Your Comprehensive Guide to Hardscaping

The outdoor elements that surround a residential property are typically divided into two categories: softscapes and hardscapes. Softscapes are the natural elements that spring from the ground, such as grass, trees, flowers, bushes and gardens. Hardscapes consist of all the man–made elements that facilitate human activity, such as walkways, decks, patios, fences, lights, pavilions and fountains. With the proper balance of hardscaped and softscaped elements, a residence can be just as beautiful and comforting on the outside as it is on the inside. Some houses come with well–developed hardscaping, while others could use work in terms of the organization and balance of walkways, seating areas and visual fixtures. As with all types of home improvement, however, hardscaping involves foresight, planning and a significant investment of resources, time and labor. Before you decide upon a hardscaping project, consider both the practical factors, such as how the structure in question might impact the livability of your outer space, and the visual factors, like the finishes and design of your outdoor space.

Hardscaping
Hardscaping

The Benefits of Hardscaping

If you intend to remain at your current property for years to come, the benefits of hardscaping are twofold. First and foremost, hardscaping could greatly enhance the look and functionality of your property. Whether you opt for an all–American backyard look or something more akin to the Japanese garden, your property is sure to come out looking better than ever. As such, the backyard and patio could ultimately be more enjoyable for you, your guests and other members of your household. Curb appeal: A house can have a beautiful design and be equipped with a solid roof, immaculate paint job and cozy interiors, but the property's overall appeal could still be lacking if no care is given to the outside areas. If a house looks depressed to the average passerby due to poor lawn maintenance, it could be hard to move on the resale market. Likewise, a ghostly backyard replete with broken decks, cracked/drained ponds, dilapidated play structures, rotten vegetation and chipped fixtures are a major turnoff to any prospective buyer. Simply put, hardscaping is an essential component of home maintenance, whether you intend to occupy or sell a property. Livability: Hardscaping can also make your outdoor space easier to manage and navigate. For example, if you build a gravel walkway that extends from your backdoor to around your garden and back, your whole entire garden would be easier to access and manage. Likewise, a strategically placed fence will make your yard safer and more secure. Essentially, hardscaping could render your property more livable. In terms of overall livability, hardscaping can improve a residential outdoor space with the following benefits:

  • Increased privacy
  • Essential boundaries
  • Leveled topography
  • Improved shelter
  • Reduced need for bush trimming or lawn mowing

Privacy and security: The privacy that you could gain from adding a fence or replacing any preexisting fencing could come in very useful if you have a hot tub or pool installed in your backyard. Likewise, fences can also serve as boundaries, such as when the play area and garden need to be separated for practical reasons. If you have children or pets in the house, yet also maintain a garden in the backyard, a fence could allow for a playing area while keeping the crops safe from stomping feet or digging canines. Land evenness: On some properties, topographical unevenness is an issue that must be solved for practicality and safety reasons. If there's a sharp slope in your backyard or along the sides of your house, a retaining wall could be erected to prevent soil from sliding down and causing damage in the process. There are different types of retaining walls available, including concrete, gravity and anchor–based walls. Soil slopes, however, can still be a threat if there's no proper drainage because, unlike flat ground, slopes prevent water from sinking straight into the soil. Therefore, a retaining wall must be equipped with a draining mechanism to reduce the risk of a collapse at some point in the future. Shelter: Roof–equipped forms of hardscaping can serve as outdoor shelters, which come in handy during certain weather spells. A gazebo, for example, is a convenient place to go if drizzle starts during a backyard cookout party. Likewise, a tree house could function as a safe haven on hot days when sun rays cover the patio. Reduced lawn maintenance: With increased hardscaping, there's less greenery along the outer space of a house that needs to be maintained. If you consider tasks such as lawn mowing and bush trimming to be burdensome rather than joyous, an increased amount of gravel, structures and fences could make your home a lot more manageable. If your outer space is small to begin with, the addition of a patio or rocky path could reduce the spread of your lawn to a size that might only take minutes to mow on a weekly basis during summer months.

Softscaping
Softscaping

The Principles of Hardscaping Design

Hardscaping generally works in a complementary balance with the softscaping of a given property. This is not to say that the two should be balanced out 50/50, but that each should enhance what is special about the other. Ultimately, the hardscape–to–softscape ratio of your outer space will likely depend on the size of your property. If you live on a large piece of land, softscaping will inevitably account for the majority of your outdoor property, and a rocky trail or miniature pond would thereby serve as an accent to the overall greenery. By contrast, a basic hardscape feature — such as a patio or fountain — could ultimately monopolize your backyard if the property is smaller. Asymmetrical balance: In terms of balance, hardscaping elements don't need to be set up as bookends, but there should be some respect to symmetry in the overall layout. This can be achieved through asymmetry, where elements are arranged with regard to balance, but without the mirror–image constraints that characterize symmetry. A perfect example would be a backyard that features a fountain on the left side and a stone path that curves out from the right of the backdoor. Despite their contrast, the fountain and path could serve as complementary elements that would balance out the hardscaped scheme of the backyard as a whole. Other examples of asymmetrical hardscaping could include the following:

  • A patio bookended with a hot tub to the right and an outdoor fireplace to the left
  • A cobblestone path leading out leftward from the backdoor; a goldfish pond to the right
  • A waterfall along a rocky slope that leads into a stone swimming pool

Focal points: At the heart of every hardscaped scheme lays the focal point: the object that draws the majority of attention from household members and guests. Whereas surrounding hardscape and softscape serves as a backdrop, it's the focal point that not only attracts the most attention, but also tends to standout within the periphery of people's vision. A hardscape focal point tends to be a large, tall and somewhat unique object that contrasts with its surroundings. An example could include any of the following:

Interior/exterior continuity: The purpose behind hardscaping is relatively simple — to provide a sense of unity between indoor and outdoor living spaces. Therefore, the intent is not to overwhelm with contrasting styles between the inside and outside of a home. To the contrary, a hardscape should lift much of its thematic elements from the styles, colors and motifs seen within the rooms and hallways of a corresponding property. Examples of how hardscaping could reflect an interior scheme might include any of the following:

  • Stone panels mirrored between the indoor fireplace and outdoor path, steps and patio
  • Decorative wood panels on the interior walls and outdoor structures
  • Exotic design elements, such as Mediterranean motifs, on the inside and outside
  • Lighting features
  • Color schemes that extend from the interior rooms to the backyard

For utmost unity, a hardscaped design scheme can reflect not just the interior colors and structural elements of a house, but also the style and textures of the indoor furnishings. Outward view correlation: The continuity principle can even be extended to the natural view beyond your property. If you live on the crest of a panoramic view of mountains, hilltops or ocean water, you might consider correlating some of the hardscape elements to the sights that lie within view of your windows and deck. For example, if a mountaintop can be seen far off beyond the valleys and hills behind your house, consider utilizing white and grey stone along the curved walkway that leads outward from your backdoor.

The Materials of Hardscaping

Concrete pavers: While traditional poured in place concrete has long been associated with the dull, urban landscape, homeowners are now embracing interlocking concrete pavers due to their durability and aesthetic appeal. Consisting of flat, pre–hardened concrete pieces, pavers come in a wide variety of sizes and can be installed in a variety of patterns. Unlike traditional concrete slabs, pavers do not weaken under the changing extremes of weather. Thanks to the interlocking capability of a properly installed paver job, the pavers move with the freeze thaw cycle and remain structurally sound for a lifetime. Because of the joints in a concrete paver installation they are not susceptible to the cracks that form on poured sidewalks and patios when the underlying soil softens or redistributes. Furthermore, concrete pavers are capable of enduring quadruple the weight of slabs. When it comes to residential hardscaping, concrete pavers are an optimal choice for the following elements:

  • Patios — Unlike wood, concrete pavers don't need finishing and aren't subject to mold or deterioration over time. Also, they are not subject to cracking like poured concrete. Many finish styles and colors allow for a truly custom patio that will last for the lifetime of the house.
  • Walkways — Whereas stone can be more costly, brick can be uneven and gravel can feel loose and awkward, concrete pavers provide solid, even surfaces under the feet.
  • Pool decks — Concrete pavers are a great option for pool decks. They are salt resistant, slip resistant, and chlorine will not affect their colors. Around pools, the joints will take on moisture and leave the pavement cooler underfoot.
Concrete Pavers
Concrete Pavers

Wood: While concrete lends itself to a strictly modernized look, wood has a timeless quality it owes to its natural origins. As the primary basis to homes throughout the ages, wood has also been one of the principle hardscaping materials in everything from patios to fences. In terms of interior/exterior thematic continuity, wood is one of the most applicable materials for mirroring outdoor fixtures to indoor walls and furnishings. Wood is ideal for numerous hardscape features, including:

  • Decks — Concrete might be stronger, but the spaces between wood bars allow for rain to drain through to the ground underneath, which is vital not only to the state of a patio, but to the sanitation of an out space.
  • Gazebos — A common feature of old country estates, the typically octagonal, pavilion structure of a gazebo is best constructed with wood.
  • Tree houses — Likewise, wood works best for tree houses, which in a sense serve as man–made outgrowths of wood's primary source, the tree trunk.
  • Fences — Yes, the age–old residential necessity is best constructed with the use of wood, whether you opt for a traditional picket fence or something taller, more secure and modern looking.

Brick: Though its popularity has ebbed in recent decades, brick remains a reliable building material that carries over well between interior and exterior elements. A brick hearth to a living room fireplace, for example, can serve as the starting point to a thematic trail that extends out through the backdoor and runs between the lawn and garden. Despite its relatively high cost, brick is a reliable material that can last for years under various weather conditions. Even though cracks can sometimes form along the mortar, those can easily be fixed with some basic maintenance work. Stone: Known as a classier, more sophisticated alternative to concrete and other building materials, stone can give your hardscape an appearance akin to the outdoor spaces of a lavish estate. As with brick, stone can thematically link fixtures between the interior and exterior of a home. The following stone types are among the most popular choices for hardscaping on residential properties:

  • Sandstone — With a range of hues that includes canyon orange, sandy gray and beige, sandstone offers a look that can range from neutral to sedimentary.
  • Limestone — Salty in tone and sandy in texture, limestone can be used for a gravel base to paths and trimmings. As a bonus, the limestone will help neutralize your soil if you live in an area where the rain is acidic.
  • Flagstone — Perhaps the most popular of all hardscape stones, flagstone is usually applied in panels of various size and shape over paths of grout.
  • Quartzite — A light colored stone with a smooth texture, quartzite is ideal for sleek tiles and trimmings.
  • Slate — Much darker than other stone types, slate has a sedimentary appearance that looks especially well in hardscapes with a deep gray or charcoal theme.
Stone
Stone

In today's hardscapes, another option is synthetic pavers. Though lacking the natural qualities of wood or stone, pavers can be colored and textured to approximate the look of various materials, including brick and flagstone. On properties, both large and small, hardscaping is a major undertaking. Whether you opt to do the work yourself or hire a contractor, it is essential that each project be handled with the proper tools and parts. For home improvement projects both in and around Harrisburg, PA, come to Watson Supply for all of your hardscaping supply needs.