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Saving Thousands with Landscape Construction Inspections

Many people don’t realize that a poorly or improperly installed landscape can quickly become a heavy financial burden. Many also don’t realize that a very minor cost for detailed post construction and one year warranty inspections provides a return on investment many times over (see below for a simple cost/benefit analysis). Landscape Construction Administration is imperative to achieving best management practices in the industry and ensuring proper installation. Unfortunately, inspections are often neglected due to budget, timing, or the assumption that it is not vital to proper completion of the landscaping for a project. This might be because many do not realize the potential pitfalls of neglect, or the extremely low cost of what is essentially insurance for the life of the exterior space. These inspections can identify both major and minor issues in the constructed landscape. They also ensure that the client is getting what they paid for, and that the installed landscape complies with the issued contract documents.

While many pieces of a building are complete at time of inspection, one part of a project that continues to evolve over time is the landscape. A well-designed landscape can enhance a project in countless ways. However, just as a building needs good construction to function properly, the landscape must be properly installed to function aesthetically and sustainably. When constructing a building, how many times has is just been assumed that everything was poured, secured, sealed, or finished correctly, with no inspection by any party as to the integrity of the construction? A poor installation can deter potential customers and cost the owner money several times over the initial install cost in repairs and maintenance. A well designed and properly installed landscape can have a significant impact on the success of a business. In terms of marketing, almost any marketing photo of a given development will include the landscape in some form. It’s usually the first thing people see when visiting a development.

The primary inspection should be the “post construction inspection”, done just after complete installation. This inspection will cover every item in the landscape, including proper planting types and methods, verification of proper function and efficiency of the irrigation system, and a check for health and safety items, such as a large plants blocking vehicular visibility. A post construction inspection will typically run less than 1% of the total project landscape cost. So, for a $100,000 landscape that’s less than $1,000 to ensure that the landscape was installed per the contract documents. In our experience, this cost is often easily and quickly recovered just through the discovery of uninstalled items or improper installation. That does not even take into consideration the cost savings associated with long-term conservation of resources and reduction in operating and maintenance expenses. Essentially, inspections not only pay for themselves, but end up saving money over time! They should be done by the landscape architect that designed the project, or, at the very least, someone very well-versed in plant materials, installation practices, irrigation systems, and grading and drainage.

A “warranty inspection”, performed just prior to expiration of the warranty period, will also greatly benefit the client, as it ensures that the project complies with the contract documents prior to project turnover. The landscape has had time to mature, and additional issues can be identified or noted as resolved. Again, the cost can be very low, less than 1% of total project landscape cost. It ensures that the all critical elements of a project are intact prior to project turnover. It is easy to tell if a plant is dead or dying, or to count shrubs. However, it is far more difficult to determine if the plant type was changed, which could result in issues such as overgrowing walks, creating hazardous situations, or, in extreme cases, endangerment of the public.

Few realize that a deviation from the contract landscape documents releases liability of the designer for that change. In addition, possible jurisdictional penalties, and resulting delays, could result from such deviations.

Construction Administration is just as important in Landscape Architecture as it is in other trades. Not only does it ensure safety, efficiency, aesthetics, and sustainability, it can provide a substantial return on a minor investment.

This plant, while great for a naturalized settiing, is short-lived and will reseed throughout the project in time, leading to increased maintenance. It was not specified for installation on the contract documents, and was not approved as a susbstitute for unavilable plants.

One issue that is commonly encountered is the lack of proper mulch depth (3-4"). This is difficult to determine unless inspected, or obvious issues, such as those shown in this photo, exist.

The lack of a shredded wood mulch ring will lead to long-term issues with plant growth and health. The weed fabric was not cut to accomodate the plant, which will can result in plant strangulation and mortality. Also, the mulch was not installed to the required depth.

A dry spot in the irrigation system, due to lack of proper irrigation system uniformity. This can be determined with analysis of the spray head spacing, pressure at the valve, and other factors. Issues such as these can eventually be a considerable maintenance and financial drain.

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