Pro Tips with Jamie Snyder

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Hardscape: How to Maintain a Safe Walkway through the Winter

Posted by Josefine Koehn on Thu, Nov 22, 2012 @ 00:09 PM

Landscaping_LagrangevilleWalkways do not only enhance the aesthetics of your yard, they also create functional pathways to your garage, your shed and to your front door. Especially in the wintertime you will appreciate established and well-maintained walkways. They will make it easier and safer to get around on your property.

To prepare for the snowy season it is a good idea to clear all the sideways and walkways around your home. Clear any tools, hoses, rocks and debris form the walkways, so that shoveling or snow blowing will be easier and smoother once winter hits.

Check for Problem Spots Now
Another good idea is to check for cracks and other problem spots now. The extreme temperature-change will worsen the cracks over the winter – and the repairs will be more extensive and expensive in the spring. You also want to make sure to get rid of any low spots where puddles can develop and water might collect.

Inspect the Drainage System
Another important thing to check, is your water drainage system: Make sure, that rain and melting snow will not spill directly on your walkway, but can flow freely through your drainage system. If water gets under your walkway during the cold winter month, and the water freezes, it can actually rise up the walkway in certain spots. The consequence is, that the walkway will crack or get otherwise damaged in these areas.

Hire a Professional
“I can't tell you how many times I get calls for walkways from people who have an walkway that is in disrepair or simply never had one to begin with“, says Jamie Snyder of Albert Group Landscaping. „And every one of them in the end wished they had acted sooner.“ Albert Group is ICPI certified and a member of the NCMA (Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute and National Concrete Masonry Association respectively). “We don not only want to transform the curb appeal of your home, we have the skills necessary to install a walkway that will last the life of your home.”

Keep it Safe
By keeping your walkway clean and well maintained you also keep it safe. According to the National Floor Safety institute, there are more than 8 million emergency room visits and 21.000 deaths each year because of slip, trip and fall accidents. Most of these incidents happen on even floor, in 55 percent of all cases, the walkway is implicated as the cause.


8 Tips to make your next paver job turn out great! Pavers done right!

Posted by James Snyder on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 @ 51:09 AM

We’ve all seen it, sometimes it’s obvious and looks horrible. Other times you can’t quite put your finger on it but something is off.  In either case it could have been prevented by following the steps below.  We’re talking about pavers that look bad.  So if you are about to try a paver project yourself or are new to the trade – follow these steps below for surefire success.

  • Dig deep because 4” of base just won’t cut it in cohesive soils. First how do you know if you have cohesive soil, easy bring it to get tested. For a small fee - around $200 - they will tell you the gradation and standard proctor density of the soil. Gradation is the makeup of the soil and standard proctor density is a measure of how “tight” they were able to compact the soil in the lab. If you have more than 1/3 clay it’s time to call a professional and have the soil amended by pounding huge chunks of stone into the soil to stiffen up the sub base.  And my company never uses less than 8” of base material, 12” for driveways.

  • Don’t use a demolition tool for an artist’s touch; pick them up to make them look right. From about 20 feet away they will both look the same but up close there is no competition. A demo saw is a quick and dirty way of cutting an edge or soldier course. I’ve seen it done time and time again by landscaping companies right here in Orange County NY. It sure is faster and that’s great but in the end I’d rather have quality - period.

  • A wedge is for holding a door open not for curves. This is got to be the king of being lazy, you need to make a soldier course around a curvy patio or coping on a pool so what do you do. On a curve the only way to make it look good is to cut EVERY one. Anything else will look chunky and you will inevitably be left with a tiny wedge that you need.
  • Go big or go home,  if you can lift it – it won’t compact anything. Compactors come in roughly 3 flavors vibratory, ramming and kneading. I have yet to have a soil gradation test come back where I was able to use my vibratory plate compactor. Rammers or “jumping jacks” as we call them and trench rollers are the only approved ways of compacting cohesive soils. One thing all the good compactors have in common is heft. The trench roller below weighs over 3000 pounds!

trench roller resized 600

  • I think it’s done. O.K. we talked a lot about compaction, but how do we know when we are done. The only real way is to test it. A simple Dynamic Cone Penetrometer will do the trick and save you the headache of re-doing things down the line. Industry standard is 98% Standard Proctor Density or a CBR (California Bearing Ratio) of 150. Let’s face it if you don’t test you are just guessing and you’re bound to guess wrong at some point.

dynamic cone penetrometer

  • Bond lines – don’t have them running or in a basket. They don’t call them interlocking for nothing. Pavers that have long continuous bond lines are prone to failure. That line is like creasing a piece of paper and is considered a weak point.  In a running bond or basket weave pattern there are loads of long straight lines. However much you may like that pattern do yourself a favor and stay away unless you pour concrete underneath.

         running bond  DSC 3782 (Large) resized 600

        Running bond on the Left, Modified Herringbone on the right, Both look great but the Modidied Herringbone is stronger!

  • You got to keep em separated. The base and sub-base that is. A geotextile such as Mirafi 500x will do just fine. This is basically a layer of tough fabric that keeps the sub-base from contaminating the base while allowing water to pass through.  Check out the PDF on it here.
  • Never lose your edge. Pavers need something at the edges to keep them from moving on the horizontal plane. You can use all sorts of things to do this. A house foundation will do just fine on a patio or walkway that meets the house. Belgium block set in concrete or just concrete by itself will also work great. If none of those appeal to you or are just not an option specialty products are available to do this. Paver edge is sold in either aluminum or some form of plastic. In either case use bright spikes not galvanized. You need the spikes to rust and “grab” onto the soil.

Paver edge

Here we used a retaining wall as one edge and aluminum edging where the pavers meet the gravel

There are countless other tips and tricks of the trade that I have learned over the years but these 8 should get you started.

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3D Landscape and Pool design, You only have one shot to get it right!

Posted by James Snyder on Fri, Feb 04, 2011 @ 41:08 PM

Designing landscapes and swimming pools is what I do. So it should come as no surprise that I can visualize the project before it's even started. That being said, when it comes to landscape design there are so many variables that it may take several attempts to get the design exactly the way the client wants. This is where designing in 3D helps you - the client - visualize what I am talking about.

For instance when I design an outdoor kitchen grill area would you rather see this:Outdoor Kitchen Grill

Or this:3d landscape contractor monroe ny

Even though both pictures represent the exact same thing it is much easier to see the look I am going for in the bottom picture. That is because you don't have to imagine things like the counter overhanging the stools, you can see it.

Check out the video below walking you through a drawing. This will give you a sense of the creative process I use for designing outdoor living areas for my clients. And as always if you would like us to come out and give you a complimentary consultation all you have to do is ask.

StoneMakers Skeptic Turned Believer - Concrete walls without forms!?!

Posted by James Snyder on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 @ 04:10 PM

WellStoneMakers Licensed Dealer I am on my way home on Delta flight 2508 enjoying the free web access and reflecting on my week of StoneMakers training. First of all, A sincere Thank You to David Montoya. David Founded StoneMakers and was our host & trainer along with his son and crew. Also joining us was a StoneMakers dealer from LI (the island - as we call it) Peter Castillo of Castilloscapes in LI. If you are reading this and live in LI call up Pete, he's THE guy.

Well what can I say, EVERYTHING StoneMakers claims is true! I can't believe it myself. Truth is, what we learned should not work according to everything I've ever been told about concrete. And, the results speak for themselves, just check out the videos below.

The idea is simple. Make a wall that is monolithic, and have it look like stone. As simple as it sounds, it is just not possible unless you can get the concrete to stand up vertically without forms. Sure you can make a wall with forms or out of block and then add a veneer later, but that's not monolithic and it's expensive. You could also make a wall and add a layer of concrete on top and stamp it but that layer will be thin and not have much depth to it. Both of these techniques are subject to de-lamination. Now with the StoneMakers process we can create a wall or patio without forms and add  texture before it has cured. Not only that, any shape you can dream up (within reason) can be achieved. Want a bench that looks like a tree? No problem. How about a giant waterfall that looks like cliff rock? - I'll take mine in gray with tan hi-lights please. Want your new wall to match the brown tones of your home? We can do that too. The possibilities are endless.

A side effect of building a wall using the StoneMakers process is added strength. Typical concrete will be between 3-4000 psi. Because the StoneMakers product is also a water reducer and water makes concrete weak. The StoneMakers concrete recipe will be much stronger sometimes as much as 6-7000 psi.

If you have any questions please feel free to comment or call me at 845-283-8787.

Video of a project from start to finish - Albert Group Landscaping Installs a retaining wall and walkway.

Posted by James Snyder on Sun, Mar 28, 2010 @ 29:10 PM

Here is a project shown from start to finish. We rennovate a front entrance for Mr. & Mrs. Vasco. The original retaining wall and walkway were looking a little tired and the homeowner wanted to dress things up a bit. First we drew them a 3-D design, and upon their approval we started work.

3d landscape design orange county ny

How do you make a corner when building a retaining wall?

Posted by James Snyder on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 @ 55:10 PM

When making a retaining wall you will almost certainly need to make a corner.

You can either make your own or buy them pre-made. I prefer to make them myself because I can control the quality. The pre-made ones are made with the same tool I have at the masonry supply yard by their guys. Sometimes they rush it and one corner is bigger than the other or the corner is not really 90 degrees.

Some contractors do not know how to do these or they don't have the tool and do not want to pay for corners and they make something that looks like this.

 Notice how unattractive the verticle cuts are at the corners, these are two blocks that are mitered together. You may also notice that the contractor did not control the bond lines running vertical in the wall, these are very weak spots. Bond lines are the joint where one block meets another. You should never have one on top of another one, Here you have up to 7 stacked up. This wall will fail no doubt. A local contractor was so impressed with his own work that he posts it on his web page. 

Below is one of our jobs, Notice the nice corners and staggered bond lines in the step treads.

landscaping monroe ny

How do you cut pavers?

Posted by James Snyder on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 @ 53:01 AM

I have seen pavers cut many different ways. I will describe three of the ways here. I only use one of these three.

First you have to know where you want to cut. Let’s say for example you have a walkway and you want to incorporate some curves to make a beautiful meandering pathway. Chances are if you freehand this aspect it will not look great. So I would say that the first thing to get right is your curve. My favorite method is to calculate the actual radius of the cut you want and use a string and a marker to create the line. Sometimes in a situation where the radius point is in a location that a line cannot be stretched to I will use flexible PVC conduit and some weights (extra pavers) to hold the conduit down then trace the conduit with a marker. This method works just as well if you take the time to do it. Remember to keep your inside and outside curves the same and again take your time.

Also Safety is key here. I have 2 eyes, 2 lungs, and 10 fingers. I like them all. Use eye protection, watch your fingers and wear a respirator while cutting. Breathing the dust in will kill you - yes for real. It's bad stuff!

Now let’s assume you have your curves laid out. How should you cut it?

There are 3 main ways of cutting pavers.

1.       “Snap” or “break” – This is done by taking a paver and either breaking it with a chisel and hammer or placing it in a brick breaker or block breaker. Depending on the look you are trying to achieve this may be acceptable. I want tighter joint spacing than these tools will provide.

Paver Splitter

2.       Demo saw on ground – When I first saw this method about 15 years ago I could not believe it. I was working on a walkway and another contractor was working on a walkway across the street. We both started at the same time and just as I was ready to lay pavers he was getting ready to cut. Now I knew why – he used half as much base material as me. Now here he was getting ready to cut pavers and out comes the demo saw. I was in shock, It was like someone just came and was going to teach me a new sectret. So I went right over and introduced myself and watched. Well, boy was I let down. These were the worst cuts I have ever seen. Fast, but just horrible looking. From time to time I see guys doing this and if I get the chance I’ll stop and look. I have yet to see one cut out with a demo saw that looks awesome. It’s just not possible to cut a smooth curve with a 14” blade.

Demo Saw

3.       Pick it up and use a diamond blade table saw – This is the way to go. You have total control of how you follow your line and it just looks great in the end. Look at the picture below. No jagged lines in the curves, nice even flare, and no sliver cuts or triangles in the soldier course. This is the only method I use.

landscaping orange county ny

What is better? - Pavers vs. Concrete

Posted by James Snyder on Sat, Mar 06, 2010 @ 32:10 PM

This is a question that I get all the time.

    I'll start out with that I install both. Being certified by the ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute) and the NCMA (National Concrete Masonry Association) I feel that I can speek intelligently on this topic.

Just as most things - there are pluses and minuses to both.

And just as most things - poorly installed products will function poorly as well. 

     Pavers in the Unites States are only considered a paver if they meet requirements set forth by the ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials).  Their web address is The current Paver Classification is ASTM C936.

To be a paver it must have the following characteristics:

  • An average compressive strength of 8,000 psi or greater
  • An average absorption no more than 5%
  • Resistance to at least 50 freeze-thaw cycles with average material loss not exceeding 1%
  • Conformance to abrasion resistance tests
  • A length to thickness ratio of no more that 4:1 (that's right a paver that has a side longer that 4 times it's height is no longer a paver - it's just a slab of concrete) 
  • Unsightly pavers can be replaced (I once had a customer spill rusty water on some)
  • They can be picked up to allow for a utility line or pipe to be repaired, and then placed back down and no one would ever know the difference

Concrete (this is true of many different types of concrete - stamped, textured, exposed aggragate etc...)

  • Concrete is ordered by the contractor usually between 3500 - 4500 psi and a slump of between 3-7, I like 5 or 6 depending on the weather
  • Cracking of concrete is a feature not a flaw
  • Different batches of concrete may be different colors
  • Unless you have samples taken (think large projects and state jobs) quality control is a mixed bag
  • placing something as simple as a wire or pipe underneth can require expensive saw cutting and / or jack hammering

Now that you know a little about the two, lets talk about which is better when.

    Poured concrete is great at taking compression loads just not as great at taking tensile loads. For example concrete makes excellent footings for decks - in fact I would say the best. Poured concrete is also great for foundation walls. The walls will surely develop cracks but usually that is acceptable for a basement. And when it is not acceptable such as in a finished basement the walls are covered up anyway. 

    What it is not good at is being poured 4" thick and being driven on. It's not that you can't do it, it's just next to impossible to stop it from developing cracks. Have you ever heard of the saying - "Step on a crack - break your mothers' back". Try walking down a sidewalk and not seeing a crack. 

Concrete walkway with crack


 This is a picture of stamped concrete with a crack in it!

 Now what are pavers good at and why?

Pavers are great at taking those loads. They do this because of the way that they interlock in 3 different ways.

  1. Horizontal interlock - this is the pavers ability to resist side to side shifting movement, it is created by the pattern of the pavers allong with the tightness of that pattern and at the edges of the project edge restraints. They can be aluminium edge restraints specifically designed for this application set in place with 12" spikes. Edge restraints can also be the concrete foundation that the patio is up against, a curb etc.
  2. Vertical interlock - this is the pavers ability to resist moving either up or down. Vertical interlock is primarily achieved by the tightness of the pattern and the quality of the preperation of the sub-base and base materials inder the pavers.
  3. Rotational interlock - this is the pavers ability to resist rotating. We've all experienced stepping on a piece of flag stone only to have one side lift up. That is the flag stone rotating. Creating this type of interlock is achieved through the tightness of the pattern and the ratio of the paver height to length. That's why flagstone lifts, no rotational interlock.

Pavers are also good at being low maintanence - just a few cleanings a year with a blower will keep them looking great! And by the way properly installed pavers will not have weeds growing through them. Buy that's a whole blog atricle in itself.

Still don't believe how strong pavers are? Below is a Driveway that we built and drove a 70,000 pound truck on it just 2 days after construction. And we drove it right to edge.

Paver driveway with giant truck on it


Tri-axle dump truck loaded - 70,000 plus pounds



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