Good exterior landscaping is about more than kerb appeal

After another spring of storms and their subsequent flood stories making a stake in the headlines, Andrew Gill, marketing manager at Brett Landscaping, takes a look at the hard landscaping options available to the self-builder and offers advice on how to get the best for their project.

Taking on a self-build project is a tough prospect which many will never face, one wrought with the complexities of making decisions big enough to leave their mark for years to come. Some choices, with regard to design and materials may prove utterly successful, while others could regrettably lead to problems further down the road – resulting in the potential need to ‘rip it out and start again’.

For a self-builder to get every decision right first time would be a marked achievement, if not a minor miracle! It therefore pays to maximise your chances upfront by drawing on the expertise of your suppliers for more detailed information.

In designing a development of any size hard landscaping is an area where value really can be added, for both the short and long term. After all, a grand design of any kind should not be restricted to the interior layout and décor alone. The architect’s drawing board should tie every element together, including the external landscaping, to create a truly unified design which will endure for years.

It goes without saying that any return on your investment in a building’s overall design will be significantly reduced if the external aspect is only enlivened by a smattering of asphalt and rectangle of grass since this would significantly reduce the all-important ‘kerb appeal’ of your project.

Aesthetics on the outside should be as considered as on the inside. Yes, it will undoubtedly cost a little more but bear in mind that 80 per cent of patio and driveway expense is assigned to the actual ground works, while only 20 per cent is incurred by the paving. Surely this gives even more reason not to skimp on quality and study the paving catalogues in a little more detail?

Nor does such research apply only to aesthetics. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and careful scrutiny of the available options can even help protect your new house from flooding.

All new homes are required to have a Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS) in place to minimise surface water run-off from the site – incidentally, since 2008, this requirement also applies to replacement driveways. This step is intended to reduce the risk of future flooding events by creating similar run-off rates to those achieved on a greenfield site.

While regulations requiring the use of SuDS in new developments have yet to be fully introduced by the government, it’s a certainty that if sound drainage doesn’t form part of the basic infrastructure, then related issues are likely to ensue in the future. These may affect your property directly, or those downstream from you. You may even think that it’s someone else’s problem but remember that you will be downstream of someone else.

The main issue is surface water run-off overwhelming our drainage systems. A typical urban development sees only 5 per cent of rainwater absorbed into the ground, as opposed to 95 per cent on a greenfield site. Research following the 2007 floods showed that 66 per cent of the flooding was caused by infrastructure being overwhelmed by surface water run-off rather than by rivers breaking their banks. It is therefore essential to do something now.

An effective SuDS solution can be achieved by a number of solutions with the final selection being most frequently decided by available space, cost and aesthetics. In many cases the use of permeable paving is chosen as offering the best all round compromise since it is often almost indistinguishable from conventional paving and requires no additional maintenance.

Secondly, you should consider the impact of your selection on others involved in your supply chain. Here, we’re talking about choosing reputable suppliers who source their product ethically and who are working to improve conditions within their supply chain. This is especially true if you’re considering products sourced from emerging economies – such as Indian Sandstone. Specifically, try and look for suppliers who are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (www.ethicaltrade.org) or other independent bodies working in this area.

Thirdly, once all the agonising over product selection has ended, think about who is going to manage the installation. For the best results outsource the installation to a professional; most major paving suppliers will have approved and fully guaranteed installer schemes which offer a great place to start if you haven’t already got your own contractor in mind.

Finally, look carefully at all the options and get samples of those you like, as there’s a strong chance that you’re going to be living with your paving selection for a lifetime. Or, if you’re building to sell-on, then that first impression given by your landscaping could create a property where buyers decide it’s the house for them in the all-important first five minutes of viewing.

The outcome should then be an exterior to complement an individually designed home, that’s sustainable, responsible and a pleasure to be surrounded by.