at one time.

Material Supply Lines Are Unreliable

A reliable material supply line has always been one of the most important aspects of getting the construction of a space done on time. There have been ups and downs in the past, but nothing compared to the toll that COVID has taken. And Richmond, VA landscape design projects are not immune. Combine this with an incorrectly phased project, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Think of it like this: You start your backyard renovation with a new patio using a very specific paver that you absolutely love. The patio is finished, and you’re happy. A few months later, you want to move onto the pool, or you decide another section of your backyard could benefit from an auxiliary patio. Because you loved the style, and you want your yard to tie together, you naturally want to use the same paver. But when you reach out to purchase more, you’re informed that they’re no longer in stock, won’t be in stock for months, or have been discontinued completely.

Not only is your next project now delayed indefinitely, but there’s a chance you may have to settle for a material you like less, that doesn’t tie the space together in the same way. This headache is exactly the reason piecemealing your yard is not only inconvenient, but also risky. In stock today, gone (maybe forever) tomorrow.

If you are picturing one material throughout your entire space, then it’s best to tackle your entire space at once.

Compromising the Flow of Design:

Not only is phasing projects incorrectly ultimately more expensive and sometimes risky, but it also can compromise the overall design of the space. At Water and Earth, our designs are cohesive units. Each element is designed to spill over seamlessly into the next.

When you break the construction of the design into a list of mini projects, the continuity of the initial plan is broken as well. One idea now exists as a long list of separate constructions, and contractors are forced to approach them this way, as opposed to working the entire space as one interconnected unit.

Unnecessarily Inefficient:

Finally, more than anything covered above, the largest issue with piecemealing your backyard renovation is that it’s simply, and unnecessarily, incredibly inefficient. We know clients feel like approaching projects like this may make more sense to them financially.

But instead of a leisurely and cost effective year or two spent rebuilding your backyard, approaching construction in this way will ultimately be inefficient, unrealistic, and is likely to cost you more money and more of your valuable time before all is said and done.

Thankfully, it is possible to phase the construction of your backyard the right way.

Phasing Your Project The Right Way

Now, all this said, you should swear off the idea of phasing your backyard renovation altogether. The process is probably just different than you are imagining. To understand the right way to approach phasing, we like to prompt our clients to think of a process they may have more experience with: baking, building, and decorating a layered cake.

First, think about what that project would look like if you apply a piecemeal approach.

With this method, you would mix, bake, frost, and then finally decorate every layer of the cake individually. At the end of the process, you’ll have multiple finished layers, but you will struggle to merge them into one, cohesive final product. Not only that, but you’ve had to re-mix, re-bake, and re-decorate many times over.

This means, not only is the final product disjointed, but you’ve spent a ton of unnecessary time to arrive in this place of incohesion. Ultimately, you may just choose to start the entire project over and try again. That’s piecemealing. Thankfully, as most bakers know, there is a better way to phase out the process.

Instead of applying phasing to each individual layer, you can apply phasing to overall steps. Instead of baking and decorating one layer of cake at a time, all the batter is mixed at one (phase one), then all layers are baked together (phase two), and assembly and decoration takes place as a whole (phase three).

The same way of thinking can be used to appropriately phase your backyard renovation.

Instead of completing the entire patio, then moving onto the pool, the fence, etc, consider the design as a whole.

Just as you would mix all the batter for the cake at once, step one of the construction project becomes demolition of the entire space. Step two becomes grading the whole yard. Step three becomes installing bases and conduits, and so on and so forth.

Here, the entire project gets completed together, making the final design cohesive, and saving you money. While it’s true that this approach won’t garner any usable spaces until about 50%-75% of the way done, it will shorten the length of construction as a whole.

Phase Financing, Not Construction

At the end of the day, we know that a lot of people can’t afford to take on an entire backyard remodeling job all at once. Still, we firmly believe that anything worth doing is worth doing the right way, and that includes your outdoor living space. So, while our Water and Earth team are no financial advisors by trade, we do want to offer some perspective on how you can afford your dream backyard without making any compromises.

Don’t phase the construction of your space. Phase the financing of it, instead.

Commit to the idea of completing your project in one go. Then, save in phases until you have arrived at a point where that idea is no longer a dream, but a real possibility. A beautiful, new outdoor space doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and a lot of small, (properly planned out!) steps. And the first step should always be the knowledge that you have the funds to finish your space in its entirety.

If you don’t have this, then no matter how you break up the process, the final product is going to be delayed, and you’ll be left to contend with unusable space until you can either start work on the next area, or find the next stages of construction.

We know a brand new backyard isn’t cheap, but the best design experiences are the ones that are completed the way they are intended. You’ll save yourself, time, headaches, disappointments, and yes, even money, by waiting to begin construction until you know you can afford to finish it.

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