View Full Version : Desperate Times = Desperate Measures - New Construction = settlement

DVS Hardscaper
03-23-2009, 09:56 PM

Brand new homes. And I mean BRAND NEW. As in people either JUST moved in or haven't moved in yet.

I'm getting calls for pricing patios. I get all excited about the possibility of making a new relationship with a new, valued client. Then through the course of initial conversation I ifind out it's a brand new home. And....through the course of conversation I find out that they've already received 3 to 4 other quotes.

This is when I politely say "ok, you have a new home, we usually recommend that you wait AT LEAST 12 months to allow for settlement, has any of these contractors you've met with addressed the potential of settlement to you?"

3 times out of five, this is when the home owner says "I was wondering about that......"

And I then go on to explain the excavation process that took place during the excavation of their foundation, and I then go on to explain that the backfill is not compacted because the new, uncured walls can blow out.

Look guys, I realize we're in tough times. But for pete's sake, get your heads out of your cula. It costs a lotta production hrs to have to come back and rebuild a set of block steps that settled with the over-dig. TRUST ME.....we learned this first hand. Not to mention, you usually need to buy new block and caps, as they break when you try to seperate them.

We serve Frederick County, Washington Co, Montgomery Co, MD, parts of WV, and parts of Northern VA. I know for a fact that some local hardscape contractors lurk and or participate here. And I'm talking to you guys. If you're pricing a patio for a new home - you BETTER BE HONEST AND UPFRONT with the home owner. Because if they call me for an estimate, I WILL use my 13 years of hardscape experience (not 13 years of mowing experience cleverly worded) and explain to them how settlement takes place.

In the past I used to get calls from new home owners asking if they should wait. And they would explain to me that other contractors they contacted have advised them to wait. Well, with local contracors hurtin - I seeing no evidence that anyone (other than myself) is being forthright about settlement concerns.

I was at the local home builders show this past weekend. And there was a middle aged couple with a new home under construction. They are DETERMINED to have a patio constructed as soon as their house is complete. They told me it WILL need steps. Therefore, I know it's not a walkout basement. The lady told me they have 5 contractors scheduled to meet with them. And I KNOW that NOT one of them addressed the settlement potential. Unbelievable. And it makes my blood boil.

If a home owner insists on building that patio for a new home you MUST excavate the overdig all the way down to the FOOTER. This takes time. And it costs money. But if done correctly - settlement will be a non-issue.

Now, if it's a walk out basement - different story. To my knowledge we have never had any settment issues with a patio constructed at a new home with a walk out basement. New home? Walk out basement? We'll build that patio in a heartbeat, and we'll guarantee it.

My favorite line?? "Well the contractor we met twith last night said they will run one of those tampers that jumps up and down over the ground."
LOL - They're gonna compact 8-10 feet of fill with a jumping jack tamper??? It's not the top of the ground that settles....the ground settles from the bottom up.

Honesty can go a long way.

03-23-2009, 11:14 PM
not 13 years of mowing experience cleverly worded...busted me again.

technically speaking settling takes place over 7 years or so does it not.....where do we draw a line.

DVS Hardscaper
03-23-2009, 11:28 PM
Thats so correct koo.

I've mentioned this in the past. My home will be 6 yrs old this May. I methodically did the backfilling. The first year - had about 4-inches of settlement.

Ok, now lets fast forward 5 years - I have noticed about 3 inches of additional settlement that occurred......LAST YEAR.

7 years sounds right. Can't argue that!

But a BRAND new home???

And for the record, no, I won't turn down a brand new home. But I will do all I can to educate the home owner and if they insist we move forward without excavating the overdig - I will address this in the proposal, as well as offer no warranty.

03-24-2009, 12:42 PM
Dude I can compact 8-10 feet with a hand tamper......can't everyone??

On a serious note, great advice. Had one myself recently, people had a huge addition put on their home, decided now they'd like a patio instead of a low deck, got there, saw the construction grading in the backyard and went into the settlement speil, husband thanked me for taking the time to explain, also cautioned him to not be sweet talked into a "great price" now by another contractor(we have somebody lurking around giving out the most ridiculous prices and design suggestions), 50/50 chance that guy giving the great price is A- uninsured B- not adequately expierienced or knowledgeable to know any better or C- won't be around next year or in the fall when the patio resembles a wading pool. They asked for a ballpark figure, I gave it, and told them it willl be about 50% more expensive now assuming lots of excavating and stone to fill properly.

They decided to wait, we got the final grading, soil and seed work, also since they are serious outdoor entertainers and the idea of no outdoor living space killed them we agreed to put in a temporary pea gravel pad in the area where the patio will go, it's cheap and gives them a "space" until they(hopefully we) can build in better conditions.

Grass Happens
03-24-2009, 02:28 PM
I always wondered about the settlement issue... In all the literature and manufacture seminars I've gone too, nothing has ever been said. I asked once, and was given a very non-committal answer that basically said to get as much work as you can, and use our stuff...

DVS Hardscaper
03-24-2009, 08:06 PM
Settlement is kinda an unspoken issue.

But not with me. I have had people call me for an estimate. They say "I called you 18 months ago and you told me to wait. Before I called you I got 3 other quotes and none of them made mention of settlement, so we want you to come meet with us and we want you to do the work."

I had a guy call me about a month ago. In the beginning of the phone conversation he was a jerk on the phone. See, he initially sent me an e-mail wanting a quote, so I called him and got his answering machine. I left a message and he never called back. A week later he calls and says "Ii already got one estimate and they came out the next day".

Through the course of conversation I discovered his house is brand new!

So, I said "you have a new home, you otta wait 1-2 years before you do anything".

Holy cow, did his attitude change!!! He started talking very nicely to me and treated me like he and I were brothers! I explained settlement and he listened and he understood.

I then went on to say "many patio guys are really hurtin, they'll do anything for a sale, including build your patio without a mention that it could settle".

He thanked me and assurred me that he'll be calling us at next year. I call this "job security". See, I made a future sale and didn't even leave my office.

My fella local guys - if you spend 4 hrs on a design, 1.5 hrs costing out the job, and 1 hr drafting a proposal for a new home and didn't not discuss settlement with the home owner - you better hope they didn't call me for an quote, as that 6.5 hrs you invested will go down the drain. Not ony that, but the home owner will resent you for spending an hour with them and not being forthright. Resentment is not a facit of public relations....


03-24-2009, 08:25 PM
DVS come on. You expect someone to live in a house for a year with no patio? Just go into the back yard with a pc150. Hog out the dirt in the over dig area, throw down some clean stone. Hit it with the jumping jack, and by lunch time you are ready to go.

I would do this on almost any house constructed in the last 5 years. What does it add to the job? 1 or 2k? Big deal.

And if you have some design skill and pull the patio away from the house some, you should have a very small over dig area.

Wait a year? For reallllll?

03-24-2009, 08:34 PM
I dont know what kinds of calls you guys are getting but most of what we are seeing these days is small simple stuff. 20x20(ish) tack 2k on that and it's not a small deal, few tandems of stone and some machine time, nevermind trucking off the spoils and I can get to 2k real quick and well beyond, 20x20 6/7/8(who knows really) ft deep gonna take a bunch of stone.......

03-24-2009, 08:38 PM
FF in most cases you are not digging the entire patio area 6/7/8 feet deep. Mostly just 3-4 feet out from the foundation.

Its good when the client takes a ton of progress pictures of their house and you can exactly see the overdig.

03-24-2009, 08:44 PM
I would agree with DVS that our 'community' kinda looks the other way on this. I remember talking to one of the big guys in town years ago and he was talking about it so I figured if I did get something like this to just over dig and compact. Unfortunately for me haven't had the opportunity to worry about this.

DVS Hardscaper
03-24-2009, 08:54 PM
When we do excavate the foundation's fill material, the additional expense is usually in the neighborhood of $1500.00. And yes, we go down to the footing, we don't do just a few feet. Like FFGUY said - if its a small job (which many of them are now-a-days) - that'll turn the sale cold real quick. BUT, sold or not sold - it's our responsibility as community minded professionals to be honest with the home owner.

03-24-2009, 09:02 PM
DVS often I find it a huge selling point telling them you will dig down to the footing advoid future proablems.

03-24-2009, 10:21 PM
You made a great point about the overdig settling. Nobody addresses it around here. Every body is in biz for a year or two then its a different name it seems like.

I use the fact that we address this concern as a seling point. Nobody else does and they just want a quick job. Explaining to the cust and showing pictures of the actual problem will make them open their eyes and pay you more to avoid the problems.

There are ways around it like bumping the patio out further, which I think looks better anyways but you always have to have the steps coming from the door. At least then it is a smaller area to excavate and compact.

Sad thing is most contractors in my area dont even use a jumping jack for the sub soil of apatio or wall, they just run a vibratory compactor over it and think it good to go. Dumb sh*%s! I just wrote an article on thi sin my blog the other day. Thanks for bringing this point up here

03-24-2009, 10:30 PM
Well said allhardscaping. I have 3 different compactors and they are always used on EVERY JOB!

DVS I would not tell people you can't build something till after 1 or two years. You should say "Yes we can build a patio for your new house, but we will need to take these precautions that other companies wont take. So expect our price to be a few k higher." Say that but with no spelling errors and good grammer.

03-24-2009, 10:31 PM
I'm just impressed that builders in yall area backfill! what a concept.

03-24-2009, 10:55 PM
Wait a year? Come on, It takes at least 7 years according to the enigineers (some of them have told me it never settles completely, ever!) I have talked too. So waiting one year doesn't mean jack. We explain up front the overdig of the foundation to the client. For steps we overdig 1' wider on each side and 4' out from the foundation and 5.5' down. Backfill with either modified compacted or what we have been doing lately is flowable fill (much faster and effecient). No problems with any settlement and we also have a 7 year warranty. Just get rid of the junk soil and you will be ok. We do this on every job no matter how many years the house has been there. We won't even do the installation if they don't want to pay for the extra work, it's in our bids, period.