How Much Does a Landscape Install Really Cost?

landscaping Jun 14, 2016

In the age of externalized costs and internet price shopping, many of us have lost grasp of what it costs to do physically demanding and resource intensive work. Work like landscape installation. Home improvements can carry quite the sticker shock for many homeowners, especially those that have little to no return on investment.Thankfully, landscaping improvements DO increase the value of your property.

A landscape with quality curb appeal improves your home's property value.

It is well known in the realty world that healthy, mature, and regionally appropriate landscape will increase the cost of your property. Depending on the tree, some will add thousands of dollars to the closing price. Even how your neighbors landscape their home will impact your value. With more people becoming drought-aware, low-water use landscapes will appeal to home buyers, especially those that are designed with low-maintenance and ease in mind. Coupled with water saving features like infiltration basins and native plants, you can't go wrong.

So, what is my landscape install going to cost?

In our client intake process, we ask prospective clients to provide a budget range of what they feel comfortable spending for their landscape design and/or install. Many times, clients give us budgets estimates of $2,000, but request install features like: an outdoor BBQ pit, turf removal, flagstone, fruit orchard, etc. When we ask them how they arrived at their budget vis-à-vis their vision, they usually say, "I was just throwing a number out there," or, "I'm not sure what it all costs."

Short answer? It depends.

To give you some perspective, a simple front yard turf removal and water wise landscape install with low-tech water harvesting features in the landscape can cost roughly $12-$20/sq. ft. without any formal hardscape features like concrete, pavers, or structures which add to that number. Difficult access, terrain, materials staging areas, code requirements, etc. all add to a landscape installation price, not to mention the cost increase due to using higher quality, or custom, materials and supplies.

This roughly 780 ft² rainwater harvesting and drought tolerant landscape installation in Tierrasanta cost about $16/ft² for a total installed cost of $12,500.

With that ballpark price range to install your drought tolerant landscape, let's dive into some of our costs as a licensed, bonded, and insured California landscaping contracting firm.

What it costs to run a landscape installation firm

There will always be someone cheaper (or more expensive) than us, but, like the saying goes, "You get what you pay for." Low-baller contractors cut corners, are sloppy with their work, and pay their workers low wages. If they're unlicensed, they also skimp on the legal requirements that licensed contractors, like us, comply with.

California Contractor Legal Requirements

When you work with a non-licensed or contractor with a defaulted license, you're putting yourself at great risk should something go wrong.

As a licensed California landscaping contractor (C-27# 1007530) we are legally obligated to take on more overhead. These requirements, like bonding, workman's comp, and insurance are actually good things that help protect homeowners, laborers, and business owners. We're all for it and believe it helps everyone at the table, but it still raises operating costs significantly. When you work with a non-licensed or contractor with a defaulted license, you're putting yourself at great risk should something go wrong. When working with Ecology Artisans, you can rest assured that we're playing by the rules, care for our employees, follow stormwater management best practices, and honor our word and work.

Cutting Corners

Many contractors seem to either be rookies or don't care about their craft from the many examples of poor installs we've fixed or redone. Often, bids from contractors like these are low due to cutting corners, using lesser materials or cheap substitutes that aren't designed for longevity, future use, or maintenance. We chose Ecology Artisans as our business name because we want to craft ecologically sound landscapes that are attractive, enjoyable, and beneficial for humans and earth alike. A helpful starting place for vetting your potential contractors is this handy Checklist for Homeowners. You should also ask if your contractor carries Commercial General Liability Insurance, like we do.

Paying a Real Living Wage

Landscape installation isn't easy work, and it takes its toll on the human body. To not be adequately compensated for labor and skill is to not adequately care for people. Industry standard pay for low or unskilled labor is between $10-13/hr. Foremen will average $15-18/hr. Considering the high cost of living in California, long local commutes, and skyrocketing rental prices, it’s impossible to imagine supporting an individual, much less a family, on $10/hr.

"Our vision is to inspire and transform the landscape, farm, and development industries in Southern California by using and promoting holistic principles, regenerative techniques, and artful innovations." - Ecology Artisans

As a company, and as individuals, we follow the ethics of permaculture: Earth Care, People Care, and Share Abundance. As part of People Care and Share Abundance, we make it a priority to value the people we work with. Part of that appreciation comes in the form of starting our lowest paid workers at $15/hr, well above standard market rate. Our foremen at $18-20/hr depending on skill, with some earning $25/hr.

Why your $2,000 landscape may actually cost $20,000

Landscape installation may seem easy or simple, but, in fact, it's quite labor intensive. You are constantly hitting new roadblocks as unforeseen elements popup. Lots of design judgements happen on the fly, and efficient timeline staging only comes from experience. Quality, durable materials aren't cheap. Those boulders you want in your front yard? They weigh impressive amounts, have to be trucked from distant quarries using heavy machinery. Irrigation costs for PVC pipe start climbing the larger the diameter you use, and all  the various valves, fittings, and boxes can also get quite spendy. Want plants that look like they've been there for years? It takes nurseries sometimes 7-10 years to grow certain specimens to that attractive large size which means higher costs. Labor is usually the largest cost of a landscape install. Weeds don't pull themselves (and we strive to use zero herbicides in our installs), dirt doesn't haul itself away, and plants don't plant themselves Every brick needs placement by a human hand. Every square foot of mulch needs a landscaper to spread it. Your attractive, pleasing, and verdant landscape comes alive thanks to the human hands doing the work. We value our workers immensely, and, in turn, they are better able to create beauty for you.

If you value caring for others, creating beauty, supporting local economies, and regenerative living, then we are a good match for your ethos

One day, we look forward to bringing art and ecology into your landscape.

FREE REPORT - 8 Ways To Save Water In Your Landscape

Learn the techniques we use on a daily basis to maximize your water budget.

Download Now

50% Complete

EA Newsletter

Stay in touch with our Ecology Artisans team when new posts, courses and landscaping information is available!