Hardscaping & Landscaping Blog

Spring Refresh

March 19th, 2018

Now that Spring is almost here most of us are starting to venture out of our homes and into the slowly thawing landscape to find that our yards are not as fantastic as we know they could be. This is the reality of living here in Minnesota, but don’t let that get you down. Alternatively, focus on how that makes now the perfect time to think about how you can refresh your outdoor space for the upcoming season. Sure, there may be water pooling in your yard, cracks in your concrete, or crumbling in your pavers or retaining walls now, but these situations all present opportunities for reinvigorating your yard to make it even better than it was before.

What can I do about water pooling in my yard?

Pooling water is a very common issue in Minnesota. We see it year after year when all the snow melts or the Spring rains come along. While this is certainly common, that doesn’t make it something you have to put up with. Instead, reclaim your yard by adjusting its drainage. There are several ways to accomplish this.

The first way is to adjust the grade, or slope, of your yard. Typically, you want water to run away from your home and any other structures on your property. This will prevent water from leaking in and damaging your home, garage, etc. You can also make sure any solid surfaces like patios and walkways are built to follow this grade and push water where you want it to go, thereby preventing it from pooling in an inconvenient location.

Additionally, you can install a new drainage system to re-route water away from areas where it tends to collect. This can be done either with a drain pipe or French drain, which catch water from one area and drain it to another, more suitable area, or by building a runoff structure like a creek bed or rain garden. Drains make for very functional, sensible options, while creek beds and rain gardens offer a way to elevate your drainage solution from mere function to a beautifully revived outdoor space.

What can I do about a patio that has cracked or deteriorated?

Unfortunately, this is another all too common occurrence we see in Minnesota due to the freeze and thaw cycle that we live with. Whether your patio is made of concrete or pavers you will likely have at least one of these situations happen during the life of your structure. Oftentimes it is something that we first notice in the spring, and again, this is something we can easily fix for you in order to make your patio space a place that you actually enjoy.

When you encounter cracks or deterioration in your patio the first thing you need to do is determine the cause behind it. Water is usually the culprit. Excess water will cause the ground underneath and around your patio to expand and contract, most notably when the ground freezes and later thaws out. This, in turn, puts stress on the patio and leads to cracks or damage.

If you are seeing any of this with your current patio now would be an excellent time to get an estimate for what we can do to take care of this. We will take a look at what happened and determine if you need any sort of drainage like we mentioned before. We will then excavate the current patio area to the proper slope, perform any necessary soil correction, and then build up a strong base before pouring your new concrete or laying your new pavers. This way we will have done all that we can to prevent future cracks or damage.

Furthermore, there are many customizable features we can add to your patio space to really make it special. You can incorporate colors and stamp patters to mimic the look of stone, or you could go all out and choose from numerous concrete and stone paver options. If you are looking to make your patio a fun hangout spot, think about adding a seating wall around the perimeter or a fire pit to create an even more welcoming environment. All of these are great options for creating a fantastic new space to enjoy with friends and family.

What can I do about a crumbling or leaning retaining wall?

If your retaining wall looks like it has seen better days you are not alone. Over the years they can start to crumble or even lean, neither of which is ideal. Water plays a big part here as well. When a retaining wall does not have proper drainage the water build up will do a couple of things. It will eat away at the surface of the material the wall is built from, making it less stable, and it will increase the pressure put on the wall by the materials it is holding back, causing it to bow out or lean over.

Rather than live with an unsightly and failing retaining wall, take the time to meet with a knowledgeable contractor who can plan out and properly build a wall that will last you for years to come. If you are looking for a basic solution concrete block is a durable material that will get the job done efficiently. However, if you are looking for something more attractive you can always go with a rustic boulder wall or other stone material.

Retaining walls also make for a great solution to homes that sit upon slopes and hills with little useable outdoor space. They can be built to create a tiered landscape providing you with a flat surface for a patio, play area for the kids, or outdoor kitchen and grilling station, any of which would help maximize the use and value of your property.

While we love to call Minnesota our home, this state of ours does present us with certain challenges. One of the best parts about living here is getting to appreciate the outdoors with the change in seasons, even if that does lead to concerns about pooling water, cracked patios, or leaning retaining walls. Nonetheless, Minnesotans are resilient, and instead of being deterred by this, we choose to see Spring as a respite from Winter and a wonderful time to refresh our outdoor space in preparation for the warmer months ahead. Contact us now to get ideas for how you can update your space and make it better than it has ever been.

Stamped Concrete Vs. Pavers

March 17th, 2017

Every aspect of your home is an investment, especially your exterior surroundings. Driveways, patios, and walkways all provide pathways that accent and enhance the overall personal and architectural style of your home. With that in mind, it is important for these outdoor features to contribute value in several ways, including aesthetics, longevity, and ease of maintenance. When starting such a project there are numerous options for you to choose from that are both attractive and affordable, and oftentimes this can be overwhelming. Here we will help narrow down the possibilities by focusing on two of the most popular materials: stamped concrete and pavers.

Stamped concrete is an increasingly sought- after medium as it has the exclusive ability to mimic more high end materials while providing you with significant savings. With all the available combinations of textures, patterns, and colors stamped concrete can emulate the look of more expensive marble, slate, flagstone, brick, and even weathered lumber. This means that no matter the style you are searching for stamped concrete will certainly provide you with a pleasing surface that adds to the value of your property.
Additionally, concrete is impressively durable and comparatively easy to install. It is far less labor- intensive, and after mixing, pouring, and stamping you are left with a decorative feature that will surely increase your curb appeal. Moreover, concrete requires little to no maintenance after installation. This makes it an economical and environmentally- friendly way to up the “wow” factor of your home. Due to this customability, resiliency, and affordability stamped concrete is an exceptional option overall.

Similarly, pavers are often praised for their wide variety of finishes, colors, and shapes, though they also offer a more natural beauty. Pavers can be made from stones and minerals, or they can be manufactured from concrete or clay. They provide an abundant amount of design flexibility, as they can be laid in whichever pattern or style best suits your needs. Lighter colored pavers offer a cooler surface around patios and pool decks, while earth toned pavers easily harmonize with any landscape. The allure of pavers comes from this adaptability.

Besides their visual appeal, pavers offer a high level of functionality. One of the greatest benefits to choosing pavers is that they can be used immediately after installation. More than that, since pavers are installed as individual interlocking units with sand swept joints between them, pavers allow for drainage from rain and snow, and further provide a forgiving surface for expansion and contraction. This makes pavers an ideal, long- lasting material to use in locations that experience extreme climate changes like we have here in Minnesota.

Beautifying your outdoor space in an affordable and attractive way requires careful deliberation. When the time comes to pick a finished surface for your driveway, patio, or walkway, you will want a product that looks good and provides you with the greatest possible value. Stamped concrete and pavers are two such options that continue to be favored by homeowners precisely because of their aesthetics and reliability. Here at Custom Construction Services we specialize in providing custom concrete and hardscape designs using both stamped concrete and pavers. If you have a project like this in mind, please give us a call or fill out the estimate request page on our website, we would be happy to hear your ideas!

How to Choose a Concrete or Hardscape Contractor

April 1st, 2016

Congratulations! You have either just made the decision to make improvements to your property with the use of concrete or hardscapes, or you are at least thinking of doing so. Either way, you are surely making a wise decision. Concrete and hardscape projects are a fantastic way to add practical, enduring value to your home, and like any long-lasting decision, they deserve your careful consideration. Here at Custom Construction Services we understand that this can, at first, seem like a daunting task. In order to alleviate some of the stresses involved with making your decision we have created a list of helpful tips to keep in mind while choosing the contractor that best suits your needs.
1. Do your research-

When looking into contractor options it is important to pick a company that has a reliable, proven history. Ask potential contractors how long they have been in business, and if they do the work themselves or subcontract the work out. Over the years we have received a number of phone calls from home owners who hired another company, only to find that company never showed up to do their project, or else left before all the work was completed. Finding a contractor who has several years worth of experience shows you that they are reliable and can most likely be counted on to do your job properly.

Additionally, it is important to check that the contractor you choose has proper licensing and insurance. By verifying that a contractor is properly licensed, you know that they have met the Department of Labor’s requirements for proper filling and continuing education. Also ask potential contractors for proof of insurance regarding policies such as general liability, work comp, and auto coverage. Making sure that a contractor has sufficient insurance will safeguard you from any accidents that may arise while work takes place on your property.
2. Look at examples of their work-

The best way to get a feel for what type and quality of work a contractor does is to see it for yourself. Any reputable contractor will have numerous examples of what they can do. Look through photos on a contractor’s website. Ask for reference lists and speak to former customers. See if you can stop by past jobsites to look at how a contractor’s work holds up over time. Beyond that, most companies with a decent history will have reviews you can check online. At Custom Construction Services we keep reference lists of our customers, as well as photo galleries on our website, according to project type (i.e. concrete, retaining walls, or pavers), and we are happy to direct you to a specific location that has the details you are interested in such as a specific color, stamp pattern, etc. After looking at such examples you should be able to tell if a contractor can perform the work you are looking for, whether your project be large or small, detailed or more simple. You may even get a few new ideas for yourself.
3. Pay attention to the details-

In the concrete and hardscape industries there can be a great deal of variance in materials and prep work from one contractor the next. Make sure to compare the specific types of materials, base materials, and reinforcement used, along with time frames to complete the work being done. Find out if the contractor you are meeting with has any specifications written up to inform you of these details. Some will simply write the specs into their estimate, while other companies, such as Custom Construction Services, will include project specs in their estimates as well as provide home owners with a separate spec sheet. This spec sheet also includes an easy-to-understand diagram of exactly how your project is constructed. The reason this step is so important is because these details make a significant difference in both the immediate and long-term final results for your project, and we recommend being careful of making your decision based on price alone.
4. Trust your Instincts-

After you have done all your research, checked on references, and compared “apples to apples,” you may still find that more than one contractor fits your needs. This is when the decision making truly becomes difficult. Assuming these companies offer similar specifications, pricing, and time frames, how do you decide whom to trust?
At this point, it is usually a good idea to stop and think about the way you feel about each company. Are they easy to get in touch with, and do they respond to your calls or emails in a timely fashion? Are their representatives polite and professional? When going over the details of your project, did you feel that their sales rep was knowledgeable and confident? These are just a few questions that should help guide you. At Custom Construction Services we understand how important this is, and we want to assure potential customers that we are a solid, dependable company. To do this we offer diagrams that show how we build, process sheets that explain how our entire process moves from start to finish, and make customer satisfaction a top priority.
No matter which company you decide to go with we urge you to make a careful, considered decision. Concrete and hardscapes are built to last if done properly, and you will want to be satisfied that the contractor you hire is capable of doing so. While it may require a little more effort, taking the time to thoroughly review your options will be worth it in the long run. Simple things like checking reviews, looking through photo galleries, and comparing estimates can save you from a big headache down the road. Above all, don’t forget that the company you choose has to be one that you are comfortable with, as well as one that you are confident will provide you with a high quality finished product. We hope that this information will help guide you in your selection. If you have any questions of projects in mind, please give us a call!

Building Green with Concrete and Hardscapes

February 24th, 2015

A topic at the forefront of most peoples’ minds these days is the environment,  and more specifically, how we all can live a more “green” lifestyle to prolong the natural resources of our planet. Considering that people have created the greatest impact on the environment, it naturally becomes our responsibility to find ways in which we can curtail any of the negative effects we may leave behind. Custom Construction Services takes this responsibility seriously and continually makes efforts to play its part in the fight against unnecessary waste and pollution. We achieve this through a combination of the materials we use and the building practices we have set in place. In doing so, Custom Construction Services is not merely a high-quality concrete and hardscapes builder, but also a company with a conscience.

When thinking about the myriad ways a company can go green one of the first things that comes to mind is what materials it is using in the first place. Certainly some materials are better for the environment than others. In this respect concrete often receives an unfairly bad reputation. It is true that the production of concrete is energy-intensive and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and it may seem like building with less concrete would be an obvious benefit for the environment. However, concrete is one of the most commonly used construction materials in the world for good reason. We rely on it for everything from the streets we drive on to the schools and shopping centers we bring our families to. Simply put, it is one of the most resilient and long-lasting products we can use.

To aide in the reduction of our carbon footprint, Custom Construction Services uses concrete that contains a material called fly ash. Fly ash is a by-product from the manufacturing of coal into electricity. While this fact may initially send up a few red flags, keep in mind that as such, fly ash is actually a waste product that is being recycled into a cementitious material used in the fabrication of concrete. In fact, the concrete block we purchase for our retaining walls contains up to 23% of materials made from fly ash, and 85% of the concrete we have poured contained fly ash as well. This means that not only are we re-using an otherwise wasteful material, we are additionally reducing the amount of energy used because we are making less compared to conventional concrete.

Custom Construction Services takes it a step further and makes use of recycled, crushed concrete and gravel as a base for both our concrete and hardscapes projects.  This base material is what allows water to drain away from your project and consequently helps prevent heaving and cracking . Rather than using regular aggregate, we use a recycled material that is DOT certified to compact in the same way. In doing so we are again repurposing a wasteful product  into something useful.

Custom Construction Service’s adherence to the use of greener materials does not end with concrete itself. Another of the products we commonly use is called rubber expansion, which we place in the joints of the concrete we pour to hinder the formation of cracks. Not only does this material preserve the aesthetics of your project, it is made completely from recycled car tires and reclaimed rubber granules. Similarly, much of the retaining wall block we build with contains recycled glass. We also offer permeable paver options, which are designed to let water filter where it falls, reducing the effects of pollution and erosion by way of runoff.

Together with our use of more environmentally friendly products, Custom Construction Services strives to go above and beyond when it comes to efficiency. For each project we put on our schedule we take the time to coordinate  it with other jobs nearby. This way we are able to combine our resources, meaning that our employees can ride together,  and our materials can be moved with any trucking or dumping coordinated between job sites. Furthermore, many of the materials we use are sourced from local suppliers within a five hundred mile radius. Having such a system in place allows us to seriously cut back on the driving related to our projects. This reduction in emissions is just one more crucial way Custom Construction Services is able to help minimize our impact on the environment.

Even with respect to our office Custom Construction Services takes the time to think green. Our building itself is made from concrete, as are the floors throughout the shop and offices. Having a concrete structure means that we are taking advantage of concrete’s natural ability to help regulate temperatures and cut down on energy usage. We take the time to do simple things such as keeping lights off in areas that are not in use and turning down the heat or air conditioning overnight. We even go so far as reusing wood and scaffolding to build our shelving structures for shop materials. These are simple, conscious efforts that when added together make a real difference.

Taking care of the Earth is a responsibility we all must share and there is no reason why doing so needs to feel like a burden. As a firm believer in everybody playing their part, Custom Construction Services takes a multi-faceted approach to doing what it can to help preserve our environment. We believe in high-quality, dependable products, and we find ways to reuse and recycle materials while remaining true to the high standards of our customers. Thus, we help to preserve our environment from the detrimental effects of continual rebuilding. Additionally, we plan ahead in order to coordinate any trucking and drive time so that we can reduce fuel emissions. It is this alliance between better materials and better building practices enables us to make a true difference in the preservation of our environment. You can be sure that when you think Custom Construction Services, you’re thinking green.

A Little About us…

September 14th, 2012

You know that Custom Construction Services is a dynamic, imaginative company that builds customized concrete and hardscape features to make landscapes that are as beautiful as they are useful. However, what you may not know is how we got to where we are today.  It has taken a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication to quality to get to this point, and since you are kind enough to bring us into your lives, we thought that you might like to get to know us a little as well.

It all began with a small group of Minnesota natives who had spent much of their lives in the construction industry. Whether it was by working for our own family’s business or others in the area, we were able to acquire the skills and knowledge that have brought us to where we are today. When we came together we realized that with our combined experience we could get together and make our mark on the world. As time went by, we had realized that building with concrete and stone did not have to be a mundane, ordinary job. Instead, we decided to pair our passion for building with our collective creativity and set out to help people make their houses into the homes they had always imagined.

Thus, in 2006, Custom Construction Services was born. We set up shop in a spare bedroom and began canvassing for work. It only took a few optimistic homeowners willing to gamble on a group of hardworking, eager-to-prove-themselves construction workers before Custom Construction Services started to generate a reputation as a dedicated, quality- driven company. We soon realized that the key to success lay with a happy homeowner, and we made it a top priority to always listen to and work with a homeowner, thereby building relationships in addition to landscapes.

Before long Custom Construction Services grew to the point where it needed additional salesmen and enough laborers to crew multiple job sites. It accomplished this despite a lagging economy, and we believe there are a few reasons for this. Foremost, we understand that even though many people have cut back on unnecessary spending, home owners remain interested in what can provide them with tangible, long-lasting value. Along that line, our use of high quality materials and above-industry standard building practices enables us to continually provide that value to our homeowners.  We are a company made up of Minnesotans who know what to expect from our notoriously harsh weather and how to build accordingly. Furthermore, we consider it a testament to our drive and craftsmanship that we have been able to accomplish this.

Currently, Custom Construction Services remains a Minneapolis-based concrete and hardscape company, though we now do work throughout the twin cities area. It is our goal to continually grow and develop, to continually learn about new techniques and materials we can offer.  We are committed to constantly improving so that we can offer the highest level of quality and service to our home owners. We understand that there is a difference between a house and a home, and we strive to make every project one that our home owners can truly use and enjoy.

Custom Construction Services also works to help out our community, as we believe in the importance of giving back. There is no denying that we wouldn’t be the company we are today without the trust and confidence of those around us, and we like to do what we can to pay it forward. Through various charitable donations we support those who are less fortunate. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving money, and other times it’s as hands on as building a basketball court for a school or installing a sidewalk for a playground. Whatever the case, we feel that because we are in a position where we can help others it is our duty to do so, and we plan to continue our community involvement throughout our future.

Speaking of the future, Custom Construction Services is presently dreaming up new ways we can help our homeowners make better use of their properties. There are an innumerable amount of ways to build something as seemingly simple as a driveway or patio, and we like to keep several fresh ideas on hand at any given time. We pay attention to industry trends and re-think old ideas, always envisioning what we can do next. That way we can make certain that each and every future homeowner we come in to contact with is given the best chance at building a project that is truly unique.

We would like to thank all of our homeowners for believing in us and making this possible. We truly appreciate your business and feel that it is because of you that we are able to do what we love. Nothing makes us happier than hearing how delighted our homeowners are with their projects.  We take great pride in our work and sincerely hope that you will as well.

Customizing Your Construction Project

August 14th, 2012

At Custom Construction Services our main goal is to make our customers happy. We strive to bring our expertise to every project, to ensure that your patio or driveway is not just any patio or driveway, but the patio or driveway you imagined. One with the color and texture you had always envisioned. After all, we are Custom Construction Services for a reason. We like to guide our home owners through the myriad of materials and styles available for their project, and in that way each project can be truly suited to their needs. When we marry our knowledge with your dreams we build a living space that goes from “everyday” to “extraordinary.”

The construction process really begins with our initial consultation. This is where we meet with a home owner to get a sense of what it is they are looking to achieve. We take into account not only their needs but also their wishes. The goal here is to go further than simply asking what you want done and writing up an estimate. Anyone can do that. We listen to how you are planning to use the space we build for you. We look at the style of your home, the size of your yard, and see if you already have any stone or concrete work around that this new project will need to complement.

Once we have worked out the type of project you are looking into we can move forward with design options. We want you to picture the finished product and the feeling it will inspire. If you are looking for a patio, imagine sitting out on a cool summer evening, toasting marshmallows with your family over a fire pit. If you are looking into a driveway, imagine friends or family driving up a rustic cobblestone path as you welcome them back. What colors do you see? What type of finish? When you have a picture in mind of what your project will look like, we can show you what you will need to make it the perfect fit just for you.

There are several avenues we take when it comes to choosing materials and a design for your project. We bring in all sorts of photos, some of which can be seen here on our website. This will give you an idea of color and texture options to choose from. We will also bring in material boards and drawings, color samples, and even discuss places where you can see these materials first hand in order to get a real feel for them. We do this so that you are aware of all of your options and to maximize the customization of your project.

There are countless ways to make your project  one-of-a-kind. For instance, many of our customers looking into a concrete project do not realize that we can use various colors and sealers to transform a classic looking concrete into one specifically made to match their home. Some customers come to us hoping for a paver like finish but needing to be more practical with cost. In these situations we recommend a stamped concrete. With all of the stamp patterns to choose from we are sure you can find a way to get the look you are after.

Similarly, there are an infinite number of ways to customize your project through the use of different pavers and stones. Not only is there a whole slew of colors to choose from, but there are hundreds of sizes and finishes as well. We can even show you all manner of patterns from a time-honored herringbone to a more unexpected circle pattern. And let’s not forget the innumerable combinations these colors and patterns can be fit together to create your particular project.

Other notable options include water features and ponds, fire pits, and stone work. Just imagine how relaxing it would be to sit in your own back yard, listening to a bubbling fountain or the flow of a waterfall.  Maybe you are interested in incorporating some interestingly shaped stones into a modern yet natural looking statue. Or perhaps your family likes to camp out for mini “staycations, ” in which case a fire pit would be perfect for sitting around and roasting hot dogs. Each of these additions would not only make your home beautiful, but more importantly, they would make your home more usable for the way you live.

Just as every person is unique, so is every home. We want your home to represent you and your tastes, and we achieve that by customizing your project into a must-see feature of your home. Your ideas of a backyard oasis or a simple, clean-cut driveway no longer need to be a fantasy. With all of the various colors, textures, and shapes available the only limit to what we can do is your imagination. Let us use our background with your creativity and together we can build a one-of-a-kind space that is yours to enjoy for many years to come.

Why Wait to Have a Water Feature?

May 3rd, 2012


Often when people are asked to name their favorite places to vacation or visit their answers  revolve around one thing: water. Be it an ocean or lake, or even just a small pond, people love being near water, and with good reason.  While water is a naturally occurring resource that we depend upon, it is also one that people have come to appreciate for other purposes. Water is no longer simply a necessity to sustain life, but a way to enjoy it as well. One of the many ways people now enjoy water is through the use of water features.  Water features bestow a natural elegance to any property, allowing homeowners the chance to indulge in a space  that is as beautiful as it is relaxing. They become like a mini vacation, only at home.

A water feature can be anything from a small bubbling fountain to a water fall and even an entire ecosystem pond.  There are water features to fit nearly any budget, making them a wonderful way to enhance your home. The following are different types of water features to consider when looking for ways to make your home stand out from the rest:

Fountainscapes:  Fountainscapes are the perfect way to ease into the use of water features around your property, and standalone fountains are perhaps the simplest way to test out your interest. They are exactly what they sound like, easy to use and install fountains that can be found at any home goods supplier. They require little maintenance and usually nothing more than added water. If, however, you are looking for something a little more natural-looking, try out a container water garden.   Container water gardens, as their name suggests, are any water-proof container in which you can hold aquatic plants and/ or fish.  Planting such a garden gives homeowners a chance to see what goes into making a fountainscape while exposing them to new plant species and decorative concepts. Bubbling urns and spitters are two final fountainscapes to keep in mind. These are typically larger water features that sit atop a reservoir from which water continuously bubbles or spits up through an urn or fountain.

Ponds:  Ponds are another attractive choice when looking to upgrade your yard into a beautiful oasis. They are also surprisingly low-maintenance. Provided all the elements required to sustain an ecosystem are in place it will essentially take care of itself.  Necessary components include circulation and filtration systems, fish, aquatic plants, and rocks, gravel, and bacteria. The circulation system introduces oxygen into the water while causing the water to flow, thereby creating the calming sound of running water. The filtration system is actually two-part. There is the mechanical filter that most people are familiar with. It skims debris from the water and helps to keep the pond clear. In addition to the mechanical filter is what is called a biological filter. This type of filtration works by using the aforementioned gravel to create a surface on which beneficial bacteria can grow to remove excess nutrients from the water. This is also where the fish come into play. Rather than becoming the nuisance that they may seem, fish actually feed from the pond floor and on any string algae that grows.  Similar to the fish, aquatic plants thrive on the excess nutrients within the pond. Additionally, they provide another chance to customize your water feature. There are all sorts of aquatic plants to choose from, and how you arrange them in your pond will add your own unique touches to the color and lushness of your pond.

Waterfalls: A waterfall is an impressive water feature that many homeowners justifiably favor. They create a beautiful landscape, and with so many plants and rocks to choose from, they can be customized to fit your needs exactly. Waterfalls can even be made without a pond.  This is a particularly nice option for families with young children. Instead of the water falling into a pond it circulates down into a covered reservoir and back up to the top of the fall, much like a more expansive version of the bubbling urns mentioned above. With a pondless waterfall families can enjoy the natural wonder of a waterfall at home without any of the safety risks. Pondless waterfalls also tend to be less expensive, which is a plus for any family in today’s economy.  This flexibility is what makes waterfalls the perfect fit to any home.

There are a myriad of practical benefits to installing a water feature on your property. As everyone is aware, homes near the water are coveted properties and as such are in high demand. This means that they are worth more and hold a greater value. Instead of moving to a pricey new location, you can compromise and improve your own property value by installing a water feature. Water features are aesthetically pleasing and make for an attractive gathering place. They naturally draw people in, making them a spectacular background to host events for family and friends. You may even attract some local wildlife. Furthermore, the sound of water has long been used for its calming effect.  It has been proven to relax the body and mind, and even lower blood pressure.

Certainly with any of the above choices you could create a mini oasis, a place to get away from it all. That is the really enticing aspect of a water feature. It’s the knowledge that no matter how stressful life becomes you can always have a place of your very own to forget about it all for a while. Imagine coming home from a tough day at work. Instead of running around and taking care of chores, further straining your nerves, you could take a few minutes to go outside and relax. Meditate on the sound of a burbling  stream, letting it drown out the noise in your life, giving yourself a place to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, the wild flowers. Above all else, owning a water feature makes it possible to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

Frequently Asked Questions About Concrete

October 31st, 2011

What causes concrete to crack?

There are several causes for cracks in concrete. It is vulnerable and reacts to changes in temperature and moisture just as most materials do. They can also result from a poorly planned foundation, improper finishing, or even from not curing the concrete. It is almost inevitable that at some point cracks will form. The following are examples of a couple of the more common causes:

-Shrinkage Cracks: These aptly named cracks occur as the concrete dries. In order to make concrete pourable excess water is added that is later bled out. Thus the initial volume of the concrete is much larger than that of when it has dried. When cracks happen in recently poured concrete it is most often due to dry or windy climates. They cause the surface of the concrete to dry faster than the excess water can seep up to keep it moist, resulting in shrinkage of the concrete and therefore, cracks.

- Crazing Cracks: Crazing cracks are a series of fine cracks that form a pattern across the surface of the concrete. These cracks are similarly caused by a too quickly drying concrete surface. They can be prevented either through immediate curing or else by dampening the base prior to pouring the concrete, thereby reducing the amount of water it will absorb from the concrete and forcing it back up to the surface.

Is there any way to prevent cracks from forming?

Most cracks that form during the construction process can be minimized through finishing and proper curing. Another preventative measure is to use control joints. These joints work by creating weak points in the concrete. If placed correctly they will encourage cracks to form in the joint where we would like them rather than randomly across the concrete. Likewise, isolation joints, joints separating the concrete from a nearby object such as a drain, wall, etc., allow the concrete a space in which to expand or contract. This wiggle room reduces tension, and by default, more cracks.

What is the difference between concrete and cement?

Cement is an ingredient used to make concrete. The cement is what reacts to the water in the mix and becomes the glue of the cement, holding it together and making it strong.

Is there a way to reinforce concrete?

There are a couple of ways to do this. We use rebar for structural reinforcement as well as fiber mesh. The rebar we use is a ½” in diameter and is placed vertically and horizontally in 4 foot sections or smaller, creating a grid pattern. In this way the rebar acts as a sort of skeletal support for the concrete while the fiber mesh aids in preventing cracks from forming. Another option is to use wire mesh, but because fibers are much more lightweight they tend to stay in position better. Fiber mesh also tends to be less expensive, as it requires far less labor to install. By using both the rebar and the fiber mesh we build an effective support system to reinforce your concrete project.

How does the weather affect when concrete can be poured?

Concrete can be poured throughout the year as long as certain measures are taken to compensate for temperature and moisture. Mild, humid days are optimal to prevent the concrete from drying out too quickly and cracking. As the weather gets hotter or drier, pouring concrete becomes more difficult because the moisture necessary for it to harden evaporates too quickly. Alternatively, as the weather gets cooler the concrete will take longer than usual to dry. We can use admixers such as water reducers or accelerators to combat these potential issues. The only time we cannot pour concrete is, of course, when it is raining or freezing.

How do I know how much concrete to use?

The first step is to precisely measure the space we will be pouring in. Once we have these measurements we multiply the length by the width and divide by 81. The resulting number is the amount of concrete we will need to order in cubic yards (the standard measurement by which contractors order concrete).

How do I know what kind of concrete to use?

Concrete is categorized by its strength in pounds per square inch, or PSI. This number means that concrete at a certain PSI is tested to withstand the pressure from a certain amount of weight without crushing. For example, most contractors use between 3000 PSI and 5000 PSI for residential applications such as driveways and garage floors. This means that once such concrete is ready for use it will be able to hold firm underneath more than 3000 to 5000 pounds. We most commonly use 5000 PSI concrete to make sure our projects are built to last.

How long do I have to wait to drive on new concrete?

To allow the concrete ample time to strengthen and harden, we recommend waiting between 10 and 14 days to use concrete driveways or garage floors. 

Can I pour concrete myself?

Of course you can. Just remember that the bigger the project, the more difficulties may arise. Concrete can be finicky to work with, and factors such as heat, humidity, wind, and grade all must be taken into account when you pour. You also need to make sure to use just enough water or else you may face issues down the road. Pouring and finishing concrete is hard work, and often the convenience of hiring a contractor outweighs the enticement of a challenge for most home owners.

Is it ok to use chemical de-icers on my concrete driveway during the winter?

No, we do not recommend ever using such a product on concrete. It can chemically attack and weaken the surface of your driveway, with recently poured concrete being the most susceptible. If absolutely necessary we suggest using a magnesium or potassium based de-icer. They are less damaging to the concrete, though they are still not a great idea. Instead, we recommend home owners keep up with shoveling away any snow, and if need be, using sand to give their vehicles better traction. 

Is there a way to make concrete look more appealing?

Concrete does not need to be a plain, gray slab. There are many options for upgrading your concrete to design a more pleasing look. We can add color directly into the concrete mix or else add a layer over the surface of the concrete to create a more attractive space. In addition to color, we can stamp the concrete to look like brick or stone. Stamped concrete is not only more aesthetically pleasing, but it also helps to disguise any future flaws from being quite as noticeable.

How to Build a Retaining Wall

October 19th, 2011

                Whether you would like to create a flat surface out of a sloped yard or create a raised garden to grow your favorite plants or vegetables, building a retaining wall is as smart as it is useful. There are varying options when it comes to what material or style you would like to achieve, but in this post we will focus on the basics to give you a better understanding of what our process involves. Though the thought of enhancing your yard with such a project may seem daunting, please don’t let that deter you.  Instead, remember that a sturdy landscape retaining wall will completely transform your landscape, turning it into a space that can finally be used to its fullest potential.

                To begin, we create a solid foundation for your retaining wall. We start by digging out a trench that is fourteen inches deep and between eighteen and twenty-four inches wide. This will allow us enough room to both create a strong base and bury the first course of blocks for your wall. We do this because a solid support system is necessary to keep your wall standing upright over time. After the trench is dug we fill the bottom with eight inches of class five gravel and compact it down. We use this material because it is easily compacted and helps to drain water away from your base. The gravel also aids in leveling out the ground beneath your wall and lends itself to supporting a more solid structure.

                After we lay down the first course of blocks we check again that the base of the wall is level. This step is imperative as we need a level base in order to build a level wall. Once we know the first course is level we begin to stagger the landscape blocks and build upwards. We cut one of the blocks in half, and place one half at each end of the wall. We do this for every other course, and this way the joints between the blocks of each course will naturally be staggered from the courses above and below. However, we do not simply build up your wall vertically. The soil behind a retaining wall exerts a great amount of pressure and to counteract this force we step the blocks back towards the soil with each course. The blocks we use have a special feature, a lip at the back of the block which catches against the block below it. In this way we use the pressure from the soil behind the wall to our advantage, as it will now push against the lip of one block and hold it in place against the block below. To finish the blocks we glue down a final course of cap stones, forming a small lip and creating an aesthetically pleasing wall.

                Next, we fill the remaining cavity behind the retaining wall with some of the previously dug up native soil and tamp it down. We then put down a layer of washed rock extending twelve inches behind the wall. Unlike soil, the washed rock will not retain any moisture, meaning that it will not expand and push against your wall in the future. It will further serve to drain any moisture down towards our final critical feature, the drain tile. The drain tile is a perforated tube that runs along one of the lower courses and is sloped down and away from your retaining wall. Once the drain tile is in place we cover it with another twelve inch wide expanse of rock, all the way up to a six-inch gap to the top. The rock is topped off with more of the native soil, thereby giving you the choice to plant or sod over the top of your retaining wall.

                We know that water means movement, and if it is not directed away from your wall, that water will push its way through; along with any soil it can pick up on the way. If left without a place to go water will move the ground around your retaining wall, and over time, even the wall itself. The drain tile will discourage this, and in order to prevent the drain tile from clogging with dirt or debris we cover it with what we call a “sock,” essentially a mesh-like fabric that allows water to seep through but prevents the soil from following. This entire process functions to channel any moisture out of the soil and down to the drain tile, where it is whisked away from your retaining wall.

                Keep in mind that these steps are really just a guideline for what is involved with building a landscape block retaining wall. Before any of the actual construction can take place we make note of several key elements that will determine the scope of work involved with your project. Factors such as slope, size, and soil content are all major influences on your project, not to mention any city or state building requirements.  Rest assured that our experience gives us the skill necessary to provide you with such solutions when constructing your retaining wall. Whether this means incorporating geosynthetic fabric or soil correction techniques, we will make sure to build you a sound, safe retaining wall. In fact, we go above and beyond industry standards to do so, because making our customers happy is what makes us happy.

Proper Paver Patio Placement

September 30th, 2011

Like any construction project, building a paver patio requires careful consideration and attention to detail to ensure a high quality finished product. We understand that as a home owner you intend to enjoy your patio for many years to come, and because of this it is important that you protect your investment from the elements, namely water and erosion. To do this, we proceed with the following steps to assure you of a patio that is both attractive and durable.

Step 1: Remove soil from project area- This is done to create a strong, solid base. The base is dug out to slope away from your home or any nearby structures as a safeguard against any potential water seepage. Regular soil will retain moisture, and with the temperature variance we have here in Minnesota that soil will expand and contract, leading to unsightly shifts in your patio.

Step 2: Place down geotextile fabric- This is a synthetic material created to filter out any moisture that seeps through the base of your patio while holding it intact. By using a geotextile fabric we can help prevent erosion and reinforce and strengthen your patio.

Step 3: Lay down your base- Creating a sound foundation is the most important step in building a patio. It will help to stave off any movement and keep your patio in place. We start by laying down 8” of class 5 gravel. We then mist the gravel, making it just wet enough to compact it down into a sturdy, stable surface. We do this every 4” to ensure that your base is as strong as it can be.

Step 4: Lay down your sand- On top of the gravel we lay down an inch of coarse sand. The sand will create a level surface on which to place the pavers. It also helps to hold the pavers in place while allowing for any adjustments that need to be made in height or fit.

Step 5: Lay down your patio- We arrange the pavers into your chosen pattern, making sure to check that they are level along the way. If not, we can easily adjust them by either tapping them down or lifting them with extra sand. The pavers are then surrounded with a high grade vinyl edging. The edging is pinned into the ground, holding them in place. We next compact the pavers as well, thereby eliminating any of the “highs and lows” in your patio surface.

Step 6: Fill in your paver joints- At this point the joints between the pavers are filled with polymeric sand and misted. Polymeric sand is an especially important material in your patio, as it contains polymers that harden in place once misted. This not only helps strengthen the joints between pavers, but also discourages wash away and prevents weeds and insects from burrowing through your pavers. This, in turn, helps your patio to stay intact longer.

Taking the time and effort to install a paver patio correctly will save you from future costs and callbacks. There is nothing more frustrating than finding out your dream project has turned into a nightmare, possibly causing damage to your home. That is why we take the utmost in care to build you a strong, long-lasting patio. When we use these steps, along with superior quality materials, the result is a paver patio any home owner would be proud of.