Thinking of installing outdoor lighting or a paver patio in your yard? Learn what landscaping improvements to avoid as a DIY project.
For nearly 20 years I’ve installed thousands of landscapes and hardscapes. And I've looked at thousands of these projects that were installed by homeowners, as well.
I've seen beautiful landscape jobs done by some of our residential clients. Diligent homeowners often can accomplish these installation projects on their own with a little research and a weekend or two:
● A new sod lawn.
● Plants and trees.
● Gravel pathway.
● Small retaining wall.
● Flagstone steps.
But there are other, more challenging projects that can end up being costly disasters … the kind a professional gets called in to correct. Here are four landscape and hardscape projects that you should leave to the pros.
1. Irrigation systems
I've seen hundreds of do-it-yourself sprinkler systems installed, but I've almost never come across one that was installed correctly. The most common mistakes:
● Using the wrong kind of backflow device for your climate.
● Improper pipe sizing.
● Installing poor quality components.
● Too many heads per zone (which equates to underperforming sprinkler heads) and inadequate head spacing.
Our company employs four full-time irrigation service techs who are out repairing systems like this every day. Irrigation systems aren't easy to install. If you want it done right, hire a licensed and well-trained irrigation pro.
Is your yard looking kind of sad? Angi has tips to cheer it up:
● Read the story and watch the video: How to Update Your Landscape on a Budget
● Listen to the podcast: Simple Landscaping Tips to Spruce up Any Lawn
2. Paver patios and pathways
Almost never have I seen a paver patio or pathway installed by a homeowner that was on par with the work of a real hardscape professional.
The most common problem: improper base preparation. Eventually this leads to settling. The patio becomes uneven, pavers begin separating and what was once a beautiful patio quickly loses its appeal.
Other common issues:
● No border course along edges.
● Pavers not aligned properly.
● Poor cuts at edges.
● Poor paver selection (Hint: Contractors never buy pavers from the big box stores).
● Improper edging restraint.
● Weeds in joints (which comes from settling or improper sand used in joints).
If you want a patio that will look as good five years from now as it does the day it's installed, hire a real hardscape pro with a good portfolio of work and a big list of references you can check.
3. Larger retaining walls
The longer or taller a retaining wall is, the more important proper installation becomes.
I'd say 90 percent or more of the retaining walls I've seen installed by homeowners were done improperly. But some are so small that most people wouldn't really notice. A larger retaining wall, though, must be constructed properly to stay straight and hold up long term.
The most common issues I see with retaining walls are:
● Lack of proper base preparation (leading to the wall being uneven or even failing).
● No drainage chimney installed behind the wall to remove water.
● Unattractive wall blocks.
● No caps on top of the wall blocks.
● Mitered cuts at corners (should always use corner blocks instead).
4. Outdoor lighting
While outdoor lighting is all the rage, do-it-yourself projects are almost always lackluster compared to a professionally designed and installed outdoor lighting system. Why?
● The fixtures: Inexpensive fixtures you get from big box stores don't provide good illumination and won’t hold up long term. Also, many use cheap LED lamps that give off a blue tinge.
● Poor design: Artistic placement of lighting fixtures is a skill. We've all seen the "runway effect" where homeowners have installed path lights every four feet to the right and left of their driveway or pathway.
Finding a good outdoor lighting designer/installer in your area who is associated with the AOLP (Association of Outdoor Lighting Professionals) will help you get a system that lasts a long time, has the right color temperature, is installed to code and makes your landscape and architecture a real work of art.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a story originally posted on Feb. 25, 2015.