Tag Archives: construction

There’s no business like snow business

They all look the same from a distance but show subtle differences when examined closely.
The same might be said of snow removal contractors.  We may all look the same at first glance, (trucks, tractors, plows, etc.), until you take the time to find out a little more about what we do and how we do what we do;
and you should take that time.
The subtle (or sometimes extensive) differences in capabilities, commitment, and conscientiousness will have a significant impact on the performance on your property; and that performance can make you, the property/facility manager, look like a hero to your residents, tenants, and employees…or not.
Here are five important lines of questioning to help you ensure that you are hiring the contractor best suited to make you look like a hero.
  • CONTRACTS:  What is your contract structure and how are fees applied?
Contract terms have many variations (per plow, per inch, lump sum, time & material, etc.).  You need to have clear terms that suit your specific needs, with reliable pricing, and no surprises. While cost is always a factor when making contractor choices, the less obvious consequences of using a lower priced but ultimately incapable snow removal contractor can cost you much more than money if that contractor fails to perform during one of Chicago’s challenging winters.  Additionally, if those less expensive contracts are peppered with “extra” charges, you can find yourself paying much more than you would have had you chosen a more comprehensive service provider.
  • CAPABILITIY:  What is your company’s policy in regard to the amount of snow removal business you will commit to in any given winter and where will my property fall in your list of priorities? How do you determine the maximum thresholds that you can manage?  How do you allocate your resources during a weather event?
Do you handle the snow removal work in-house with your own employees or do you need to rely on the help of outside subcontractors who may not offer the same level of commitment to the work?
Who are some of the customers you work with now that I can talk to about their experience with you?
  • PLANNING: What is your specific operational plan for my property?  Are you familiar with properties like mine and clear on our specific needs? What resources are you willing to commit to this property?
  • TECHNOLOGY:  Do you subscribe to a reliable weather forecasting service that will provide site specific forecasts on a real-time basis, daily operating forecasts, snow and ice warnings that are geographically targeted to our service area, and snow accumulation reports to assist us in the management of your force?
How are your crews dispatched and monitored throughout an event?
Do you rely on media broadcasts, airport reports, your own production yard, or will you send a representative out to my property to assess conditions on the site prior to mobilization?
  • ACCOUNTABILITY:  How do you measure and document snowfall to determine commencement triggers, billing parameters, and mobilization?
What is your reporting process to ensure that I will be kept informed of progress and problems throughout a weather event?
Who will be available to me for communication regarding issues and special needs?
What is your policy for repairing or resolving damage that occurs as a result of the snow removal efforts?
Taking the time now to find out a little more about the differences between contractors by asking these important questions will help to ensure that you are using the company best suited to satisfy your needs.
At ILT Vignocchi, we welcome your scrutiny; and if you become a customer, we will make you look like a hero.
Call or email us today and find out more about the ILT difference.

Water and why you have to plan for it

After an uncharacteristically hot and dry June, Mother Nature just sent us a harsh reminder of her ability to restore rainfall statistics rapidly.

Unfortunately for many homeowners and businesses, this reminder came in the form of a seven-inch downpour over a 24-hour period that is still causing overflow and flooding around local rivers, lakes, and retention ponds.

Gurnee, IL experiences massive flooding

While it is difficult to predict and prevent the kind of flooding issues that are created by such catastrophic weather events, these events serve as a reminder to property owners, both commercial and residential, to be more aware of the impact that water flow has around your property.  Having a well-conceived and expertly executed drainage system around your buildings and grounds can mean the difference between staying high and dry through any weather event, or dealing with flooded yards, basements, parking lots, and roadways.

Generally, rainfall is the catalyst for creating drainage issues but ground water, specifically the location of the water table, can also play a role in the ability of water to move by design.  Where land is flat, soils are dense (clay), or the water table is high, a well-designed drainage system is a priority.  Consideration of grading, water flow, and proper drainage is essential to prevent minor issues during normal weather and to minimize major damage during catastrophic events like the one we experienced here in northern Illinois last week.  Without proper drainage systems in place, water can enter and undermine structures, damage drives and roadways, cause erosion issues, and drown expensive plant material.

It is not always enough to rely on the original drainage plans that were created for your property when it was first developed and constructed.  Typically, the more recent the development took place, the better the chances are that the drainage systems were designed and constructed to effectively move water around the property.  Older properties may have experienced settling, ground shifts, changes in water tables, neighboring development, or many other factors that can influence the effectiveness of these systems.  New or old, it is a good idea to observe and review the water flow issues on your property before a major problem occurs.

SURFACE WATER is one of the more common problems associated with improper or inadequate drainage systems.  Sites with clay soils will likely have issues with lingering surface water. By design, developed land should be graded to drain so that water flows through swales or sheet drains across turf or pavement to the curb or storm drain. The reality is that builders don’t always get their grades right and water becomes trapped, causing puddles on pavement, backflow against foundations, soggy zones in lawns, and muddy planting beds.

Downspout/sump pump discharge is a huge contributor to surface water issues.  Enormous amounts of water can come off a building’s roof or be channeled into a sump pit during a typical rainfall.  This water is often just re-directed back along the foundation of a building where it can go right back into the sump pit or collect on the surface of the ground around the structure.

SUB-SURFACE WATER collects underground, and becomes trapped when there’s poor drainage due to the existing soil structure or high water tables.  When it freezes and expands, the potential for damage increases. The frozen water pushes against your foundation and paved surfaces, causing heaving, cracking, and structural damage.

Solutions to improper site drainage can range from the very simple to much more complex depending on the nature of the issue and its underlying cause.  Conceptually, solutions fall into two basic categories.

  1. Capture the runoff and store it for reuse or allow it to percolate back into the soil.  Rain barrels and cisterns are used for storage of runoff water for use later as manual watering sources. Dry wells, French drains, rain gardens, and specific soil amendments can be used to collect and redistribute water back into the surrounding soil.These solutions have many environmental benefits such as reducing runoff from your property, filtering runoff, watering your yard, and recharging groundwater.
  2. Intercepting and redirecting runoff provides an opportunity to safely discharge high volumes of water to a place away from the problem area(s). This can be done using swales, French drains, catch basins, underground pipe assemblies, or downspout/sump pump extensions with splash blocks. These methods of rerouting water can also be combined with other capture and storage elements to provide even more benefit.

Please make note that whenever you are redirecting runoff, you must send it to a suitable outlet. Discharging runoff to an unsuitable area will just move the problems downhill. Be aware that redirecting runoff without collecting it or allowing it to percolate into the soil can negatively impact neighboring properties.

The first step in solving drainage issues on any property is discovering that they exist.  Problems like foundation seepage and erosion might not be obvious until a major issue develops at which point resolution can be expensive and complicated.  To become aware of potential trouble spots, walk your grounds after a rainfall event and look for places where water has collected.

Does it take more than an hour or two to dissipate after a heavy downpour?

Are there signs of erosion around the downspouts or sump pump discharge points?

Are you finding soft, wet spots in the common turf areas that do not dry out readily?

Are you seeing a decline in the health and appearance of plant material located in the collection areas?

These are just a few of the signs that water is not percolating or moving appropriately around the grounds of your development or commercial property.  Time to consider having an expert come out and assess the problems.  ILT can do simple visual inspections or accurately read existing grades by laser transit to establish the exact topography no matter how flat the site may seem.and determine precisely where and why water is moving the way it is on your property.  From that information, we can evaluate and present potential solutions for your consideration.

While last week’s flooding can serve as a reminder of the devastating impact heavy rainfall can have, it does not take a seven-inch downpour of water to cause damage around your property.  Finding and resolving water flow issues before they become expensive problems is always a better solution.

Call ILT Vignocchi today and we can start a conversation about resolving water flow issues at your HOA or commercial building.

Old Concepts, New Technology, Sustainable Results

Growing plants on rooftops is not a new concept. Centuries ago northern Scandinavians harvested sod from their surrounding landscape and placed it upon structures to create effective insulating and water resistant roof systems.  The Vikings who explored the upper Atlantic built grass-covered homes where they settled and in Iceland sod roofs and walls have been used for hundreds of years.

Although the living roof or green roof has been in use for a long time, modern green roof technology has helped to elevate this building method from a crudely effective construction element to an aesthetically pleasing, ecologically responsible building solution for age-old building problems and current environmental concerns.

green roof or living roof is a roof of a building or other structure that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. It may also include additional layers such as a root barrier and drainage and irrigation systems.

Green roofs can be very basic, known as extensive green roofs that incorporate drought-tolerant, self-seeding native ground covers such as sedums, grasses, mosses and prairie flowers that require little or no irrigation, fertilization or maintenance. These green roofs are lightweight, inexpensive, and can be retrofitted onto existing buildings, often without significant alterations or additional structural support.

Intensive green roofs are more elaborate roof gardens designed for human interaction. They generally have a relatively flat roof surface or mild slope and allow for a larger selection of plants, including shrubs and trees and require specific engineering to be able to conform to the weight load requirements.

Today, the green roof is gaining in popularity as an environmentally conscious architectural expression that is a viable element of any sustainable landscape management plan; and here is why:

  • Storm-water runoff will be greatly decreased with the utilization of a living roof. The growing medium and the vegetation of a green roof retain large amounts of storm water and release it back into the environment. A typical green roof can absorb 30% of the rainwater that falls on it, reducing the amount of water that goes through our waste water systems.
  • It is a common misassumption that a green roof system will have a deleterious effect on the integrity of the roof system. Quite the opposite.  A well designed, correctly installed green roof will protect the waterproof membrane that lies beneath it and, in turn, will extend the overall life of a roof.  Recent studies indicate an increase in life span of almost double.
  • Green roofs absorb carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming; and the slow transpiration of water back into the air creates a cooling effect that helps reduce the heat retention and emanation in and around your building.
  • In addition to the energy saving features described above, the actual mass and density of a living roof will provide excellent sound insulation for a building as well.
  • And let’s not forget the aesthetic benefits of the rooftop garden. The roof garden intermingles the pre-construction environment with the built environment creating a sustainable cooperation between development and nature.  People love to interact in the relative secluded natural setting created by the intensive garden on a rooftop space.  Additionally, they benefit emotionally and psychologically from the ability to even look upon the greenery of an intensive or an extensive roof top garden.

Green roof technology was re-invented in Germany in the mid-20th century and quickly spread throughout Europe mainly due to its restorative environmental impact.

Today, Chicago has been a leader in green roof installations with up to 7 million square feet on approximately 500 rooftops; the most of any city in the United States.  The benefits of the green roof have not been ignored by suburban businesses and multi-family residential buildings either.

Green roofs add beauty, sustainability and longevity to buildings

Corporations, commercial building owners, and homeowners associations are looking for solutions to increase employee well-being, decrease their carbon footprints, increase their LEEDS scores, and differentiate their properties from their competition.  The rooftop garden has proven to be just such a solution.

Reach out to ILT Vignocchi today to inquire about the potential for your headquarters, office building, clubhouse, or other structure to benefit from a green roof installation.

Rain Gardens

In Case You Were Wondering…how to get rid of the soggy areas around your property that never seem to dry out and create a muddy nuisance where grass won’t grow, read on.

Rain Garden Diagram

Most commercial buildings and multi-family communities have storm drains and retention/detention ponds to accommodate the water that is trapped when the natural landscape is replaced with buildings and impervious surfaces such as asphalt parking lots, streets, and sidewalks; and rain can no longer be absorbed by the ground.

These solutions work well to divert or capture large volume runoff, provided the drainage systems are designed effectively to carry the water to the drains and/or holding areas.

But what about the areas around your property that never seem to drain off?  When water is diverted into a low area that has no outlet or is not suitable for drainage, water will begin to pond, and over time the weight of the water will compact the soil and create a deeper pool, allowing more water to sit.  A rain garden can be a very practical and effective means of addressing these drainage issues; particularly where downspouts are not placed appropriately or do not run off properly; settled ground has created depressions that trap water; or the ground has become so compacted that water simply no longer infiltrates the soil.  Grass, ornamental plants, and trees eventually die off from the excess moisture leaving you with wet, unusable areas around your property that never dry out.

A rain garden is a shallow depression that captures rain water and holds it for a short time until it is absorbed into the ground, evaporates, or is taken up by plants.  The rain garden is an innovative and eco-friendly landscaping solution that’s gaining in popularity, particularly in office parks and multi-family communities. An increasing number of property managers and commercial property owners are discovering how a rain garden can be an inexpensive and effective solution to these unsightly, unusable areas; while at the same time help to decrease erosion, improve water quality, create wildlife habitat, and provide aesthetic benefits.

Rain gardens were originally developed to slow down the flow of storm water runoff created when buildings and pavement cover the ground and prevent water absorption as soil becomes compacted and the natural landscape changes from diverse native vegetation to mowed and manicured lawns. These factors decrease the amount of water that soaks into the landscape after a rain and increases the volume of water that flows across the terrain and into storm drains that empty into local streams.  This increased water flow (both in terms of volume and velocity) leads to more erosion, more flooding and

more pollutants being washed into streams and reservoirs. Rain gardens provide a solution to these problems by helping to slow the flow.

Additionally, rain gardens provide a practical and effective solution to the smaller scale drainage issues described above.  A well-functioning rain garden traps and cleans storm water and reduces its volume (through rapid absorption) once it enters the garden.  Properly designed and maintained, rain gardens are also attractive landscaping elements that function like native ecosystems and can look as naturalistic or as formal as you like.  The plants in the gardens absorb excess water and provide important habitat for pollinating insects, birds and other wildlife while also adding visual appeal to the land around your community or your business.

But you’re not merely building a catch-basin that’s going to turn into a pond every time it rains. Far from it. With sound design, (the appropriate soil/gravel, knowledgeable plant selection, and correct installation), water is absorbed quickly – usually within a few hours.

And, in case you think your rain garden will provide a new breeding area for mosquitoes – think again. A rain garden doesn’t retain water long enough to make it a viable area for mosquito development. Depending on temperature, it takes 24-48 hours for mosquito eggs to hatch. After the eggs hatch, the larva must live in water for several days.  A properly installed and maintained rain garden does not hold water long enough to accommodate the development of mosquito larvae.

Contact ILT today and find out how the installation of rain gardens can help you solve some of the drainage issues around your community or business.  By creating a rain garden(s) you can eliminate those problem areas of your landscape while helping to keep some of the rain that falls on your site contained on site, the way nature intended.  And in addition, you can help improve water quality in local streams/rivers, save water, reduce pollution, and help wildlife.

AIA 2016 annual trends report

Published annually by The American Institute of Architects, the AIA home design trends survey gives insight into how the market is performing, but what customers are interested in.

This 2016 report sheds some light on the landscape industry as well.

We learn that the trend for larger homes is still on the uptick.  The trend challenges landscape architects to combat municipality’s permeable surface limitations with permeable paving or vertical gardening when creating outdoor spaces.  

Another popular trend fueled by an increase in median age is being mindful of accessibility issues.  This effects outdoor spaces as well and must be thought of ahead when creating walkways, gates, and outdoor entertainment spaces.

One of the most interesting and most pressing trends is not the increase in those interested in high end landscapes, but those that also seek ones that require low irrigation.  It is something that we hear frequently from our customers.  “I want something low maintenance.”  It is heartening to see that a sense of responsibility to environmental preservation is continuing to creep into design fields.

As design professionals it is important that we don’t design inside a box.  We try to keep abreast of all sorts of industry trends so we can deliver the most thought out products for our customers.

Natural Environments and Mental Health

Spiritual and emotional health are a huge part of succeeding in business and in life in general.  Much has been written about the potential benefits of incorporating specifically designated meditative environments, or mental health rooms, into the landscaping surrounding commercial office buildings or in the common areas throughout multi-family communities.  There is growing evidence to suggest that exposure to and use of these natural environments can be associated with mental health benefits that include lower levels of tension, increased potential for attention restoration, and reduced anxiety.  Additional evidence suggests that interacting with nature can improve cognition for children with attention deficits and helps individuals coping with depression.

Meditation in the workplace can help lower a company’s health-care costs by reducing chronic stress, a major risk factor for illness.  A company can improve employee morale, mental focus and sense of well-being. This can reduce the number of sick days and workplace injuries while increasing productivity.  Offering a natural space for employees to meditate, relax, reflect, unwind, ponder new ideas, or even just think, helps companies empower employees to manage their own stress and well-being.  By providing a space for these practices, the company sends a message that the well-being of its workforce is a priority, which enhances its image; aiding in the recruitment and retention of high quality talent.

By offering natural outdoor meditative rooms, a residential multi-family community can improve their marketing appeal and increase their property values, separating their association from their competition.  These separated spaces are designed to encourage restorative reflection in which a person or family can escape from the stressful demands of daily life.  Potential owners and tenants will see a benefit from having access to calm and peaceful spaces in which they can get away from the pressure of the office or home environment; to recharge and refocus.

Today’s modern work force and residential communities include people with a wide diversity of beliefs, cultures, and traditions so it is important to consider whether your outdoor “mental health” space should be tied to a specific religion or culture.  Meditation spaces can be constructed to replicate a specific cultural model or they can incorporate and combine various aspects of any number of ancient or modern cultural derivations.  While they can reflect many different themes, they usually include the use of plant selections and hard elements of varying colors, textures, and aromas.  Zen gardens use rock formations, statuary, koi ponds, and sand/gravel arrangements, or sometimes with no growing plants or water features at all.  Planted labyrinths or mazes are meditative tools serving as a metaphor for the inner maze that leads to the authentic self.  The ancient Asian philosophical practices of Feng Shui are often incorporated into the arrangement of plants, rocks, water features, benches, etc. to promote the harmony between individuals and the surrounding environment.

Whatever thematic elements you decide upon, the space needs to create a sense of separation from the rest of the landscape.  The meditative room doesn’t have to provide actual privacy so much as to feel secluded; distinctly apart to provide that feeling of “getting away”.  A different surface can accomplish that, or some form of a structural enclosure.  Running water can separate a space and its sound is a soothing way to cover up traffic or background noise.  Understated plantings around surface changes can be designed and positioned in a way to lead the visitor to a sense of arrival that psychologically isolates without necessarily creating a distinct physical separation.  A well thought out combination of these elements can often provide the most effective and enduring results.

If you like the idea of incorporating outdoor meditative spaces into the landscaping around your building or in your community, or if you simply want to start with re-creating a calming view from a conference room or lunchroom window, give ILT a call today.  You can start with a simple conversation to discuss the concept and its possibilities.  One of our experienced landscape architects will work with you through every phase of your project, from its conception to the design and construction of your meditation space, to the sound maintenance practices and periodic updating that will keep your space current, relevant, and attractive to your employees, tenants, residents, and visitors.

Call or email ILT today and let’s get you thinking about thinking!

Long Grove Bluestone Patio and Fire Pit

One of the advantages of doing great work for nice people is that they share the excitement of their new landscapes, with their families and friends…and with us through photos and videos.

These are not professionally staged photos by acclaimed photographers.  These are real photos that depict daily life, taken after they finished their cup of tea while enjoying a seat by a fire on an Autumn evening.

I love it when our customers send me these moments, because there is great satisfaction in helping them have a more enjoyable and hopefully more serene, relaxing interaction with the outdoors.

Here are two photos of a bluestone patio and custom fit pit sent to us from a customer in Long Grove, Illinois.  The landscape architects on the project were our very own Harry Vignocchi and Ken Horinko.

A great thank you to our customer for sharing them.

-Donna Vignocchi Zych

Full range ashler pattern bluestone

Granite Boulder Fire Pit embedded in bluestone patio

Booming economic prediction results in more blooms

Economic forecasters are predicting positive news for the commercial and multi-family residential real estate markets.  Multi-family residential construction is booming; vacancies will drop and rents will rise in office buildings, shopping centers, factories and warehouses; and as job growth continues, activity in the retail and office sectors is expected to rise.
Commercial landscaping activity (which includes multi-family residential communities) should experience a resurgence over the next several years. This growth is expected to motivate those property owners/managers who were holding off on landscaping improvements to make those enhancements to remain competitive.
A recent issue of Turf Magazine identified the Top 5 Commercial Landscape Trends for the next decade and beyond.  Here’s a summary of where Turf says owners and property managers will be spending their landscape improvement dollars.
More Time is Being Spent and More Work is Getting Done Outdoors
Building owners, property managers, and multi-family associations today want to do everything they can to attract tenants/visitors/residents and that includes providing spaces with more meeting/gathering areas.
Consequently, outdoor meeting areas are growing, giving properties a differentiation factor from nearby competition. And providing wireless internet at outdoor sitting and gathering areas expands the work space, taking employees from their desks to the outdoors for work, as well as play.
LEEDing the Way
Green practices and energy efficiency will become even more of a priority in the 21st century and the focus on new green building design will shift to greening existing buildings. LEED is a consideration in landscape maintenance practices as well. As cost becomes less of a deciding factor in the decision-making process for owners/managers, landscape maintenance companies with a greener approach to their operations will be a more attractive alternative.
Efficient Water Use
Water conservation continues to be a major issue, and responsible water use has become a hot topic for commercial properties.  One easy way to conserve is to incorporate more drought resistant, native plantings into an overall design.  Container planting is another way to provide colorful, vibrant plant displays that minimize water usage.
Closer monitoring of automated irrigation will be important to maximize water usage on a large property.  Installation of rain sensors that limit the frequency of operation, conversion of spray head systems to drip lines, and regular irrigation system checkups to look for broken sprinkler heads, clogged lines or other irrigation problems all contribute to a more responsible use of water and a greater return on the investment in an automated irrigation system.
Multifamily Properties Are Booming
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the National Association of Home Builders, construction of multifamily residences, specifically structures with five or more units, has been growing faster than construction of single-family homes.  Millennials who show a preference for living in walkable, urban areas continue to feed this demand because a majority of today’s millennials rent vs. buy.  Baby boomers are also selling their homes to rent apartments within walking distance of downtown areas or moving into areas for active older adults.
Because of this growth, the multifamily market is becoming even more competitive. Besides a great location, people are looking strongly at the amenities each site offers as a major driving factor in their final decision.  Curb appeal, landscaping, and usable outdoor spaces have an even greater impact on that decision-making today.
Investment in the Design Process
As a result of the popularity of interactive social media and sites like Pinterest and Houzz, commercial property managers and building owners are exposed to trends, concepts, and design ideas that they can share with their landscape architects to more specifically communicate their preferences.  This is making the design process even more of a team effort between architect and owner resulting in outdoor spaces that are even more creative, customized, and reflective of the trends in any specific marketplace.
A positive economic forecast is generally good news for everybody, particularly in the real estate business.  It will allow owners and managers who have been extremely budget conscious during the recession to once again look to contractors who provide higher quality maintenance and more creative property enhancements to help them separate their properties from their competition.

Never to early to plan

At ILT Vignocchi we love those folks who call us in late fall and winter in order to start planning their next year’s project.

Winter Containers

 

Typically those are people who have been through the process before.  Be it a landscape renovation or a remodeling project.  They have correctly found that the most successful projects are those that are not just flushed out creatively, but those where the time line and how construction will ultimately effect your lives is planned out as well.

There are steps involved in planning and executing a renovation that are sometimes perceived as “surprise delays” because some designers and project managers don’t communicate them until the paperwork is signed.  Below are some of those items that you should be aware of, and ask your professional about prior to committing to a provider.

The permitting process.  Many Villages differ when it comes to requirements, fees and timeliness of a response.  What you can expect is 2-4 weeks for a response depending on your project’s complexity.  There may be revisions because codes are constantly changing.  Most Villages require a fee that is non-refundable.  At ILT we handle the permitting process for our customers because it can be confusing and laborious.

Material procurement.  Not all materials are readily available and some have to be custom made.  Our project managers have these conversations with customers during the material selection process so it is not a surprise when you are waiting 4-6 weeks for a custom counter top for an outdoor kitchen or a special name plate for your outdoor fireplace.

Scheduling.  It may sound simple, but most companies have a back log.  Always ask what it is and keep track of it during the process.  Spring tends to come with longer backlogs than fall. Take advantage of placing a deposit to hold a space.

Effect on your lifestyle.  I find it shocking how many people call and say they are having a huge family event in 30 days and can we design and install a new patio for them in that time.  It is always best to really consider what your summer schedule is and plan accordingly. Waiting until the last minute can lead to lapses in quality.