Would You Buy a Lawn From a Home Builder?
Property Construction Companies large and small are notoriously poor at ensuring that when they sell a new home to a client, the gardens including the lawn are always on the bottom of the list of jobs and overall quality of what is provided is generally poor.
The gardens and lawns are often build on severely compacted ground with minimal preparation and suitable top soil resulting in a waterlogged area that is not fit for the purpose as a garden unless the client intervenes to put things right with a completely new garden design and correction of the underlying problems that their purchased site was left with once the builders sold the property.
'This lawn was laid in October 2015 by the developer of my house. We waited until March before its first cut and noticed large areas of water and areas where the grass has not grown, we left it for a few weeks and re cut it this week and you can see from the photographs that the situation is getting worse. Is it possible to tell from the photos if the lawn has been incorrectly laid as in my opinion there will be no property drainage or the soil was not prepared properly before the lawn was laid? The developer blames us, why I don’t know and suggests if we just leave it will be ok, which in my opinion is rubbish. We would welcome your views on this matter.'
Imagine a big building project. Months or often years of construction traffic over a site where the top priority is the project management to a tight financial timeline to complete the new builds and keep the revenue cash flow moving. The construction process progresses often regardless of prevailing weather conditions relevant to the seasons and the site quickly turns into a muddy quagmire that would make any Glastonbury Festival
attendee flee the site in shock horror! The top soil from the site should have been scrapped off and stacked/stored and then replaced over the sub soil just prior to garden development. The sub soil in the meantime has been completely destructured in the wet and drying conditions to the point that it no longer resembles the same structure of the sub soil that was on the virgin site before the builders moved in. Add to the equation the compaction caused by the construction traffic of lorries, diggers, dumpers, the feet of the construction workers. A certain recipe for disaster.
One supplier in our industry Terrain Aeration have recognised this problem and work with home developers and architects to ensure that their services are employed ahead of any garden construction. Their Team fire compressed air through the soil at one or two metre centres to alleviate the constructors soil pan and compaction and the air opens up the sub soil allowing the smooth flow of water so that it can percolate through the soil layers.
The net result is that the new gardens are then built on a free draining soil with major advantages to the home owners and their gardens alike. What the naked eye cannot see is the actual depth of the soil pan and extent of it below the surface of what will become the gardens of the properties. This pan can be a few feet down.
The Team at The Lawn Company get involved in a lot of what they call 'brown soil sites' - often following
builders at the end of a building construction phase. It is a scary business. The construction pan - and no matter how careful builders are on the site, there will always be one, must be broken up ahead of any lawn installation and a high proportion of discarded builders rubbish can be buried on the site often to a depth. If this debris is left in the sub soil, the lawn will suffer and the garden or lawn installer will get the blame as to the lawns under performance in the months and years to come.
Even if there is a need to infill the area with new soil to a depth, the pan on the surface upon arrival on site is still broken up ahead of importing the many tonnes of new soil that will form the basis of the new gardens and lawns.
Why is it that the builders cannot recognise that gardens cannot be developed on the rubbish they leave
behind on the site? Worse still, why is it that the landscapers responsible for laying the new lawns and gardens for the new home owners fail to prepare the soil correctly - mostly because they are paid a set £££ per single square metre by the developer and there is not the budget to supply a quality turf nor lay it correctly.
New home owners are asked for a financial contribution towards a rear lawn provision and sometimes are not allowed to appoint their own contractor because of rules and regulations set by the main developer primarily often voiced as 'health and safety issues about outsiders being on their site' - complete poppycock! I speak from experience of having bought a new build and wanted to build a wall at the bottom of the garden to make a sunken patio area.
I was informed that my bricklayers were not allowed on the main site so access from just my property was allowed. In the end the red tape meant that the builders were appointed to build the wall. They built it in the wrong place, getting the bricks the wrong side of the boundary line so the wall was one brick out in width from one end of the wall to the other.
They had to take the wall down once and rebuild it and then questioned it when I asked them to build it a bit higher which was sympathetic to an adjoining garage brick wall height and what would have been the obvious finished height. What a palaver! And they call themselves professionals! Still I did end up with four pallets of the same bricks free of charge to install the sunken patio floor so there is a god after all.
Back to the lawn problem - there are instances where the new home owner is unable to mow the new lawn relative to the requirements of the lawns growth cycle throughout the seasons. It may be that events in the new home take over and the weeks of unpacking and thoughts of setting out the home take precedence over the garden, after all you do not live in the garden.
The lawn may receive a 'reactive' cut when the weather is kind or it may be left to get a bit too long then mown within an inch of its life. It could be said that if there is an underlying water problem making the site waterlogged after a short period of rainfall then the opportunity to mow reduces drastically.
A newly turved lawn needs attention in the first week of arriving on site with watering if dry and then will require mowing within two weeks then at least weekly after that. All new awns should be fertilised within a month of laying and then again every three months, reacting to any weed activity as it appears. If a better lawn is required, the mechanical operation of scarification and aeration and over seeding and top dressing can be performed to make a smoother surface. This is fine if the turf laid is of a reasonable standard but more often than not, home development companies opt for the cheapest turf rather than one from one of the more reputable turf suppliers where quality and standards re quality are much higher.
If you have experienced problems with the home developer re the state of your garden and lawn, it is probable that the lawn is dying because of an underlying water logging problem as a result of their construction compaction. No replacement lawn should be laid until the pan is broken up. The services of Terrain Aeration are not cost effective for a few 100 square metres. For smaller areas the indiscriminate use of a hired Kango with a large 'bit' from the local hire shop making holes at one foot centres across the surface of the lawn and back filling almost to the top with 10mm pea gravel will help alleviate the compacted soil condition. The lawn can then be scarified, aerated, over seeded, fertilised and top dressed with a loam if it looks like the water following a down pour is getting away through the profile quicker than it was before you started the process.
The best solution if you are left with a problem garden/lawn of a new build is to dig a few pilot holes, a spade deep by a spade wide by a spade wide in the lawn and fill with a measured amount of water like 5 litres, to time with a watch the natural rate percolation of the soil. If the water stays in the holes you have a problem and need to resort to the Kango process. You should note the depth of any top soil too as there is a minimum depth requirements on new builds.
Home developers will quickly blame the home owner when they question the quality of what they have been sold and they need to be held to count about the problems they cause on their sites like water logging and compacted soil pans. The natural movement of water across the complete building site needs careful consideration and catchment drains to protect lower properties from water running off higher properties. I recently visited a prospective client whose home bordered where I used to live. I was aware that part of our 'estate' had a water problem as there were many natural springs on the lower side of the site and the builder had not addressed the problem correctly. A neighbour had removed a large oak tree that managed to absorb a huge quantity of water over the years. Now that the tree had been cut down as it was badly diseased, the neighbouring properties gardens were completely flooded with nowhere for the water to go. The 'Law of Tort' concerns the legal issue of water from a neighbouring property 'polluting' and ‘damaging’ a lower property with several legal test cases taking precedence on the subject matter.
If you have suffered at the hands of a property developer where you have been expected to just put up with a really awful garden and lawn then we would love to hear from you. We believe that they should pay more attention to the perceived problems that the new home owners may suffer as a result of their lack of consideration when any foreseeable problems could be so easily solved if only they learnt a bit ore about soil science.