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Natural stone steps and walkways are both functional and beautiful. They can be added to accentuate existing landscape or to create a whole new look for your clients. Natural materials blend well with most landscaping schemes, offer a stylish alternative to pavers, delight customers, and enhance property values. The non-uniformity of natural stone provides challenges for both designers and installers. Outlined below are some key planning and estimating considerations to keep in mind as you approach your walkway or step project. o Pricing a patio, walkway, or stone steps can be difficult if you have not had prior experience in doing so. There is always a learning curve when you start something new. If you are going to install your first job using these materials, try to find a customer who is willing to work with your time schedule and understands that the job may take a little longer. Talk to other contractors in your area; most people will be willing to give you advice as long as they know you are willing to stand behind your work and do the job correctly. o Be familiar with the specific material you will be using on the job. Understand what material your customer wants and be familiar with it. You must know the material in order to be able to properly estimate the job. Natural stone is extremely variable. Always order at least 10% more material than the square footage required to account for waste or material not being suitable for use in the job. Less variability can be found in products such as flagstone or cut walls like Oakfield or Chilton. These types of products are easy to work with because they are fairly uniform, but still give you a natural look. Stone treads can be bought in similar uniformity. Always check prices, availability and shipping costs for your material prior to bidding the job. o Assess your drainage needs. Prior to starting your job, check to see if you need to provide for any type of drainage under your patio, walkway or steps. Planning ahead in this area will save you considerable time compared to discovering that you need to provide drainage after the job is completed. Make sure you install your drainage tiles deep enough so that they are not in your way when you are excavating for the stones. Backfill your trenches with pea gravel or sand because they have a 0 compaction ratio and minimize your base settling. o Assess adjacent irrigation and lighting needs. Prior to starting your job you should also plan for any irrigation or landscape lighting work. We recommend placing a couple of 1-inch sleeves or another piece of drain tile underneath your patio walkway or steps and extending them into the landscaping area for planned or future use. o Assess your grade for steps - Calculate the rise & run in order to determine the number of required steps. The rise is the total height from the bottom of lowest step to the top of the highest step. The run is how long each step is times the number of steps needed. For example: Your rise is 10 feet and your run is 20 feet and you have treads that are 8 inches in height and 2 feet deep. You will take 8 inches divided by 12 inches which equals .666 and then take your rise of 10 feet and divide it by .666 which equals 15.02. This means you will need 15 treads. You need to see how much of the tread you will need to use and how much of an overlap you will have for each tread. You know you need 15 treads and that they are 2 feet in depth, so the max run you could have is 30 feet (15 x 2 = 30). We only need 20 feet of run so take 20 feet divided by 15 which equals 1.33' convert that to inches by multiplying it by 12 equals 15.99. Round up to 16 inches. So this means that you will need 16 inches showing for each tread and 8 inches will be overlapped on each tread. oDetermine type of equipment needed and site accessibility. Determining equipment accessibility is essential to accurately estimating your job costs. Some treads can weigh in excess of 300 pounds; moving these by hand is nearly impossible and very dangerous. Bobcat access is extremely desirable. A backhoe with straps can be used as an alternative if bobcat access is not possible. Smaller treads and rocks can be moved by hand, but be sure to calculate the additional labor and time required to do this and include it in your estimate. Steps installation process o Receive and review materials. Once your materials have arrived, check the thickness of each tread and the length of usable stepping area. Plug those numbers into your rise & run calculations in order to determine how many treads will be needed. If you are hand picking your materials, these numbers are needed first. Most job sites allow you the flexibility to make minor changes in your rise & run to fit the actual stone treads. If you are going to change the direction of your steps, make sure you have a larger tread for the turn. A larger tread will allow enough room for the change and give the job a much better appearance. o Make sure you have soil and larger plant material inside adjacent beds if they will not be easily accessible after the steps are in. o Establish your starting point and dig out a place for your first tread. The placement area should typically be 4 to 6 inches longer, wider and deeper than the actual tread to allow for compacted base material. You need to have a firm base in order to prevent soft spots where treads could float. If you're working with soil that is soft or mushy, make sure you keep digging this area out and then backfill to a proper depth with gravel. o Create your base so that it's slightly higher in the area where the back of the step will be to allow for better drainage. It does not need to be very much of a grade change, just enough so the water does not sit on your base material and soften it up. o Place 4 to 6 inches of chips and dust compacted material in the base area. Use a compactor or hand tamp to install. Compacting should be done every 2 inches (2 inch lifts) if using a hand tamper. If you are using a compactor 4-to 6-inch lifts are good -- if stone treads are relatively flat and even. If necessary you can level the base out with sand. o Place the stone tread on the prepared area using your bobcat, backhoe or by hand. When the rock is in place, check to ensure its level and adjust as necessary. o Install the second tread using the same prepping process as outlined above. Once the area is prepped, determine the amount of overhang desired. Overhang can vary but should be a minimum of 1 to 2 inches. Adjusting the amount of overhang on steps determines the amount of run on your stairway. Continue this process with the remaining treads until you reach the top of the steps. o Depending on steepness & size of material used, sometimes a bobcat can only reach a few steps to place the treads. If this is the case, you may be able to strap them in from the top using a backhoe or a backhoe attachment for a bobcat. o After you've completed the stairway, backfill around the sides of steps to tie into the original grade as desired. Install landscaping, sod or seed as desired. Walkway and patio installation process o Determine what type of material you will be using for your patio or walkway. Remember, the material used for walkways and patios must be as flat as possible so that you will have a fairly level surface for people to walk or relax on. o Determine your base - There are two different ways to install stone walkways and patios. One is to use a compacted material for your base and the other is to pour a concrete base. Preparing a concrete base is much more expensive and time consuming, and is usually reserved for patios so that the stones will have a lesser chance of moving or settling. We have had excellent success with compacted base projects and rarely use concrete because it is more costly, time consuming, and requires the use of another contractor to install the slab. o Prepping the area for a walkway or patio is similar to prepping for concrete pavers. Dig out an area 1 foot larger than desired (add 6 inches to all sides). This extra area ensures that the edge of the walk or patio has plenty of base on all sides, the base will not wash out from under the stone, and the edge stones will not roll. Installation on a compacted base: o When using a compacted base you should dig out for at least 4 inches of compacted material, depending on your subsoil. If the subsoil is loose you may need to dig out more. Add your base material and compact. Make sure your base has a good grade so that the water will run where it needs to and that there are no low spots for water to puddle. Use a laser level or transit to check for grade. Installing leveling pins will make maintaining a proper grade easier. After you have compacted your base, check to ensure that there are no soft areas (areas that feel like you're walking on a sponge). If you encounter soft areas you must dig them out, install new base material and re-compact in order to prevent your stones from shifting in the future. o When laying stone on compacted material you need to establish a leveling base using sandy 9s or concrete sand. Your leveling base should not be more than 1 inch in depth. The best way to get an accurate level is to place one-inch diameter leveling rods on top of your compacted material. The rods can be different length depending on the surface area you are working. Lay them down approximately 2 to 5 feet apart and put the sand down so that the rods are covered. Use a level on your rods so that you can make any grade changes if necessary. Take a straight 2x4, lay it on top of the rods and pull the excess sand towards you. Now, addressing smaller, workable portions of your work area at a time - pull out the rods, put sand into the grooves that are left and level out by hand or a small trowel or board. This process will create a nice level surface on which to place your stones. Large patios should have 6 inches of base material with a filter fabric installed under it. The filter fabric will help keep the soil separate from your base, extending the base's life and preventing settling problems. o Placing stones is very much like putting a large puzzle together. Having ordered an excess of material gives you lots of different shapes to choose from. Do not be afraid to try different pieces for the best look, you will have gaps (1/2" to an 11/2") between stones. These gaps may appear strange to you at first but will add character to the finished project. You may need to use a hammer and chisel to break the stones into smaller pieces or different shapes. o When you come close to the end of your level sand base, move your leveling rods, put more sand down and continue the same process as outlined above until you have completed placing all your stones. o After all of your walkway or patio stones are in place, fill in the entire crack with sand or soil. Backfill the sides of the stone area with soil and sod. If you are concerned that the soil will not prevent the edge stones from moving you can make a concrete edge to hold them in place. When creating a concrete edge, be sure to add rebar next to the edge, and install rebar stakes to tie it all together and ensure it doesn't move. We hope this article has provided you helpful tips and techniques related to working with natural stone hardscaping projects. Please feel free to contact us through our web site at www.EssentialLandscaping.com if you have questions related to the processes outlined here. Essential Lawn & Landscaping began in 1989, offering minor landscaping services with an emphasis on lawn and landscape maintenance. It has grown tremendously in the past few years, expanding services to include full landscape design and installation, residential and commercial irrigation installation and service, paver drives walks and patios, hardscaping, water features such as ponds waterfalls and creeks, landscape lighting, and custom spas that combine hardscaping, water features, landscaping, and a lot of imagination. Essential strives to provide exceptional service and unique designs for its customers.

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October 23, 2019, 10:09 pm PDT

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