Archive for January, 2013

NJ Paver Driveway Design Ideas – Pavers vs. Asphalt Surface

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

NJ Paver Driveway Design Ideas – Pavers vs. Asphalt Surface

NJ Paver Driveway Design Ideas – Pavers vs. Asphalt Surface by Cipriano Landscape Design Highlights Alpine and Franklin Lakes NJ Landscape Projects

One of the most commonly overlooked pieces of landscape architecture is the driveway. The driveway plays an important role in the landscape design. You use it every day for practical reasons to drive in and out of your house. The driveway also sets the tone for welcoming guests to your home. A nice driveway will add to the curb appeal of your house and attract attention from guests and passersby. Have you ever considered what sort of landscaping ideas and considerations lay behind a nice driveway? In this blog, we will take a look at the pros and cons of choosing between a paver driveway and a simple asphalt driveway.

Pavers, whether concrete, Belgian block, or cobblestone, provide some great advantages, but they come with a cost. A paver driveway is a luxury finish with upscale appeal. With mixed colors and shapes, you can give the entire landscape some more detail and interest. As far as durability goes, you will never have to replace the driveway because pavers are easy to repair if settling occurs. Overall, the paver driveway has more value over time than asphalt. Unfortunately, the paver driveway can be cost prohibitive, and you will have to watch out for oil stains and spots that require cleaning.

Asphalt is the other driveway design option. The asphalt driveway is smooth, inexpensive, and quick to install. The surface is cheaper and great for driveway sports like hockey and basketball. On the downside, asphalt has a 7 to 20 year life expectancy based on proper installation and climate. Cracking and dimpling can occur shortly after the quick installation. Also, you cannot adjust the areas that puddle. Asphalt is not considered an upscale finish. In general, it offers a low return on your investment.

For your driveway project or landscape renovation, choose between the characteristics that mean the most to you, your family, and your lifestyle. Active families with kids may opt for a smoother surface. A luxury home with no need for basketball or hockey could make natural stone pavers a nice option. You might also choose cobblestone aprons, borders, or entries that accent the driveway in style but do not cost as much as a complete cobblestone driveway. That approach also functions to balance a luxury look with a fun surface for driveway sports. I hope this information may be helpful to you in your landscape design process. As always, call or email with any questions.

NJ-Outdoor Fireplace Designs: Natural, Modern, Traditional Ideas

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

NJ-Outdoor Fireplace Designs: Natural, Modern, Traditional Ideas

Natural, modern and traditional outdoor fireplace design ideas. Cipriano Custom Swimming Pools and Landscaping making the most out of your outdoor living space.

A fireplace has great appeal in any room of the house. The age-old feature provides a warm place to gather, relax, and entertain. You often see them in living rooms for this very purpose, but where and how do outdoor fireplaces fit into the landscape design?

Fireplaces can be excellent additions to the outdoor living space of a home. They can be included on the outside of the house, the outside of a cabana, or they can stand alone as independent structures. The fireplaces provide outdoor warmth at night; they also offer some natural light and a nice place to entertain. While each type of outdoor fireplace accomplishes similar goals in the landscape, they do so with their very own unique styles. Let’s outline the basic fireplace design styles for back yards and suggest some facets and features that characterize them.

Let’s start with the natural outdoor fireplace. Landscaping ideas for natural fireplaces utilize natural surroundings and the elements. With fire being one of the most natural phenomena in the world, a natural fireplace seems quite fitting. How is such a design accomplished? The placement of the fireplace should appear as natural as possible. It can appear as a cavern built directly into the side of a hill, waterfall, or boulder wall, for example. With natural boulders, rocks, and plantings, the natural fireplace may look like a prehistoric cave dwelling.

Modern outdoor fireplaces represent the other end of the fire feature spectrum. These structures and fires are very clean and geometric, like most modern landscape architecture. Usually the modern style has a bit of a linear, minimalist feel to the fire. Rather than a big, roaring flame the fire can be contained to a clean line of fire. The fireplace structure itself should mimic, or at least match, the linear, clean look of the flame. This is just one of many opportunities to create a modern fireplace. The fireplace might also feature various shapes and forms; materials may range from clean natural stone to more industrial-looking materials like steel and wood. For modern style, the contrast, uniqueness, and artistic intrigue make all the difference.

Traditional outdoor fireplaces, or formal outdoor fireplaces, have a great amount of freedom in the design process. The traditional style typically appears antique, formal, or classical. Utilizing a variety of materials to create contrast works wonderfully. We like to incorporate aged wood timbers, natural stone combinations, metal accents, lighting fixtures, and sculptures, which can help achieve these timeless looks. Smooth, decorative tiles and mosaics could add some character to the fireplace as well. Another way we create depth and character in a structure is by using borders and inlays, this is done to create different plains and linear breaks which produce shadows and greater contrast.

Creative outdoor fireplaces play on these basic design styles in innovative ways. Choose appropriate materials that will fit the setting. Borrow them from existing or surrounding structures for the most seamless design implementation. Modern outdoor fireplaces will probably not look good next to a waterfall, so regardless of your taste or preference, make sure every part of the outdoor living space works together. In terms of location, try to find a suitable balance between a high-priority gathering area for evening entertainment and the quiet, romantic fireplace set in a private corner of the yard. Either way, have fun and enjoy the amazing backyard feature once completed.

How to Choose a NJ Pool and Landscape Contractor or Company

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

How to Choose a NJ Pool and Landscape Contractor or Company

How do you choose the right NJ pool or landscape company for your project? This can be an overwhelming task. Any homeowner looking to build a pool, design a landscape, or begin any other type of home improvement project is faced with a significant investment. Knowing how to choose the right contractor is essential to every one of these endeavors. There are great pool and landscaping companies out there. The key is finding the most qualified contractor for your specific project. This task can be difficult as you sift through all of the experience, services, and credentials being offered by all of the companies. Given the crucial significance of this aspect of the pool or landscape construction process, let me offer a few tips on what to look for in a landscape and/or pool contractor.

What to look for:

1. Happy Customers

The easiest, and yet the one most ignored, is to speak with, or better yet, visit past customers. If you speak with former customers, you can get a feel for how the landscape or pool construction process went, the timeline of events, and the follow-up care or relationship the customer has with the contractor. If you go visit the customers, you will be able to see the projects, first-hand, how they stand today. This helps to ensure that the beautiful luxury pool and landscape you saw online or in an ad has stood the test of time and not fallen apart since the photograph was taken.

2. Solid Background

Do a little background check on the pool or landscape contractor. Any filings for bankruptcy or past lawsuits will give the homeowner an idea of a pool company’s credibility. A good place to start with the background check is the Better Business Bureau.

3. Licenses and Insurance

Try to make sure that the contractor has the proper licenses to complete whatever work you are looking to have done. Licenses mean the contractor is actually allowed to perform that work. Most licenses require some kind of background, so they can help with the overall background check as well. Along with proper licensing, the contractor should have liability insurance.

4. Trusted Leadership

Homeowners should try their best to verify that the owner of the company will be involved in the day-to-day operations of construction. Choosing a landscape or pool company like this will ensure your ability to communicate directly with the owner in order to track progress, address concerns, and simply feel more comfortable about the investment.

5. Complete Bids and Contracts

There should be little to no grey area in your contract. In regards to bidding, you might have an architect or engineer prepare a bid package. A good bid package contains the entire project specifications needed to get a complete apple to apples comparison. It also asks the contractors to certify that all of the items are included in their bid. If items are missing from the bid, you can set it up that the contractor is liable for those associated costs. When dealing directly with a contractor, avoid bundled or lump sum pricing. Insist on a unit pricing structure; this transparency protects you from price gouging because all of the unit pricing is established prior to the start of the project.

6. Professional Memberships

Active memberships to professional organizations can be a good benchmark for credibility. These organizations typically have a rigorous process for acceptance into the organization. Many times they also call for a certain amount of continuing education to stay up to date and maintain that professional membership. For pools, look for APSP members and Certified Building Professionals with the APSP. For NJ landscaping, look for NJLCA, NJNLA, and organizations like these. For a landscape design professional, the ASLA is key.

7. Variety of Services

One favorable quality of the right pool or landscape contractor may be a diverse set of services that eliminate the need for multiple contractors on the site of a single project. If you can hire one company to install a natural stone patio and install the landscape design, this will make for efficient planning and swift completion of the work. The proper planning will cut costs and prevent you from doing things twice.

8. Type of Experience

For whatever service you are looking, find out how much experience the contractor has with this type of work. When all things appear equal, experience can be the best deciding factor. Remember, a 25-year-old landscaping company may have only begun building pools 2 years ago. It’s important to get down to specifics when you look into a landscape or pool contractor’s experience.

9. Levels of Experience You Should Expect for Your Project

We wouldn’t build you a vinyl liner pool because that’s not our specialty; similarly, you wouldn’t want a vinyl liner pool company to construct your luxury concrete swimming pool. The experience should not simply be determined by the services offered but also by the level of difficulty for the project at hand. Make sure you can find multiple example of the things you want in the contractor’s brochure or on their website. Extensive experience with luxury features such as glass tile pools, fiber optic lights, and natural stone patios can really set one contractor apart from another depending upon the work you would like to have done.

10. Complete Package- Design and Build

When choosing a contractor, you may be able to find a qualified professional in your area who can design the pool or landscape and construct that design completely in-house, without ever involving another company to interpret and reinterpret the intentions and goals of that design. In other words, if you find a landscape construction expert or a pool construction expert, and they offer landscape architecture services, you will have a better chance of protecting your investment and ensuring your ideal design from start to finish.

The best advice we can give is to not do one or two of these tips but try to implement them all during your interviewing process for each contractor you interview, this will help you set an overall benchmark and give you an in-depth comparison to help make your final choice.

Plan To Cover a NJ Custom Swimming Pool This Winter?

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Plan To Cover a NJ Custom Swimming Pool This Winter?

Winter Custom Swimming Pool and the Benefits of a Year-Round Luxury Swimming Pool

Not so fast! Don’t be so quick to cover your pool in the winter. As the weather starts to cool around New Jersey homes, people frantically race to cover the pool. Because it is so common, many homeowners don’t even realize that it’s perfectly feasible to run a luxurious winter swimming pool, even in cold-weather climates. Let us take a look at the advantages of running a year-round pool. Doesn’t it seem like a nice option to maximize your time spent enjoying the investment of a swimming pool? Here are some potential benefits of leaving the pool open year-round.

Appearance

First and foremost, winter swimming pools have more potential for natural beauty than any other swimming pool setting. Why? Frankly, a luxury pool surrounded by snow is something of a dream. The appeal equates to the refreshing coolness of a pool during summer; the warmth of the water has the feel of a refreshing hot spring. The visual effect is even more unique. Evergreens covered in snow, holiday lights shining brightly, tan, wispy ornamental grasses, and a swimming pool topped with a mystifying layer of steam create a backyard winter wonderland.

Experience

Year-round functionality is another advantage. If you cover the pool in winter, you incur the headache and expense of opening and closing, which can cost more than the total seasonal operation of the pool. The expensive inconvenience is compounded by the simple fact that you cannot use the pool if it’s closed. If you don’t cover the pool, you can maximize your investment through year-round swimming or just year-round aesthetic enjoyment. A custom pool that we completed two years ago remains open all year; while it is winterized and not used for swimming, it maintains a beautiful, natural look throughout the cold winter months. In a sense, the luxury pool transforms into wintry pond after the leaves fall and the air cools.  On another project in Bedford, New York, which is currently under construction, the plan is to run the pool year-round. Insulation, piping below the frost line, and a one million BTU high efficiency pool heater will allow the homeowner to enjoy the perimeter overflow spa, swim laps in the pool, or kayak against the 1200 GPM swimjet current throughout the year!

Operation

Now, for a pool that is not winterized, you may have concerns about freezing if you own a home in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or anywhere else in the Northeast. Freezing is the primary concern for inground pool owners who have heard horror stories about pipes breaking for decades. Fortunately, today’s pool technology includes automated freeze protection in the control panel that circulates the water if the temperature dips below freezing. This technology applies to inground pools, spas, waterfalls, and other water features. In some instances, if you don’t want the year-round pool, you can enjoy a year-round spa that runs separately when the pool is closed.

Dream Scenario

Now, what happens when the pool includes all of the year-round amenities to make it a perfectly functional luxury pool? When all is said and done, in a perfect world, pool designs will feature state-of-the-art technology that allows homeowners to efficiently heat, sanitize, and protect the pool during winter. Energy efficient heaters will minimize costs on heating during winter, minimize costs of chemicals in the extra winter months, and keep the pool, spa, and water features running smoothly. To wrap up the whole winter, outdoor living experience, you can include a fireplace and fire pit somewhere around the yard as well. The pool design described earlier in Bedford, NY includes all of the previously mentioned pool amenities, as well as a heated, natural stone patio for a more comfortable walk around the pool during winter!

NJ Pool and Landscaping Design: Making the Right Investment

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

NJ Pool and Landscaping Design: Making the Right Investment

Swimming pools and landscaping are often appreciated for the ways in which they increase the overall quality of life around the house. Countless articles and blogs address ways to make the yard more visually appealing. Others detail features that may provide more convenience, entertainment, and fun in the backyard design. Did you know there is another important advantage you may have overlooked? In this blog, we will take a look at how inground pools and landscaping play a role in the actual value of your home. The investment of a new pool and landscape design can pay off in very real ways.

Pool Investments

Studies have shown that inground pools can increase the property value of a home. Years ago, realtors used to express concern about a home’s resale value if you had a pool. Today, the outdoor living feature serves to bolster home values by anywhere from 8 to 15 percent. The primary function of pool designs is to please the present homeowner, but the idea of pleasing a future homeowner can pay off too. Some real estate concerns about homes with pools include safety, efficiency, and durability. Homeowners can worry about the safety of their young kids, how much goes into maintaining and running the pool, as well as the strength and durability of the pool structure itself.

A wise inground pool investment will address all of these concerns and make the home with a pool look even more appealing. Features such as auto-covers and fencing will ease your safety concerns and the concerns of future buyers. Efficient pumps and heaters, such as variable speed pumps and electric heat pumps, make the pool much more cost-effective. Finally, the wisest investments for a new pool are upgraded, durable finishes. Long-lasting plasters and glass tile will most likely prevent you from having to refinish the swimming pool, making it a solid investment. The investment saves you a considerable amount of money and keeps a potential homebuyer comfortable about the pool structure.

Landscape Values

According to reports, landscaping can add up to 20% of your home’s property value. Landscape architecture and a quality landscape design not only increase the property value but also add to the visual appeal of the home, making it more buyer-friendly if the home is on the market. The American Society of Landscape Architects quantifies this suggestion by recommending that homeowners spend ten percent of the home’s value on landscaping. Also, the sooner you invest in your landscape the better; a more mature landscape has a greater value than a newer one.

Some landscape design investment advice involves planning and making wise choices when it comes to materials. To go back to sizing, if you invest early in the landscape design, you can choose small trees and plants for a cheaper price. These plantings will mature and grow into the space; when it comes time to sell the home, the plantings will have had a significant increase in value. For masonry materials, we suggest you stray away from pavers for a patio material if you want a long-lasting investment. Pavers go out of style quicker than other potential patio materials. Materials such as natural stone will provide a nice return on your investment through durability and timeless style. Ten to twenty years from now, if you decide to move, potential buyers will not visit the home and look unfavorably upon the patio because of an outdated style or rundown material. Another landscaping option that will set your home apart from your neighbors and draw more interest/value on the market is landscape lighting. Landscape lighting increases the curb appeal tenfold and will certainly prove to be a nice selling point for the 24-hour outdoor living space.

In many ways, the investment into your landscape design and landscape architecture is an investment into your home. Combined with the value of increased enjoyment and aesthetic enhancement, inground pools and landscaping add real value to the home by the numbers. Consider the maximum value increases of a 15% pool and 20% landscape. You can make a real impact on your life, your home, and your next home with the right investments into your outdoor living space. For more information about planning a landscape design, visit our Luxuryscape website or read about our Landscape Architecture services on our home page. As always, please call or email with any questions.

Hannah Storm Brings Awareness to Outdoor Kitchen and Grill Safety

Friday, January 4th, 2013

ESPN’s Hannah Storm Brings Awareness to Outdoor Kitchen and Grill Safety

Did you know that, ever year, grill fires cause an average of 10 deaths, 100 injuries, and $37 million in property loss? Grill safety may get more attention now that an ESPN anchor had an accident, but it’s really more of a widespread issue that calls for continual awareness. Safety should always be at the forefront of our minds whenever we go outside to use the grill.

Luxury outdoor kitchens have become more and more popular in recent years. As a result, even more attention must be given to safety when constructing the elaborate outdoor kitchen designs. In recent news, you may have heard about ESPN anchor Hannah Storm and her frightening injuries sustained from a BBQ grill explosion in the back yard of her Connecticut home. To ease any worries you may have about lighting up the grill in your own back yard, I will share a little information with you about natural gas and propane grills in the outdoor kitchen.

According to reports, the ESPN anchor had a propane grill in her yard. In this instance, the flame had gone out so Storm opened the hood, turned off the propane gas, and immediately tried to reignite it. Upon reigniting the BBQ, a large burst of flames came directly at her, badly burning her chest, face, and hair. What Hannah didn’t realize was that opening the hood on the grill did not dissipate the propane because propane is heavier than air. As an experienced outdoor kitchen builder, let me offer certain tips for preventing explosions in your natural gas or propane-fired outdoor grills and grilling structures.

Hannah Storm had a standard grill so the propane accumulated inside the grill. Could you imagine the damage that would be caused by a leaking propane line inside a complete masonry structure? The damage would be catastrophic.  Built in BBQ and grill safety starts with installing a vents in these structures. Venting outdoor grill structures allows excess or leaking propane or gas to escape, preventing build-up before you ignite the flame. Without a vent, the leaking propane or gas will sit in the grill and wait for you to ignite the flame, leading to explosions much greater than the one in Hannah Storm’s yard. Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t have to worry about a leaking gas line. My grill was built properly.” That’s not enough to disregard the vent in your design. Every gas line eventually leaks, and the vent is the easiest way to stay safe.

When it comes to the outdoor grill design, where should you put the vent? One interesting difference between natural gas and propane grills is that natural gas is lighter than air and propane is heavier than air. This means the natural gas will rise up in the structure and build up below the grill while propane sinks to the bottom of the structure and fills it from the bottom up. As a result, when it comes to placement of the vent in your outdoor kitchen BBQ, natural gas vents should be placed higher on the structure (just below the grill unit) to maximize their effectiveness in allowing gas to escape. Propane grills, on the other hand, might have vents on the lower portion of the structure (4-6” off the floor of the structure.)

In order to help you stay on top of outdoor kitchen safety, here are some basic safety tips for the outdoor grill and BBQ:

  • Every Spring check hoses and tubes for any blockage or leaks. Leaks or breaks in containers and pipes lead to 23 percent of all grill fires on residential properties.
  • If you smell gas, check for leaks, turn off the gas, and do not light the grill or any other flame. Also check for leaks when you reconnect a new propane tank. Since propane is naturally odorless, listen for a hissing noise. If you have any doubts about the connection, you can take some soapy water and wet the coupler to look for bubbles.
  • If problems arise, do not try to repair the grill yourself. Use a qualified professional to ensure safety during and after any repair jobs.
  • Give the grill special attention after prolonged periods where you have not used the BBQ. If you go a whole winter without using the grill, check for leaks or damages before using.
  • Leave the grill open for a period of time before lighting. In case any gas was trapped inside, this technique will give it time to escape.
  • Clean and maintain the grill regularly.
  • If a burner doesn’t ignite, shut off the gas/propane, keep the lid open, and do not try to light it again for at least five minutes. If the flame goes out during use, turn all of the gas off and wait at least five minutes with the grill open before turning it back on.