This years Tampa Home Show has spawned several projects that seem to have very similar characteristics . Since this years show, we have been asked to design seven projects that although different in design have most of the same elements. (Paver Patio, koi pond, screen enclosure, retainment, outdoor lighting, landscaping). Several also had hot tubs designed into them. At this point, we have completed three of them, are in the middle of construction on a fourth, and waiting approval from H.O.A.’s on two others.

One such job was a project completed for John and Kate (and their two yellow labs Brutus & J.J.) Step one was to install a large koi pond with two waterfalls. Our larger koi ponds are usually hand dug to a depth of 3′ to 4′. The upper lip is framed using concrete block than a 4″ to 6″ rock ledge is formed. A buffer of padding is laid in then a 45 mil. U/V protectant liner is fitted into position.

Our standard construction of a koi pond involves installing three different types of filtration systems. First a skimmer is installed which filtrates all surface debris. A basket, or net depending on the model fits inside this skimmer and is the first stage of the filtration system, collecting larger debris such as leaves, twigs, etc. This filter requires only a few minutes of your time every other week to empty. It may require more frequent changes in the Autumn depending on the amount of foilage in the area that may be dropping leaves. A filter mat is fitted in the bottom of the skimmer, above the pump, acting as the second stage of the filtration system. This mat will filter out smaller debris that makes its way past the net or basket. The mat requires less frequent changes than the net or basket.

For maximum koi pond circulation, the skimmer should be positioned on the opposite end of the pond from the waterfall. This is also where the submersible pump is housed, there for acting as the flow intake for the entire system. The exception is a system where an external pump is used and/or a bottom drain is added in addition to the skimmer. We have also been installing automate fill valves in our jobs, These are ran from a hose bib, and housed in the skimmer.

The second filter is a biological filter/waterfall. The entire body of water is filtered through the biofalls. In addition this filter is mainly designed to create and colonize the beneficial bacteria necessary to help clean the ponds water, as well as create an ecosystem necessary for healthy koi as well as other fish. To accomplish this the water is plumbed into the bottom if the filter and then flows upward through a series of mats and/or mesh bags containing either lava rock or bio balls. This filter should only need to be cleaned out about once annually simply by removing the bags and mats andthen hosing them off.

A check valve is installed in line with this filter so that the water inside the filter doesn’t drain back into the pond if the pump to the waterfall is shut off. (If the koi pond is already at it’s maximum water level, the additional water will overflow the pond). A ball valve is also added in line to this filter to allow us to control the amount of water flow to the waterfall. Although I usually like to have the maximum amount of flow over a waterfall, we do find it necessary sometimes to cut the flow rate back, often to divert water to a second waterfall or another filter, such as an ultraviolet clarifier, as in John and Katie’s situation, one in the same, the water that was diverted through the ultraviolet clarifier was the same water that would form our secondary waterfall.

This leads us to our third filter. The ultraviolet clarifier is basically an in-line, ultraviolet light that cleanses the ponds water of such things as parasites and insects, but mainly the microscopic organisms that tend to discolor the water. The ultraviolet clarifier basically does for a koi pond the same as shock and chlorine will do for a swimming pool, but is completely harmless to koi and other fish or other water life and aquatic plants.

To install this filter a tee is installed in the main line from the pump to the biofalls. A ball valve to control water flow is installed in-line to this filter also. The flow rate to this filter is somewhat important. The formula for flow rate for most ultraviolet clarifiers is approximately 50 percent of your ponds volume per hour (example: meaning a 1000 gallon koi pond would require 500 gallons of water to cycle through this filter every hour). If the flow rate is too great the ultraviolet light will not have enough time to kill the micro-organisms adequately. If the flow rate is too slow the ultraviolet light will not kill the organisms as fast as they can reproduce.

There are other filters that are optional, but that we have installed in koi ponds on different occasions or situations. One such filter is the bead filter. The bead filter is a pond filter very similar in design to a pool filter. It is made to filter out solid debris as well as create the beneficial bacteria needed for a healthy pond. Another, relatively new filter, is the ‘Iongen Electric Pond Clarifier’ made by Aquascapes out of Illinois. One function of the Iongen clarifier is that, like the ultraviolet clarifier, it is an in-line filter providing clear water without the use of chemicals. Although I do not feel that this filter is as efficient as the U/V; one positive side is that it will filter a koi pond up to 25,000 gallons in size, where as an ultraviolet clarifier in the same price range usually is made to filter a pond up to 4000 gallons in size. This filter also controls the build up of other algae that the U/V clarifier does not. This filter works by having a microprocessor inside the Iongen control panel causing the outermost atoms of copper, silver and zinc to lose an electron creating a positiveion. The positive ions are swept from the filters zinc probes into the pond where they can begin to treat the water.

Most of our pond supplies, as well as our stone is purchased through Wesley Chapel Landscape Supply. There are many different types of stone that is available to us, but the only stone that is indigenous to Florida is lime rock, and we rarely seldom like to use that in our ponds or waterfalls. Most of the stone available at the local nurseries, landscape suppliers, and stone yards is imported from Arkansas, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. Unless we are trying to match an existing design or medium I usually tend to use Pennsylvania Antigue fieldstone and boulders in our ponds and waterfalls. Even though the travel distance is further, the price is comparable, and I feel the Pennsylvania stone has a lot more character and looks much more natural in ponds and waterfalls than the others.

The next phase of this project was the installation of the interlocking paver patio. Our patios have been constructed using natural stone, travertine, or brick, but usually are constructed using interlocking concrete pavers. Although pavers are used  throughout the country, I would have to say that they seem to be more indigenous and prevalent here in Florida. Because of the materials used in the make up of concrete pavers being so readily available in Florida, the cost of manufacturing as well as installation of Pavers is extremely reasonable. The cost of the installation of interlocking concrete pavers in the northeast part of the country is 2-3 times more than that here in Florida. In addition, concrete pavers seem to be a better match with the style of home built in Florida. A concrete paver may blend better with the facade of a stucco faced home on the beach than it would on a mountain side in Tennessee.

Thirdly, one of the main considerations one must think of when choosing the installation of a stone or paver patio versus a wood or composite deck is elevation. Besides the option a railing or a bench, a wood deck stays relatively the same in price until you get into the second story range (with the exception of a slight raise in cost due to each additional riser in staircase). A patio that is raised due maybe to a drop in elevation of ones yard would require retainment. Most of our retainment walls are constructed using 6″ x 6″ timbers, or ornamental concrete block, such as the Highland Wall Series. Natural rock, brick, or stucco are other options and can be viewed on our website under retainment systems. Unfortunately, depending upon the amount of drop in elevation, the retainment wall in many cases can cost as much or more than the patio itself. Being as Florida is the only state of all 50 that does not have one area that exceeds 500 feet above sea level, elevation and retainment is seldom a variable. Many of the backyards that I look at here in Tampa seem to be flat blank canvases, actually making it more challenging to create a unique outdoor living space. With John and Katie’s project we did have enough of a pitch in elevation to allot us the opportunity to install a two-tiered patio, adding a little more character.

The process and procedure of installing a patio is pretty standard and is usually followed by most legitimate or quality paver companies in the Tampa area. After deciding on and laying out the design, the first step is excavation. Usually it will take approximately 6″ of excavation below the desired height of the patio, provided standard 23/8″ thick pavers are being used. Even if the existing grade is greater than 6″, all grass or sod should be removed. Next, a minimum of 3″-4″ of base is laid in, graded and then compacted using a vibratory plate compactor. Crushed concrete or crushed asphalt is the usual base of choice. In almost all of the patios that we have installed, a soldier row is used as a border. A soldier row is where a series of a full concrete paver (usually a 4″ x 8″ or 6″ x 9″) is used to outline the patio. This can be viewed on our website under the hardscape heading. The soldier row may be a different color (often solid) complimenting or pulling out some of the color used in the patio. In some case we will take the brick used as the soldier row and drop a percentage of them into the patio as highlights. Next, unless butting up to the home/building or a retainment wall) a bead of portland cement is poured in and beveled, preventing the pavers from shifting or pushing outward. When installing a driveway the portland cement should be poured underneath the soldier row also to compensate for the added weight and use of automobiles. Finally sand is brushed or washed into the uniformed gaps between each paver. At an additional cost Polymeric sand can be used instead of the basic masonry sand. Applied correctly polymeric sand will set up more like a grout and is essential when using some of the higher end hardscape lines such as the Belgard Series. We suggest and offer the option of sealing your pavers, but it is recommended that a wait time of at least 60-90 days be given from time of install before sealing your pavers. There are several manufacturers of Interlocking pavers in Florida, and we have worked with all of them, but as with John and Katie’s job, they chose to use Old Castle Pavers. They have a large office, brickyard, and display here in Tampa on Busch Blvd. and have a vast variety and selection. They also carry the Belgard Series as well as different lines of some of the retainment systems we use, including the Highland Wall which was used on this particular job.

The next phase of this project was to construct a screen room/enclosure. Actually the footer for the screen room is poured before the patio is installed so that the pavers can be laid over the footer. I feel that this is a cleaner look when the screen room is bolted through the Interlocking pavers showing no exposed concrete.

Screen enclosures obviously are very popular here in the Tampa area as well as the rest of Florida. Usually they are screen constructed around the swimming pools, but we do get a lot of inquires to install screen rooms over decks, patios, ponds, etc. Folks that would like to have the same luxuries that a screen room provides without the desire of a swimming pool. A screen room does provide many positive benefits. They provide more privacy as well as security from neighborhood children and pets as well as wild animals. On a comfort level a screen enclosure will allow you to enjoy your outdoor living space while providing protection from bugs and mosquitoes as well as excess heat and ultraviolet rays. Lastly a screen enclosure will keep your outdoor living space considerably cleaner, which is especially nice when a koi pond has been installed.

The finishing touches on this job would be irrigation, outdoor low-voltage lighting, and landscaping. As was the case with John and Katie’s job, a lot of homes will have an existing irrigation system. Rerouting or modifying a system is very simple, and in most cases there is little or no charge. We usually include it as part of the job. With John & Katie’s job, approximately 1,200 sq. ft. of paver patio was added in addition to the 3,500 gallon koi pond. Therefore several heads needed to be capped off and eliminated from the system. Other pop up heads are usually re-routed to the newly designed and formed beds.

A full outdoor Lighting System was installed on this project. Two brands of low-voltage outdoor Lighting were used to complete this project. Spotlights were used to uplight a few small specimen trees within the screen room and an existing Live Oak that was outside the screen room, as well as both waterfalls. ‘Miami Pathway’ lights were used to accent the planting beds. These lights as well as the transformers we use are supplied by Garden Light Inc., one of the premier lighting manufacturing companies in the country, and who just happen to be located here in Tampa. The other style of light is a paver light manufactured by Kerr Lighting. This is a light that resembles a paver in shape and form (coming in 4″x8″ and 6″x9″ sizes) Usually a paver will be removed from the soldier row and substituted with the light, illuminating and accenting as well as outlining the patio while still keeping a flush and level profile.

I can’t emphasize enough how key an outdoor lighting system is, and how much a lighting system enhances our work. In most cases I feel our outdoor projects take on an entirely different look in the evenings. Another thing to think about when designing an outdoor living space is what time of the day as well as the season will the space be being used. In many situations, including my own, the adult or adults of the household are working during the day, and the only time besides weekends that they have to enjoy their outdoor living space is in the evenings. This holds especially true in the winter months when it is already dark and most folks are just getting home from work.

Last would be the landscaping, which tends to tie all the mediums together. I will usually design specified planting beds into our plans and have a pretty good visual idea of how I want to use them, but in this area I like to get as much of the customers input as I can, being as we all have different tastes, likes and dislikes. In many instances, as I did with John and Katie, I will take the customer with me to the wholesale nursery we use the most and tour it in a gold cart. This way I can get a better feel for the customers taste as well as talk with them about the characteristics of the different shrubs and trees. Due especially to the severity of the past two winters, I do try and steer customers towards lower maintenance and more cold tolerant species. Upon agreement and imposing a plant and shrub specimen list intoour landscape plan, the plans are purchased and installed by our crew. Once again any grass or sod that wasn’t removed during the excavation for the patio or koi pond is now removed. The shrubs are installed sometimes mixing in a few large ornamental boulders to add balance and flow with the koi pond. Two types of fertilizer are added to the soil, 10-10-10 and milorganite. Landscape fabric is then laid down and a ground cover laid down after that. We leave the choice of ground cover up to the customer, but my preferences are pine bark or river stone. The pine bark is considerably cheaper, but the benefit of stone is that it is a one time install, and there is a variety of stone that can be used.

I may have left out a few things, but I believe I covered most of the aspects, process and procedures of taking a job such as this (from the production side) from beginning to end. The one thing that must be shared and is the single most important part of a job is why I do what I do is the experience, friendship and gratitude that one receives when having an opportunity to meet and work with two wonderful people like John and Katie. I can only hope that myself and my employees have made an impression in their lives as well. Thank you John & Katie.