Determine Your Needs
First decide what you're trying to accomplish with your hardscape project by asking yourself these three questions:
1. What are my personal needs? More entertainment space? More privacy? More functionality - walkway, patio, driveway?
2. What type of outdoor living space do I want to create? Formal? Informal? Unusual?
3. How will the hardscape portion embellish, complement or form the foundation of my outdoor living space?
Create Your Theme
Once you've determined your needs, you need to decide on a theme. If the purpose of your project is to create outdoor entertaining space, you'll want to consider the type of entertaining you do. Always remember to integrate your theme into your overall landscape design to ensure that the softscape (plants, bushes, etc.) and the hardscape elements complement each other.
Sketch Your Design
Whether or not you're an artist, you should create a scaled drawing of your project to help you visualize what the final project will look like, develop your budget, and stay on task. If you would like a professionally drawn site plan, consult a contractor - most offer design services for a fee. If you choose to design the project yourself, you can consult landscape books available at more home improvement centers or bookstores for ideas.
Establish Your Budget
Your costs will vary based on the products you select, the intricacy of your design and the scope of your project. Some basic steps/materials to factor into your budget include: excavation, base materials (crushed rock and washed sand), paver edge restraint, equipment rental (plate compactor, masonry saw, etc.), hardscape products (retaining wall units, concrete pavers, etc.), geo-textile/landscape fabric, drain pipe, joint sand, and concrete adhesive.
Manage Your Expectations
Keep the finished project in mind. The larger your hardscape project is, the harder it will be for you to install and the longer it will take. If your project is large, you may want to consider installing it in stages, starting with small elements such as a small pathway or small retaining wall.
Select Your Materials
Today's hardscape market offers a wide variety of materials to choose from, including natural stone, boulders, interlocking concrete pavers and segmental retaining walls. With an abundance of colors, textures and shapes to choose from, you should have more than enough options to choose from when creating your outdoor living space.
Use the Proper Tools
As with any home improvement project, using the right tools is essential to ensuring that your project will stand the test of time. If you don't have the proper equipment, it is worth the extra investment to rent or purchase the tools needed to do the job right. Consult the Materials Needed and Tools Needed sections for the items you will need.
Don't Cut Corners
While saving a few dollars or minutes up front may seem attractive, it could cost you even more money and time in the future. If installed incorrectly, your project may settle or tip, greatly reducing its stability and aesthetic appeal. It is important to follow the installation instructions as closely as possible. Do your project right the first time - it's very difficult and time consuming to uninstall a project and put it back together.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
Installing a hardscape feature in your outdoor living space is hard work, plain and simple. Nevertheless, your hardswork will pay off as you, your family, and your guests enjoy the project for years to come.