Working in home improvement contracting can be very interesting. As a contractor you get to work with clients to build something that will improve and enhance their home. It’s typically something that people are excited about, and that makes the work rewarding and fun.
As with any trade that deals directly with the public, it can also at times be extremely frustrating. It’s at these moments that I think of the classic 1948 film, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, starring legends Carey Grant and Myrna Loy. The Blandings, tired of apartment life in New York City, move to the country to build their dream house. Whoever wrote some of these scenes felt my frustrations.
My favorite two scenes (see clips below) are when Mrs. Blandings picks paint colors and when the Blandings are helping their architect design their dream home. In 1948, their custom home budget was $10,000! That might get you a patio now-a-days – Enjoy!
Contractors get a bad rap. Sometimes however this reputation is deserved. We are working on a project in Marin that needs extensive demo, grading, and excavation. On the client’s behalf we are soliciting bids for the work. We meet on-site with one prospective company.
“When can you get me numbers?” I ask.
“Two days” says the excavator.
I think to myself this is either an efficient estimator or he is putting me on. A week rolls by, no response. A second week comes and goes. I decide to reach out:
“Just touching base on our site visit from a couple weeks back. Let me know if you have any questions or need anything additional from us in putting together an estimate.”
I get back this reply: “We appreciate having been given the opportunity bid this job. However, we are not bidding any new projects at this time. We are in contract with many other jobs and do not have the man power to take on any others at this time. Therefore, we are regrettably not in a position to submit a proposal.”
This type of bush league business practice is the reason for contractor’s bad reputation with the public. Clearly they were too busy to be bothered, and we are on to do business with a more professional outfit.
We just wrapped up this custom gate installation in Corte Madera. The homeowners wanted a nice architectural gate to match their remodel and front landscape. We installed a heavy timber gate framed with 4×4’s, 6×6 posts and powdercoated black hardware and wire panel inserts.
We reached out to O’Connell Landscape to bid on a large landscaping project for our home in Marin. They were the only firm willing/experienced enough to provide us with line item estimated costs, which was incredibly helpful in deciding how to move forward. When we decided to implement our project in phases, Michael was flexible and worked us into their schedule with only a short wait. We were so impressed with their work — it surpassed our (high) expectations in look, function and quality. They were mindful of every detail and it shows. When we had to make adjustments, they didn’t hit us with change orders and additional costs. They started and finished the project on time, were here every day, provided progress updates, and were generally so professional and pleasant to work with. We’ve worked with many contractors for our landscape and home, and these guys are as good as it gets! We look forward to working with them again on future projects.
It is always fun to visit a project a while after installation and see the transformation as the garden starts to fill in and mature. This project in Tiburon was a complete transformation of a front and back yard. It benefited from the great Tiburon climate, with its mild bay-side influence. We installed all new plantings, walkways, rear patios, retaining walls, extensive fencing and driveway for this remodel project. Enjoy!
Another year of interesting projects is in the books. 2018 was a year of delightful clients, marked by surpassing twenty 5-star reviews on Houzz. Here you will find projects from Petaluma, San Rafael, and Santa Rosa- Enjoy!
We recently completed a bit of a different project for us, a quarter mile of agricultural fence designed for deer exclusion of a 3 acre area. We build a lot of wood and welded wire fences, but not being as familiar with the construction of these types of fences we did a lot of research on proper construction techniques for deer fencing. Here are some of the tools, techniques, and tips we learned along the way.
What we installed
-1500′ of 8′ fencing- 6′ of netting plus a smooth wire. We used 75″ tall Bekeart Solidlock Pro 20 Fixed Knot 12.5 Gauge Fence (17-75-6), combined with a high smooth tensile wire to top the fence
-5 HN corner braces with kicker posts using 2 3/8″ OD schedule 40 posts with galvanized schedule 20 cross bracing
-Corners joined using Fence Bullets instead of welding
-Wire tied to posts using Gripple T-Clips, wire joined using medium Gripple Plus connectors
-10′ T posts (1.33 weight) installed at 15′ spacing
-Gate corners built using 6×8 pressure treated crossed braced members set in concrete
Building an ag fence is different from other types of fencing. There are some specialized tools that make the work much easier. These are often special order materials that you can’t find at your local Home Depot or even Tractor Supply:
-Post Pounder: While you can drive metal T-posts and pipe corners with a standard post pounder, there is an easier way. There are lots of options out on the market, but we chose to purchase a Man Saver Post Pounder to assist in driving posts. The Man Saver is a pneumatic pounder that can work with a fairly small air compressor in the field. After trying a smaller size twin tank unit, we swapped this for a larger but still mobile 8cfm Devilbiss compressor paired with a 5500 watt generator to run the Man Saver. We used 2 3/8″ schedule 40 galvanized posts for our fence corner bracing. The Man Saver lived up to its name, it was very handy in driving the posts. We were working in heavy clay soil driving corners to between 4-5′ in depth. The Man Saver did a great job in the softer layer up until about 3′ and then struggled in some harder sections where we finished the posts with a manual pounder. Given the size, weight, and cost of the Man Saver, these were acceptable trade-offs. We ended up doing all the T-posts by hand. These we 10′ posts driven to 3′ and it was easier to level and faster to install by hand than to set up and level the Man Saver 12′ in the air for each post. For shorter traditional 6′ T-posts the Man Saver would be dynamite. Two main tips in using the unit, keep it oiled (their accessory kit and in-line oiler is a must) and switch to the hard soil/ground counterweight if you encounter problems with the unit not cycling correctly in heavy ground.
-Corner connections: We knew we wanted to use pipe braces for their longevity and ease of driving, but wanted to avoid the time and expense of welding the corners. We settled on using Bullet Fence connectors based out of Oklahoma. These sleeves improve on traditional chain-link fence style cup and strap connectors by having two bolts, one connect a strap to the post and and the other to connect the sleeve around the brace pipe. This sleeve is the novel part of the design that helps prevent movement and separation common in traditional brace bands. Installation is simple but a bit time consuming using open ended wrenches. We installed 34 brace assemblies and by the end we had gotten very good at installing the bullets and very tired of open end wrench work. We used a Husky ratcheting wrench, which made the work a bit easier. Time will tell if these braces will outperform their chain-link counterparts, but from the installation and design it should be a good brace.
-Stretcher Bars: You may be tempted to try to build a stretched wire fence without using appropriate stretcher bars. There are many YouTube videos showing novel and frankly dumb ways of stretching fence. The tension is part of the beauty of a high tensile field fence system. We used two Kencove 8′ stretcher bars combined with 3 Kencove Boundary Strainers. For short runs we did end pulls, straining the wire from the corner and then connecting with Gripple T-Clips.
Sources: Finding good Ag Fence Supplies can sometimes be a challenge. We reviewed different wire types (e.g. Redbrand vs. Bekaert), and different sources for tools and accessories. We liked Bekaert fixed knot the best in terms of quality, wire size options, gauge, and price. We used to following vendors for this Northern California project:
–Kencove Fence Supply (national supplier)- best price we found on good quality tools. They shipped UPS Freight for free.
This back yard near downtown in West Petaluma had seen better days. The client wanted a complete refresh that would better use the ample flat space with a patio, vegetable garden and potting area, tied together with a water feature and lawn. The result was a much more engaging and usable space that created a new outdoor room off the residence.
Working with O’Connell Landscape has been a pleasure, they turned my once ugly back yard into a beautiful oasis where I could enjoy it for many years to to come. O’Connell Landscape has a wonderful dedicated hard-working crew and it was a pleasure working with them as well . I would definitely recommend this company to turn your yard from dreams into reality and to have a beautiful yard that you always wanted.
This project in Santa Rosa was the first phase of a two phase front and back yard installation. The back yard had been neglected and the clients who had recently purchased the home wanted to freshen up the space and make it more usable. We renovated some existing elements, adding to an existing patio space with the addition of a paver patio, installed a new vegetable garden, replanted, and upgraded some rear landings. Working with the owner we assisted to install a kit pergola that was the focal point of the new yard.
We hired O’Connell Landscape to re-design our backyard and improve drainage. Because they are a design-build company, the scheduling worked out perfectly. Once the design was completed we were able to start construction. Michael, the designer, was easy to work with and came up with a beautiful creative design. Best of all he was receptive to our input and the final result is even better than I had hoped for. His team was very organized and tidy while working on our property.
The whole experience was great. We already have plans for the front yard.
We took this existing small front yard in Midtown Petaluma and redeveloped it to create a modern courtyard design. Elements included a stained horizontal board fence, bluestone stepping stones with steel edging and Mexican pebbles, and low water use plantings and succulents. The result was a dramatic front yard make-over.
This completed project was a complete re-landscape of a front yard and rear pool area on a half acre off Peacock Gap Golf Course in San Rafael. We developed an all new front planting scheme, and new stone patios and usage areas in the back yard, highlighted by an Aqualens Fountain.
Michael O’Connell presented a very thorough design plan, continued to work with us and provide explanations as the project evolved, and his team maintained a clean job-site. We would hire him again in the future.
We are working on a two stage master plan for a residence near Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa. The back yard development that will be installed as phase 1 focuses on improving flow and usable areas throughout the space. The front yard plan, which is still in development, removes a large lawn and replaces it will a natural dry stream bed and low water use plantings.
We were fortunate enough to win another award this year at the regional CLCA (California Landscape Contractor’s Association) Achievement Awards. This project in Petaluma won first place in the one of the design-build categories.
The installation features new landscaping for front and back yards for this new home on the East side of town.
This project in West Petaluma was a refresh of a garden installation that was about 10 years old. We installed a new dry stream bed and connecting path, added privacy lattice, driveway access gate, and redeveloped all the planting beds.
We asked Michael to update our existing landscape and add some new elements. We had a fairly vague idea of what we wanted but Michael was able to create a design that brought to life exactly what we wanted. His design seamlessly blended the new elements with the refurbished existing elements and resulted in serene front and back yard areas that contain interesting focal points everywhere you look. The new elements are absolutely lovely and the work done to the existing elements made these look like new again. The dry creek bed and blue flagstone pathway he designed are just perfect. Michael’s crew have been with him for 10+ years and are all extremely knowledgeable, professional and reliable, especially Ubaldo, who executed Michael’s design beautifully. Michael took time to go over all the details, kept us informed on status and provided timely change orders as items were added to the wish list. All in all, Michael and his crew made the process fun and we couldn’t be happier with the results. We highly recommend O’Connell Landscape to anyone looking for a stress-free process and beautiful results in a timely manner.
-Marie Girolo, Petaluma
We are working on wrapping up a large installation of Peacock Gap golf course in San Rafael. One of the signatures of this newly renovated back yard is this Aqualens Fountain. We installed this with new dry laid flagstone squares and seat wall. The result is a modern and striking accent to the focal axis of a swimming pool area.
It is always fun to visit a garden that we installed several years ago and see how the design vision and plants have matured over time. This project in Novato was a large multifaceted installation completed in 2013. The different areas have really come together as the plantings have matured.
We build a lot of gates and fences and see a lot of poorly constructed garden gates. Gates that drag, don’t close, and don’t latch can be on of the most frustrating things in the garden. Below are a couple of videos showing how not to build a gate, and a properly constructed gate.
A few tips: -Big posts, big piers: Larger 4×6 or 6×6 posts will provide more stability and decay resistance over time. Larger piers will make sure your gate has a good foundation. A really solid pier would be 18″ diameter and at least 1/3 the height of the post with gravel at the base of the pier for drainage. -Frame it right: For a carpenters gate, the framing should always be installed vertically. Typically 2x4s are used. The 4 inch dimension should always be vertically (i.e. perpendicular to the ground). Box framing a gate with the 2 inch dimension vertical is easier, but holds up much worse over time. It also doesn’t look as good. -Not too heavy or too wide: When framing a gate, make sure to not oversize the framing too much. A heavy gate will be more likely to sag. For that same reason don’t make you garden gate too wide. We typically limit our standard gates to 48 inches. Once you start get wider metal reinforcement or additional support is required. -Pick the right lumber: Gates should be made out of high quality decay resistant lumber. In California that usually means Redwood or sometimes Cedar. Posts can be either pressure treated lumber or Redwood. -Choose a good hardware: It doesn’t have to be fancy, but a quality latch will make all the difference on your gate. We like paddle style latches for the easiest operation. Lokk Latches or the swanky Rocky Mountain Hardware are good options for different needs. Same goes for hinges, standard hinges are fine, just make sure they are heavy duty and can bear the gate’s weight well.
This recently completed project was a front and back yard installation for a new home on the East Side of Petaluma. The site was a blank slate and we worked with the owner to create a new entertaining space in the back yard with strong Mediterranean influences. A new travertine patio and seat wall are highlights, with the center piece of a Jade water feature. A secondary seating area of Arizona flagstone with creeping thyme balances and softens the other half of the yard. The planting scheme was low maintenance focused with Fruitless Olives, Lavender, and Roses being highlights.
O’Connell Landscape is the best!
Working with Michael and his team made the entire landscaping experience positive and productive – and one that resulted in landscaping that was completed within deadline and is exactly what I had hoped for – and more.
My new home had nothing but clay dirt in the back with a few grasses planted by the building contractor in front. It has now been transformed into a warm and welcoming Tuscan landscape both in front and in back.
Throughout the design process, Michael was patient with my questions regarding hardscape materials, design, colors, and plantings. He was excellent at listening to what I wanted and incorporating those concepts into a realistic design. He was also extremely cognizant of costs and budget issues – I always knew the cost of any of my “ideas” – in other words, at the end of the day, there were no budgetary surprises.
Rueben and his crew are expert and knowledgeable at all that they do. They are diligent, experienced, hardworking, and competent. They were never intrusive or disruptive to the goings on in our household, and always cleaned up before leaving the project each day.
Michael managed the entire process throughout the life of the project, regularly checking in with Rueben and his crew on-site, all the while maintaining excellent communication with me. He was extremely helpful when it came to selection of materials and a garden fountain, always providing samples and identifying vendors that carried materials that were of interest to me. When the project was complete, Michael prepared and reviewed with me, a booklet listing all the plantings and materials used as well as complete garden care specific to my landscaping.
Working with Michael, beginning with design, to material and planting decisions, and throughout the actual build-out, was a seamless process and a huge plus.
My landscaping is beautiful – and it was an absolute pleasure working with Michael.
The old landscape in this Petaluma back yard had become severely overgrown and had been cobbled together over the years. The first step here was a good clean-up to remove all the excess vegetation. This exposed some extensive rock walls, which we rebuilt and complimented with new paver patios, walkways, seating area and vegetable garden boxes.
Thank you so very much for transforming our jungle of a back yard into a lovely, peaceful space. Your ability to modify what we had and attention to detail as you designed and built the new space was tremendous, and we know we will enjoy it for years to come. Please extend our thanks to your team- their work was exceptional.
Recently I was browsing the website of Petaluma based MAD architecture and noticed their nice redesign of the Petaluma Library. Then something else jumped out, the front of the library looked nothing like the photo in the portfolio. This is a rather stark example of the need for on-going maintenance and reinvestment, especially in public spaces. In this example 1 grass out of 100 survived between the completed photo and the current photo.
Incidentally, Daily Acts is in the process of a community based landscape project to help redevelop the landscape around the library coming up later in March.
This half acre residence in San Rafael has good fundamentals, but the landscape has suffered from neglect and lackluster design. We are working on a redesign that would incorporate a stronger more coherent plant palate, bolder masses and visual lines, and improved focal points for the front yard. In the back yard, the lower pool deck is undersized, so we are developing a plan for an expanded seating area, combined with a fountain for interested and improved plantings.
This project on the Western edge of Petaluma took a large modern farm house and integrated a distinctive more modern planting plan to compliment the house. A large circular driveway dominated the front of the house and the outdated plantings there had seen better days. We designed a planting scheme focusing on ornamental grasses with accents of Olive Trees, Cork Oak, and Arbutus to transform the look of the front. New gravel walkways gave structure and framed the phase 1 implementation.
Michael is a true professional. He and his team are incredibly responsible, organized, detailed, honest, timely, and responsive. We hired O’Connell landscape to transform over two acres of farm property that had been left to waste for over a decade. The results exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to working with them again on future projects. Highly recommended.
Santa Barbara has such a unique style. With its more tropical plant palette and strong Spanish influences, it can be refreshing to draw some inspirations of Southern California into our landscapes. Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens in downtown Santa Barbara features some interesting elements- decomposed granite pathways, stonework and boulders, ponds and open grassy areas as well as sections of plants that could be applied to a Northern California setting.
With our new website we’re reposting our great gardens and parks portfolios to our blog in a series of posts. Enjoy!
Change orders have a bad reputation and sometimes for good reason. Many contractors don’t create comprehensive plans or agreements for their work scope, only to come back later with dreaded change orders. That being said change orders are often necessary to finalize details, allotments or other aspects of the initial agreement, or to add on to the project scope.
We have completed large projects with zero change orders, and conversely done small projects that clients ‘change ordered’ into large multi-phase installations. What was previously a challenge for us was collecting signed paperwork change orders. While online electronic signature platforms have been around for a long time, we were still doing things the old fashion way since we don’t process that many contract documents.
This past year we finally made the switch to Adobe Sign. We wanted a simple, inexpensive, and intuitive solution that would streamline the change order process. The Adobe platform fit the bill. It also allows clients to keep tabs and approve changes via smartphone or desktop. Now change orders are made easy.
There is a very short answer- yes. All concrete cracks, it is an intrinsic characteristic of the material. We design our concrete installations using scoring and other preventative measures so that the natural cracking follows the bottom of the cut scoring joints (which is why we score concrete). You can think of this the same way that a folded or perforated piece of paper tears in a predicable way along the fold’s path.
In about 1 out of 10 jobs we get some stress cracking through the middle of the slab. These are typically hairline cracks, which don’t effect the structural integrity of the slab, but don’t look great either. I like to give this due diligence warning because sometimes clients are surprised or upset with this cracking, which is not a defect. We do all we can to reduce these issues using good baserock prep, steel reinforcement, professional finishers, and good quality concrete material.
Here is a good short video for more on concrete cracking:
This new home in Petaluma features a Mediterranean influenced design with a Travertine patio, curved seatwall and fountain. A smaller yard like this affords opportunities to focus on developing discrete areas and details.
Another year has flown by and with it a lot of interesting projects are in the books. Here you will find our gallery of highlights of work installed this year, including projects in Tiburon, Mill Valley and Petaluma- enjoy!
I just received an email today with this very exclamation. It can be scary when plants take a turn for the worse, often for no apparent reason. The first step in troubleshooting is usually checking for over or under irrigation. After that step, things can get tricky. One of the best resources for pest and disease problems afflicting ornamental plants is the UC Integrated Pest Management (IPM) database. Here you will find overviews of common pests, diseases and environmental factors of many common landscape plants.
Below is an example of problems that can afflict Strawberry Tree, which was what my client was concerned about.
We have started to use YouTube videos more and more as quick and informal client communication tools. This works great to walkthrough jobsite questions or in this case a low tech review of a planting plan concept for a client on business travel in Hong Kong. Enjoy!