View Full Version : Site Analysis

06-14-2009, 07:07 PM
Hey I was curious for a site that cant obtain a Site plat how do you go about drawing the site anaylsis, whats included? Do you have canopy sizes, all dimensions of beds, hardscapes, house, etc? Do you try and fit everything on one piece of graph paper? Thanks!

06-14-2009, 11:00 PM
You should be able to get get a hold of a subdivision plan that is recorded in the county that the property is in. It will probably only have the lot lines and nothing else, but that is a place to start. Sometimes you can get (or see on line) a copy of the deed which sometimes has bearings and distances in order to draft out the property lines.

Hopefully,you can find a corner marker (concrete bound, iron pipe, or capped rebar) which can help you figure out where on the property you are.

Whenever you start from scratch, it is usually best to measure the house and then locate everything else by measuing it in relation to the house since that is most likely where the most accuracy matters (unless you are doing things right up against a lot line). I do this a lot (yesterday morning as a matter of fact).

There are two basic systems I use for measuring in order to draft accurately. One is kind of a grid or coordinate system by measuring how far something is from the face of the wall of the building and how far it is in or out from the end of the building. Another way is to use swing ties which is the measurement from two or more corners of the building to the object that you are locating. Swing ties can be more accurate, but only if you measure the building correctly.

The coordinate system relies on you measuring perpemdicularly which can be difficult. You simply measure out x' and over y'. Then you can draft it the same way (counting grid lines if you use graph paper).

When you use swing ties, you need to label the corners of your bulding on a sketch with letters or numbers (I use letters on the building corners and number the objects that I'm measuring to). I usually do this by sketching separate sheets of graph paper for each building face. I try to use a lser to measure as much as possible ($100 at Home Depot) to save climbing around with a tape. I draw a little circle with a number in it roughly where it seems to be on the plan. I stand at the object and shine the laser on the the corners of the building an d read the measurements. Off to the side, I keep a list (ie, 1. 10" oak, A=19.2', B=17.3'). When you go to draft, you draw circles with those radii and the object is where the circles intersect (using cad) or you use a compass if you draw by hand. Coordinates make more sense, if you draw by hand.

I do use several sheets of graph paper to document the information, but I draft it out on either 24"x36" or 18" x 24" paper at a scale of 1"=10' or more if absolutely necessary.

A site analysis is a process rather than a product. I don't usually draw a specific sheet to show my site analysis (did do them in school). They should show whatever conditions that may affect your design. Existing site features like buildings walks, driveways, trees, shrubs, ... slopes, sun vs.shade, soils, good views, bad views, where noise comes from, areas you may need to block for privacy, abutting land uses, drainage flow lines, safety issues, security issues, hardiness zone, annual rain fall, ..... and plenty more can affect your design and mauy be included in your site analysis.

Typically, I do the site analysis in my head because I'm usually working on residences where I'm not going to forget very easily those things that will affect my design. I do start with an existing conditions plan, though. I don't have reason to print it out or show anyone, but it gets me in tune to move forward on the design with a full understanding of the site. Getting out there and measing it forces you to look in every crack and cranny which you relive again when you draft it. That is why I do it.

Not sure if I went on a wild tangent, or if I helped you out.

06-15-2009, 12:59 PM
Nah that helped alot, about how long does or should a property take to survey? Also do you have a deposit for design work before you begin this process?

06-15-2009, 01:19 PM
I usually charge a flat price for a landscape design based on the particular job. It is important to spell out exactly what you will do for your fee including how many meetings and revisions that you will do and to state that anything extra will be billed hourly and what that rate will be. I need a signed contract and retainer of 50% (your state might have a limit on how much a retainer you can get).

The time it takes to measure a site is dependent on how much you have to measure, how difficult it is to actually tape it, and what you have to measure with. I spent about 2 hours on a 100'x100' lot the other day. Sometimes I'll spend 6 hours measuring up a residential property if there is a lot to locate. Then it takes time to draft.

06-15-2009, 02:14 PM
Good stuff! I need to add the whole meeting and revision thing to my agreement! Ok I wasnt sure about how long it take cause for practice I just did my front yard and that took me like 40-60 mins. You charge for the Site Inventory/Analysis?

06-15-2009, 08:37 PM
I don't break down what I'm charging for. I just have a set method of operation that I follow which involves a pretty time consuming process. That is what I think gives me good results. Some people are willing to pay for my method while others are not and I have no problem with that.

I find that it works best for me to stick to my method and pricing rather than to try to adjust to make it work for someone who does not want to pay for all of it. I don't get every job, but I get most of them. Keep in mind that I am not a contractor, so anyone contacting me is expecting to pay for design work. I also won't be making any money on the installation, so I need to get paid well for the design.

A contractor may do much better by not charging much for a plan because most design clients will stick with you through the build as long as you don't over charge. Its yours to lose, usually. Free, cheap, or pricey design is not worth anything if it is not good design.

06-15-2009, 09:17 PM
Ive decided to break it all down under "scope of work" in my agreement as far as whats included... Site inventory, site analysis, conceptual design, post conceptual meeting, preliminary design, post preliminary meeting, master plan and final presentation. See any good or bad in this?

06-16-2009, 08:27 AM
The worst of the many bad things is that it opens opportunity for potential clients to try to pick and choose which items they think they need. The next bad thing is that if you don't have something significant to show for each item, it opens you up to the "you did not do this or that, so I'm not paying you". The third thing is that you are making too many steps to take and dragging the process out too far.

Conceptual design for most residential work can normally be done through discussion at your initial meeting. My opinion based on my own experience is that you will sell more design work during your initial meeting if you are very free and open with ideas and what you think should be done regardless of the possibility that they will take your ideas and do it themselves or share them with another designer. That displaces the need for a conceptual plan and it takes away doubt from the prospect's mind about whether you are going to design something they want or not. If they take your ideas without hiring you, they were not serious about hiring a designer in the first place. If you demonstrate your abilities while other designers are too worried about "giving away" their ideas, you will get the job every time.

You can't overlook controlling costs in the design phase either. The more you do the more it costs you. The client is only going to see the resulting plan and the bill. You want a scope of work that fits the job - nothing more, nothing less. And you want a price tag on it that allows the prospect to feel like it is worth it.

I list out a scope of work in more specific terms without using landscape architecture jargon. .... draw a base plan based on a plot plan provided by the client or cad file from their engineer or surveyor, ...locate additional features on the site using tape measures (with a note saying that the plan is accurate enough only for a landscape plan and nothing else), ... develop a draft landscape plan including fences, walkways, walls, patios, trees, shrubs ...., meet one time to review the draft plan for possible revisions and to determine what those revisions will be, ....revise the plan one time under this contract (additional revisions will be billed hourly should they be necessary), ... meet for final plan presentation (and final payment). I describe the project and its physical limits in the opening paragraph of the contract. Don't forget to use the property address in the contract. I adjust all of this for each project, but that is about how it goes.

You want everything on the contract to describe something that is not ambiguous so that no one can argue whether it was completed or not. If you say that you will measure the site - you either did or you did not. If you say you'll draw a base plan to work on - you either did or you did not. You will provide a draft plan and meet - you did or you did not. You talked about revisions ...., you revised the plan ...you met and provided a revised plan ...you are done = you lived up to the contract = they owe you the money. Nothing is based on them approving it or "to their satisfaction" ... it is either done or it is not. Certainly, you want it all done to their satisfaction and hopefully you are capable of doing that. You can even do work beyond you contract without additional charges in order to make sure that they are satisfied, but only if you want to. You can't give them control of you meeting your goals. Because I have one revision based on what is discussed in the review of the draft plan, once I have that meeting they can't slow me down on meeting my obligation because it is clearly written that I will revise based on only that meeting.

Design sells on one thing and one thing only - do you remove enough doubt from the outcome of the project to make the prospect confident enough to pay you to remove that doubt? If you just try to sell a service, you'll get nowhere. You have to take away doubt! Focus on that and you can sell design work. Look at it as an additional service and you will not.

06-16-2009, 08:53 PM
"do you remove enough doubt from the outcome of the project to make the prospect confident enough to pay you to remove that doubt"

Can you explain this sentence? I assume you mean to say--can I give them enough confidence in the final outcome to pay me for that final product? Is that correct? Great detail, thanks for the long post.

06-16-2009, 10:36 PM
That is basicly it. But be clear that the confidence does not come from listening to me tell them about all the wonderful things that I'll do. It comes from describing why I would do this or would not do that. Show your thought process because that is what they want to buy - not just a plan with cool things on it. If they believe in the way you think, it gives them confidence that the results will be good and you will work toward meeting their needs.

It only takes one person to do gain a tiny bit more confidence out of the prospect and you are left out. Try to be the guy that makes the others left out. Support your ideas with reasons. Even if they don't fully follow you, they will know if you know what you are talking about.

06-17-2009, 12:44 PM
Not a whole lot to add to the discussion, since AGLA was so thorough. Just to chime in and give my perspective on a few things:
- I'm basemapping one today where they don't have a plat. It's strictly a planting plan, so I located the approximate lot corners and driveway corner, then went on the county GIS site and captured the map view with the lot lines and house located. I'll bring that into CAD, scale it, shift it, and overlay it with the site measurements to get close enough for plantings.
- As far as what I measure, it depends on the scope of work. For a planting plan, I get as little as I can get away with. Bring hardscapes into it, and I try to grab windows and doors, basement windows, outlets, hosebibs, vents and any other penetrations, and then all existing features that are relevant to what I'm doing. Within reason, of course.
- When I'm quoting a design fee, I always think of site analysis and basemapping together; by the time I factor travel time, I usually block out between 3 and 10 hours, depending on the site. There are also some cases where I tell the homeowner that I need a professional surveyor to come in. I went to one site, it was an acre parcel with 90 feet of fall from one side to the other, with a house perched in the middle. I'm not set up for that kind of topo.
- I don't take a single measurement till the contract and deposit are in hand, even if I'm given a verbal go-ahead. Been there, done that, paid the price.
- in terms of breaking out services and phases... my contract is for a landscape master plan, period. I tell my clients what's involved with the site analysis, and that is part of what sells them on my process; but I make it clear that if they hire me, that's the level of service they're getting. I do spell out when the design is considered finished, because otherwise it could drag on forever.

Spot on with the comment about removing doubt being the key. I'm actually finding greater demand for my services now that the economy is tightening up, because people want to feel like they're coming to their contractor(s) armed with a detailed set of specifications, so they can get an apples-to-apples comparison.

06-17-2009, 01:04 PM
Personally, I georeference my stuff. :)

06-17-2009, 09:06 PM
Which means what?

06-17-2009, 11:21 PM
[QUOTE=AGLA;3045911] The worst of the many bad things is that it opens opportunity for potential clients to try to pick and choose which items they think they need. The next bad thing is that if you don't have something significant to show for each item, it opens you up to the "you did not do this or that, so I'm not paying you". The third thing is that you are making too many steps to take and dragging the process out too far.


Ok maybe only 2 meetings 1 after the prelim design and the final presentation. I describe what each step is about so there arent any questions and reason for it. I plan to have a print out sheet explaining the whole design process so they are fully aware from the first consultation meet to the end of the design.

Reason I want to do this is cause I think its crazy to try and describe everything that will be on the design from the type of wood used in the deck to creating a blue stone path from the deck to the shed, I mean am I wrong? How can you describe the design in a contract without knowing what will be on it?

What does one put under the section "Scope of work"?

06-18-2009, 02:42 AM

Having said that i agree 100% on measuring because i have found the plat plan got changed. its like you can plan all you want it tends to change slightly once your in there and those plats are early and i have not had many that matched the end result

06-18-2009, 08:33 AM

I don't think it is wrong to list out those things (base plan, site analysis, ....) in general terms. I do it myself, but don't describe what those are in detail in case some of it is unnecessary and does not get done. What I was concerned about was that I thought you were putting a value on each to justify the overall price. I would not do that or mention how much time would be involved for each.

You can also describe the content of the design in general terms, too. You want to make sure that they are comfortable that everything will be covered. That can be done using a description similar to "...including the layout of planting areas, walkways,
patio areas, fencing, driveway alteration, and retaining walls when applicable...".

The details get developed in the process of the plan.

I don't typically spec' exact materials in my plans such as exact paver or stone. I often try to leave that for the home owner to work out with contractors. This keeps me from having to spend half a lifetime going over each product and cost estimates for each. I also don't think it is a bad thing for each contractor to have an opportunity to offer the client alternatives. Many residential clients are balancing costs with aesthetics when it comes to hardscapes. I don't think it is always good to make a contractor use a product that he is unfamiliar with. I'd rather he steers the client to a suitable product that he is comfortable with. Usually, the client will call me to ask my opinion when a contractor makes a recommendation.

If you are design/build, I would recommend spec'ing materials and products that you are comfortable with. There are two ways to go in design/build plans.

One is to be much less detailed in order to keep the planning time down. It is a given (legally) that you are working in your interest as a contractor so you are somewhat less liable for errors and ommissions.

The other way to go is to spec' a lot of detail in order to make it a bit of work for other contractors to bid on it. Many will know that you have an inside track on getting the job and won't invest the time to write up a complicated proposal that they feel they are unlikely to get. Advantage to you.

If you are design/build, it is a huge advantage to getting the "build" if you draw the plan. That means that selling the plan is worth a lot more than a design fee. That means that you should not price too aggressively in order to get more of the design work. I have to cover costs get paid from design - a contractor does not.

06-18-2009, 07:09 PM
Well I have created a questionnaire to get an idea of what they what, need, and already have which I'll explain will all be taken into consideration along with w.e else is discussed.

I list the steps of the design process with a check box next to each, as you said all steps may not apply always. So which ever do they will know what its taking me and why, to complete the job as precise and professionally as possible. Yeah I wouldnt individually price each, I hear yah on that. I just want to keep things simple, you know. I plan to be design/install and will also offer the incentive to drop the design cost if chosen for the install (yet still fit it in there somehow shhh)

I figure shouldn't all the details of the design be saved for the installation agreement? From a list of material down to warranty info, exclusions, cancellations, yada yada.

Is there anyway I can see an example of what you use?