Who wants a challenge?

bahaccaJune 27, 2012

I live in Orange COunty, CA, so zone 9. I'm strongly considering hiring a LA because I think this is just TOO much to bite off and chew.

View from the sliding glass door to the left(which is North)

Making a slight turn to the right-garden area and steps that lead to the spa/waterfall which is currently drained due to a leak of unknown origin.

Center of the yard as you look straight out the sliding door

Looking more to the right

Turning all the way right from the sliding door

And view from the house from the stairs to the spa

So, as you can see, a sloped yard with what used to be a lawn. 2 years ago we were going to put artificial turf down, and I'm now glad we didn't do it. I'm also regretting the walls we had built(not my garden wall, but the low ones on the north and south sides) I wish we would have just waited and done this RIGHT. My husband is thinking some kind of stairs in between the coral tree planter and the palm planter in the center of the yard. My issue with this is "Why would we have stairs that lead to nowhere?" We have 2 kids, age 5 and 6, so I'd like to level off at least part of the bottom of the slope for a FLAT lawn. We also had the idea of building the entire yard UP to be level on top-level with one of the walls at the top of the slope(coral tree/palms/garden area), but we are expecting this would be $$$. My husband thinks "Oh, we can spend about $25K and it will be nice." I'm thinking he's dreaming and unless we are willing to spend 50K, it isn't even worth the trouble. Any bright ideas?

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Here's more info taken from another post here.
I want the spa area operational again. My husband wants to do "something with it" and then have an above ground spa since it is less maintenance. We already have steps leading to the spa, so i feel 2 sets going there is too much. I need space for a veggie garden. Currently I have that space, but it doesn't get the best light. The middle of the yard gets the best light. The patio space is adequate. It had a shade patio on it, but we had to rip it down 2 weeks ago due to dry rot and it basically LEANING. We figured we'd take it down controlled as opposed to waiting for it to squash someone. We enjoy eating outside, would like a built in BBQ and a fire pit that we can move if need be(though I'm more for a permanent one. If you have a design that FUNCTIONS, there is no reason to NEED to move it!)
I love the idea of connecting paths with hidden little seating areas-like one to the garden, one to the spa and one to a hidden nook where I can escape and have a glass of wine and not be bothered. I honestly cannot answer the question "How would you USE your space" very easily as we haven't actually USED it in so long. When it was more "operational" we used to have a lot of friends over to play poker and converse. With our kids being born, we got away from that, but I'd like to have more of a social life now that they are older. I think my husband is embarassed and often closes all of the blinds/shutters to the back yard when people come over.
My husband is STRONGLY against using a LA, so looks like I have to work through this on my own. Oh joy. How he thinks we are going to grade the yard properly by ourselves I'll never know, but I guess I'll figure it out.
Feel free to add ideas, look at my "drawings, etc. I'm going to use this thread to work through this monstrosity!LOL

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 10:06PM
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List of things we want
Flat area of grass
built in BBQ-makes most sense to have it near the kitchen window for pass through and gas line is already there. Not sure how to run gas line under existing concrete, though--any ideas?
Perhaps a pass through ledge outside the kitchen window. We already do this, but would be nice to have an actual built on ledge that we could set things down on.
Portable fire pit
Easier access to garden where I don't feel like I'm going to slip downhill whenever I step out of it
Easier access to spa steps-again, when I don't feel like I'm going to slip. Perhaps add more steps or use stepping stones? If stepping stones, what kind will NOT be slippery when we are wet from the spa?

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 10:14PM
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Fori is not pleased

Ummm...I think you have the right idea and while your husband is normally a wonderful guy, he might be mistaken this time.

This seems like one of those jobs (like my backyard!) where getting a good plan from a LA or designer is the thing to do. Then do the big parts of the job on up to that $25k husband thinks is enough. It probably won't be enough as you know, but at that point you can spend more and finish it or do it slowly at your own paces.

If he wants to spend 25, spend it, with the cost of a plan as the first expense. I don't think you wanna mess with grading your yard yourselves...

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 10:23PM
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I think I may need to get my MIL and step FIL on my side on this one. They are the original owners of the house, so they know the oddities of this back yard. IIRC, they actually had a landscape designer do the original plans as I've seen and may even have the original drawings done back in 1986. I even brought up the idea of having a student from USC come down to do the work as they have a program there and he said "I'm not going to spend money for that. We can use it IN the yard." I see the walls as a loss of $ we could have used otherwise and he doesn't. Only thing I like about them is I got my garden space out of it.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 10:53PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

There is landscaping, and then there is spousal navigating through landscaping. You maybe need a counsellor, not an LA, to start with...!

My sense is that anybody who has 25K to spend is bright enough to not spend it stupidly, ie without a good plan... but that being in a battle with spouse, even a smart person will sometimes choose the wrong hill to die on and argue a dumb position just to be oppositional. Yes, I've been married for 30 years, why do you ask :-)

Sometimes even two smart people just need a third opinion to get out of the tug-of war/locked horns trap, and if MIL/FIL are a good bet, then by all means ask them, but I'd be concerned that would evolve into a ganging up (plus I'm guessing you don't want them to tell you how to do anything else in the house). Or find out how much an LA consult - not an actual plan - would actually cost, and see if you can agree to incur that cost. But don't pile on - let them do the talking.

Another approach is to let DH go to the stone wall guy and see what ideas he comes up with, AND get an LA consult, and both of you honestly assess what you hear and pick one. Heck, you can get five different consults, and see if one speaks to both of you. Relative to 25K, a few consults should be money well spent. Not being one, I can't tell you what an LA would charge for such, but I'd ask.

In there somewhere is also what he really objects to about an LA - being talked into spending more than he wants? Getting a snooty artistic vibe? Not getting his wishes in the yard but rather someone else's? The money is often a convenient way of not talking about what the real issue is. And also what you are wanting that you are convinced that the stone wall guy can't provide. There is always the possibility that your stone guy really is a natural and can come up with a good plan.

But I think the bottom line is, you shouldn't have to sell the LA to your husband... the LA can sell him or herself. You just need your husband to give the LA a chance, and to get that, maybe you have to give his approach a chance too.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 1:12AM
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If it was me I would interview several LA's, hire the one I liked best, and have plans drawn up.
Then when they are done I would present them to the husband.
It's the old "easier to ask forgiveness than permission" thing.
What's he gonna do, divorce you?

OK, I say that in jest but it would work in my house :)
Only you know what will fly in yours.

I think karinl nailed it when saying that you need to go deeper and figure out what is behind the husbands objections to calling in a professional to call the shots on a $25K+ (there's always some plus) expenditure.
What does he do for a living?
How would he view an amateur trying to do what he does just to save a few bucks?
Would it be folly and bite them in the butt soon afterward?

Pros are pros for a reason- they can do things amateurs cannot. Maybe coming at him from a different angle could help him see that he is being penny wise and pound foolish.
It makes no sense that he is happier living in a blindingly bright dirt pit than spending $5-6 however many hundred dollars to ensure that it is done correctly once and for all.

Unless hub is a general contractor you will have to hire out the roof structure and hardscape at minimum anyway.
Getting a cohesive plan together before spending that money is the best use of the money- having to do step #1 twice because of a boneheaded oversight before you are able to do step #2 will fritter away $25k in under a month.

And that is exactly what will happen without a plan.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 6:54AM
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There is more than one way to skin a rabbit, some are good but some can be messy, the same is true of making a garden/landscape. Two guaranteed ways of making it messy are the 'design by committee' method and the 'let's tell the wall building guy what we want and have him build it' method. One has too much information the other not enough. It is not unknown for a client to demand the impossible and someone has to take a hold of the underlying desire and turn it into a possible. I was mentoring a young designer once when we went to see a prospect. The client wanted a roof over his patio without any visible means of support the young guy made a note and a sketch and said that he would work up a plan. While I would say that this is not entirely impossible (at vast expense and some engineering wizardry) it would have been better to explore this idea further.

What this boils down to I think is that employing someone to direct you and your husbands desires into a workable space is more likely to be an investment than a waste of money.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 8:14AM
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"Pros are pros for a reason- they can do things amateurs cannot."

"I'm going to use this thread to work through this monstrosity!"

In order to complete the design work, you'll need to have the talent of an artist, architect, engineer, horticulturalist and draftsman. You'll need to be able to come up with good ideas and be able to connect them all together in a way that works and looks good. The ideas and solutions must be committed to paper so that the contractor has specifics to bid on and "directions" to follow for doing the work. Otherwise, there's no telling what you would actually end up with since generalities are open to multiple interpretations. If you have that battery of talents, then you'll probably have a lot of fun with this project. If you don't, then you stand to squander much more money than hiring a design professional would have cost. Design is work and there's no way of getting around the fact that SOMEONE must do it; it's either you or a pro. The forum is helpful for generating ideas, working through difficulties and getting opinions as to whether something is good or bad. But for nearly every opinion gererated, so comes its opposite which would leave you in the position of needing to decide who you want to listen to. The forum can't produce a plan for you, but it could help you work through a plan. Can you draw a base plan to scale that shows all the existing features? That would be the place to start for a serious discussion. Because your yard has a significant amount of grade change, you'd need to be able to transfer grade information to a plan and then work out the various schemes in three dimensions.

You mention that a plan was done by the PIL. Is any of it useful or could be adapted and used as a starting point?

At the bottom line, your budget will determine what's possible. If you want more than can be bitten off in one chunk, a plan can help you divide a project into phases so that work can be accomplished over time. Hardscape can eat up a budget pretty quickly. You might pay a visit (be sure to take the hub!) to a local outdoor showroom that features displays of kitchens and liesure areas for the back yard. It'll help give you an idea of what things cost and get your thinking in line with what's really important to include in the design. If a design is not based on a realistic budget, it will not happen.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 9:32AM
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Thank you all so much for the support. I am very artistic(background in theatre), so I appreciate the value of the artistry and insight a LA would provide. I'm honestly not sure what his opposition is. I honestly thinkhe feels like we can design this ourselves. One thing that gets me about the wall is none of them are level with each other. They are ALL at different heights, so even between the coral tree and the palms, you cannot really put anything FLAT because it wasn't built level with each other! When those were put in I had asked to get a LA first as well.
I am in the midst of a kitchen facelift, so I guess I'll finish that before I broach this topic with him again. Maybe in the long run he'll come around and I can make him think that he thought of hiring a LA;-) I'll just need to gently remind him that if we had the skills to design this huge space and make it flow and be enjoyable, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN DONE ALREADY!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 11:21AM
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You could also read Shakespeare for some tips on dealing with family disputes. If a hole in the ground appears during a landscaping project people will think it is for a pond.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 12:11PM
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It sounds like the hub doesn't have the same appreciation for the yard potential as you do. He might just need some inspiration. There's nothing better for developing appreciation as seeing great finished projects first-hand. You might organize an outing to a nearby great garden or botanical garden. Some of these places a person can't leave without wanting to take some of it home.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 1:40PM
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"My sense is that anybody who has 25K to spend is bright enough to not spend it stupidly, ie without a good plan..." oh karinl... I could tell you stories about some of the messes I've been called in to fix.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 4:18PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

It's hard to tell what the old spa area looks like due to the umbrella screening it, but I can make out a large boulder / rock cluster.
Attached is a design by Margie Grace that incorporated a spa into a rock cluster.
Ask your husband if he could compose something as beautiful as this :

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 4:56PM
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My only question is, do you *like* all the straight lines? IMO, a few curves would add a little more interest.

I have a DD who lives in Trabuco Canyon, and had the landscaping re-done 2 years ago, complete with gorgeous outdoor kitchen. I know they spent 100k , but the pool needed new gunite, and also expensive glass tile was done. I met the landscaper and she was very nice and willing to answer any questions. I can get her name if you would be interested.;o;

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 5:17PM
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deviant-here is a pic of the spa in it's hayday.

Waterfall isn't on, but you get the gist

I personally think he is certifiable for wanting to "make it into something else." He says it is too expensive to heat up and will cost a lot to fix. I say if we get a new heater that isn't 20 years old and fix the leak that it won't be as expensive to run as it once was. It was putting our gas bill up about $50 each time we heated it. I mean, seriously. How many people would KILL for this in their yard???

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 6:24PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

A spa without a cover with an additional waterfall is inherently a very expensive proposition to heat. Even a new more efficient heater won't change that fact. Even manufactured enclosed jacuzzis will add to your utility bill, but orders of magnitude less than your current set up. If the idea of a spa isn't that important to you both, maybe a new landscape design needn't include the existing spa/new one as a given.

It looks like you have a lot of space to work with, and a garden on a slope offers quite a bit of potential to highlight plantings in combination with walls or stone work that flat gardens don't. As you are probably well aware, a significant revamp of your garden won't get very far on a $25,000 budget, and it would certainly make a designer's work easier if you two were on the same page about any garden project before you start looking for professional help.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 9:50AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

So is the future of the spa the real source of conflict here? And potentially each of you wanting to hire the type of professional more likely to see it your way? I agree with Bahia, that sounds like something you need to hash out.

I can't answer your question of how many people would kill for that in their yard, but I can say that I'm not one of them. Heating costs aside, to me it looks like a maintenance nightmare and a drowning hazard for children, and I'd also wonder if it would attract wildlife.

Perhaps there are ways - like redesigning it to take a cover - that would make it acceptable to both.

Perhaps some investment in fact-finding would help. Maybe you can rent a new heater, or buy one cheap somehow, and fix the leak at least provisionally, and run it to see what the costs really are. Or having the history, can you project to today's rates?

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 11:45AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

There has to be an organized beginning to your discovery/ discussion process.
A scaled site plan showing the lot , the house, and all the other built elements would be a well thought out first step.

From this basic site plan you can then do a series of over lays that will help in figuring out where to best spend your money and where the renovated areas are going to be.
This is called a Master Plan, and it helps greatly in figuring out budget, location of elements and figuring out quantities and materials.

It's the basis for all well thought out designs.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 12:46PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Maybe there is a way to have a water feature that runs a cold water waterfall that can be viewed from a warm pool but does not empty into it.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 3:01PM
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karinl-My husband does want to keep the waterfall in some way, so we may, at some point, need to demo the base(the actual spa) and then make some other form be the "container" the waterfall would flow into. I'm not 100% opposed to getting rid of the spa. It IS somewhat of a nightmare since it has no cover on it. We've tried just cutting a large piece of a standard pool cover to fit and, while it helps, the cover in and of itself is a pain to deal with.

The point of contention is that I want someone to do what deziner has said--a MASTER plan. A FINAL product that we can work toward, slowly, steadily as money and time allow. We have had this house for 10 years and we keep putting bandaids on things instead of FIXING them to a point where we are HAPPY. DH wants to basically slap another band aid on it. I do think with time we CAN come up with a master plan that is doable, but the issue I have is we don't KNOW all of the possibilities. Like I don't know if it IS possible to take the spa out but leave the waterfall. And, if we do do that, what the heck is the plan for where the water circulates, etc? A LA I THINK could help us work that out. Maybe a pool designer or the like could as well?? So I think what we WANT out of the yard we are pretty in line-it is just how each of us wants to get there that is at odds.
Once my kitchen is done I'll delve further into the yard. My kitchen plan/execution took over a year, so I expect if he wants me to really design and plan our yard that it will take me at LEAST that long as I need to do a buttload of research on materials, plants, grading, retaining walls, etc. I'd just prefer someone else who already HAS this knowledge help me! I'm sure I'll be around here a LOT with a bazillion questions. I'm going to go see if I can find those old plans.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 4:06PM
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I just went through this myself but on a smaller scale and budget. I spent around $3000 to landscape my yard and it's a decent size of around 1/4 acre. I hired someone to come out from a local landscape nursery and she drew up a plan. She knew I couldn't afford to do everything right away so I'm doing it in phases. Even though I wasn't spending that much I still wanted a plan to work with. It's so worth it. They are professionals who know so much better than us what plants work in which area. She came up with a much nicer plan then anything I could have done. It wasn't that expensive either. It only cost me $300. I figured that was well worth it. I could have easily made $300 in mistakes.

I think your yard has the potential to be so beautiful. I love all the different areas. You have a really nice setting to work with. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 7:30PM
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"Maybe a pool designer or the like could as well?? "

A pool designer, paver guy, landscaper, stone mason or other tradesmen may all do their particular craft well. But that doesn't imply that they have any ability whatsoever to understand the work of another trade and create a comprehensive layout that depends on elements relating well to one another. A landscape architect is the person who's specialty this is. A landscape 'designer' MAY be able to create a well thought out comprehensive plan, but also maybe can't if the plan has much in the way of engineering issues such as grading and the like. Some can. Some can't. Depending on what a plan calls for, you may be required by law to hire a landscape architect or even other professionals in order to insure that the engineering functions work satisfactorily. For the design project you are facing, you CAN go wrong by hiring a tradesman. But you cannot go wrong by hiring a landscape architect unless you hire one who is either incompetent or doesn't work in a style compatible with your desires (which is very unlikely unless you have the most unusual, abstuse requirements or goals.) You would need to set all the limits (such as budget, physical limits of project, degree of jungle desired, etc.) which requires that you have some vague notion about what you want. Then let the landscape architect try to please you within those limits. He might try to stretch some of your limits and you should hear him out to see if his ideas are reasonable, good and affordable. It's usually a give-and-take process.

While most landscape architects would be interested in selling you a complete package, it's possible that you might be able to purchase only the hardscape phase of the design as a starting point... and come back later for planting design. That's one way to reduce the cash outlay to get started. I'd inquire of some LAs in order to get an idea of design $. Your hub might become more agreeable to your idea of getting a professional to design the back yard if he understood that it would not cost and arm and a leg.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 12:02PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I drafted up some thoughts earlier this morning about engineering, so apologize that this overlaps with what Yardvaark said to an extent.

I come and go on the issue of an overall master plan. I think it has to be understood that a professional has to work to a complete master plan because the plan functions as a contract with the client. But a homeowner does not have to enter into a contract with themselves. As long as you and your husband can agree, you are perfectly free to start at the top and the bottom, where you more or less know what you want, and see how things work when you meet in the middle. Nothing precludes you redoing one or more elements if they don't end up working the first time, if that is what you want to do.

Your site, however, is more complicated that the average. A homeowner with a flat lot can putter around on it ad nauseum, or hire whoever to do whatever, without much consequence except a mess or an eyesore (or a brilliant creative outcome, you never know).

But because your house is at the bottom of your steep slope, at minimum you want your solution to be engineered. You do not ever want your landscaping - hardscape, water, and all - to slide down into your house. Municipal requirements are likely designed to minimize this possibility, so you should probably start with familiarizing yourself with those.

This means that whoever you hire has to sketch their plans, or have them sketched, for submission and assessment - to the municipality, or to an engineer. Even if you design yourself, that is something that has to be done.

You obviously somehow made a bunch of decisions about your kitchen facelift together, where both a design and a building code have to be observed. Perhaps you can look at how you found an agreed-upon strategy for that project to find a good approach for the yard. But again, I would reduce the focus on getting an LA hired and increase the focus on identifying what you both do and do not want from the process and the outcome. The LA may be the outcome, rather than an input. Or, it may not, but a nice safe yard may nonetheless be achieved.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 1:51PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I find your post confusing and it leaves me wondering if you understand what a master plan is.
In the most simplistic analogy it is like a shopping list that you would bring to a grocery store so that you can budget your purchases and organize your items into a cohesive menu.
A master plan is not a contract between the designer and client. It is the final concept that has been agreed to by the designer and the clients after hours of creative and technical discovery that has been hashed out during the Preliminary Design Phase .

The master plan is commonly developed after the Preliminary Design Phase ,
It is during the Preliminary Design Phase that the site analysis and the bulk of the client meetings occur. During the client / designer meetings the goals , creative objectives, aesthetic nuances , budgets , timelines and visions are explored .
There are often several preliminary design go a-rounds that are created / rehashed/ and re-budgeted before the Master Plan goes onto the drafting board.

Master Plans are not Construction Plans.
They do not have any engineering specification included.
Master Plans are not commonly submitted for permitting or engineering , though in some simplistic projects they can satisfy a municipality .
Commonly they are used for design review committees, HOA review, preliminary rough construction estimating and serve as a basic road map for a client.

Master Plans are basically a visual and written outline of the project that represents hours of interactive meetings that expresses the desires of the homeowner in a well thought out rational plan.

I'm traveling to Asia soon.
A 'master plan' was worked out ahead of time to help in managing expenses and organizing day trips/ hotels , ect... .
A landscape master plan is not that different. It's a concept plan that has hours of planning and research behind it so you can efficiently get the most out of your $ and time, while enjoying the process and the end product.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 10:46PM
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This discussion is really intriguing me!
karin-the kitchen was a facelift, so no electrical, plumbing, etc was messed with, so no plans, etc were needed. Design-wise, my husband and I are VERY in tune with each other. There was one stone I selected for the countertop he HATED, so I dropped it. Wasn't my favorite anyway. I talked more with him today and I think his issue is just the TIMING of me bringing it up. We have the kitchen going on now, and he isn't like me in that i like doing several projects at once. I get bored, especially seeing as my kitchen is at a waiting point right now. He sees it as a "Let's take a break from design, the house, etc" and I see it as a "Oh yeah! A Break-let's move on to this next project." So at least that is clarified and an easy fix. I explained to him my issue about the spa-about how I was fine if he no longer wanted it functional, but that I felt a professional would have ideas and know possibilities and limitations that there was no way we would know. He said "Well I'm sure we can find a ton of spa turned into blankity blank online." Ummmm-no. I have yet to find a spa renovation where it was transformed into anything else. Pools I've seen filled in. Spas basically built into the side of a slope-not a dime a dozen!
Hopefully over the next few weeks I'll be busy picking slabs, templating, having counters installed and then getting to deal with backsplash, so I won't be around here much. I'll make sure to find some graph paper to lay out the yard and then I'll use some overlays to sketch some ideas. I'll keep everyone posted on how this dirt slope unfolds.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 1:09AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

In regards to the spa .
It can be renovated to accommodate both the water fall and have a cost/ energy efficient hot tub

Basically segregation is required- one basin for the hot tub and a separate basin for the cold running water fall water.
This is created by demolishing the existing hot tub basin and reforming the two separate basins with new piping, new rebar, new gunite and new heater.

We've done several of these when renovating swimming pools.

When they re-sculpt the hot tub section the coping will will be either recessed or sit proud and will be level and flat so as to accommodate an insulated hot tub cover.

It may be less expensive to simply fix the leak in the current hot tub and have it run as a cold punge pool and install an independent hot tub above or below the cold punge pool by artfully integrating it into the landscape with surrounding boulders, decking and landscaping.

pic below shows how an old pool was renovated : the overall height and interior body was remodeled.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 12:28PM
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Thanks, deviant!
From what the pool/spa forum said, the cost to JUST repair the leak and do a new heater would run around 6K, which is the cost of a new above ground free standing hot tub. My husband wants the separate hot tub for a few reasons-they are more comfortable with jet placement done far superior to what our spa has, they heat up faster, their finish doesn't ruin your suits like ours does(a BAD "pebble coating" job on ours. I still swear they didn't even put the pebbles in and just used sand grout type stuff.), can have a cover to keep in heat, etc. Honestly, I cannot argue at all with his logic.
The new rebar scares me. Any type of digging that takes place here is a CHALLENGE. When the original spa was put in, 3 jackhammer bits were DESTROYED because of our rocky ground. I'm giving some thought as to how we could do the waterfall. There is a grotto that falls BEHIND the waterfall, so That is space the water could go and be held without having to keep a whole lot of space in front of the fall.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 4:07PM
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