The pre construction phase of any project is an incredibly important step in terms of getting the right information to begin the design process. Besides knowing what the client wants and being able to offer your suggestions for design, we also need to consider the functionality of a space. There are four crucial aspects of any site that we need to consider during that initial meeting to begin the next step in the sales cycle.
Pre Construction Process: Steps
Before we start a project, we have several variables that we need to consider in order to propose a design that will meet the functional needs and aesthetic appeal for our clients. No matter the size or scale of a project, these variables always need to be considered and they are what dictates not only the elements that a design will include, but also the pricing of that project. Prior to the meeting, we have several steps that we follow to ensure we are meeting clients that suite our business model. The steps do not end there, and we follow a system to ensure that we are checking everything we need to during our initial consultation.
Beyond our discussion with the client about what they want with their outdoor space, what products they have looked at, and what features they would want included, we make sure that we get information from the site to ensure that we can design a space that will meet their needs while also being functional for years into the future. Having these steps written out for every consultation, we can make sure that it is a system we are following so nothing is ever missed. Leaving these up to memory can become easily lost or when we pass off our sales process to a new hire, things will always be missed if they are not written down.
What to Look for in the Pre Construction Meeting
There are four key factors that we look for when first meeting with our client. Prior to this, we put a lot of effort into prequalifying our prospective clients to ensure our time and theirs is not wasted during this meeting. If we commit to the meeting, we are already committing a significant amount of our time to the meeting and preparing a quote. So we want to make sure that we are using that time towards the right potential clients.
Slope decides whether we can build a patio on the existing grade after the base has been prepared or if we need to build a raised patio or even a retaining wall to be able to flatten an area to provide us with the ability to build a patio. We measure the slope starting from the foundation to the end of the patio or project to decide on our plan. We build our patios at ⅛” per foot to ¼” per foot slope so if the slope of the existing grade is more than this, we may need to consider alternatives beyond building up the portion of the yard where the patio will end or lowering the existing grade at the foundation. Both of these solutions can only be made slightly as lowering the existing grade at the foundation will eventually expose the waterproofing membrane or building up a slope to the patio to meet the pavers will cause future problems with the base eroding.
See this job site for example, we could not build a patio on this existing grade because of that slope coming from the fence line. In order to build a patio in this backyard, we needed to construct a retaining wall to eliminate that slope, flattening the area, and allowing us to build a patio with a minimal slope to the back of the yard where water can be collected in the swale.
That brings us to the next aspect that we need to consider. Drainage is incredibly important to any project. We need to have a plan for what to do and where to direct water in any project. Water will cause all sorts of issues on backyard projects. We want to ensure that water is not building up near any foundation and that we are not flooding neighboring yards.
Beyond the basic slope of a minimum of ⅛” per foot for patios away from the foundation, what we do is evaluate where that water needs to be taken to. We want to direct that water to the lowest points in that property which is typically a swale between two properties or at the back of the yard.
Additionally, you need to be able to find where water comes down from structures including the house through downspouts and decide what you will be doing with that water. This can sometimes mean running water through a french drain towards a swale or the lowest point.
Access is incredibly important when quoting a project. In our business, we run into a lot of tight access situations. This means that we are not going to be able to get our equipment into a backyard, so we likely opt for paver base panels in order to reduce the amount of excavation and base preparation needed. We always take a measurement between houses and at gates to ensure we can get the right piece of equipment necessary for that project and price that accordingly. In some cases, you can remove a portion of the fence if you are able to access a project from an alternative route, but this would also need to be priced into the project.
Obstructions are a major part of managing a client’s expectations during the design process. For example, trees can present a major problem during and after a construction process because of their root systems. Knowing where these trees are in proximity to where you will be building and what their likely root systems would extend to will help you explain to your client that you may run into roots during the excavation phase and explain to them your process if this does happen. Additionally, beyond the construction phase you would need to explain to them that there is a possibility of these roots growing further and heaving portions of a project. Letting your clients know this information will help them understand the possibilities further as opposed to getting a phone call later on from a surprised client.
Underground structures and utilities are another component that needs to be considered. You should always call public utility locates prior to excavation, though private utilities are not included in these locates. During the initial consultation you can discuss any private utilities that you would need to be aware of. You can also see whether or not there would be any problems with visible utilities such as gas meters around where you would be excavating. Though the majority of useful information when excavating will come after the public utilities have been located.
These four aspects are all taken into consideration when first meeting with a client and discussing a project. Knowing these four variables and explaining the solutions that you have in mind for a client will help position yourself as an expert when speaking to them. There are further aspects of a project that you will need to consider in order to develop a quote such as the product and installation method you will be using. Additionally, knowing things like the subsoil type will also help in establishing a plan of excavation and base preparation for a project. Though these first four are specifically for the site analysis portion of a project that you are preparing to quote for.