Budgeting for Success

It’s very important to get a rough yet realistic estimate of the cost of your project before you start spending money; we’ve all heard the horror stories about the kitchen remodel that stopped with the work only partially complete because homeowners grossly underestimated the cost of the projects and ran out of money.  This does not have to happen to you and your new landscape if you take just a little time to plan it out.

Two of the most important factors related to cost are: (1) whether you plan on using expensive materials (exotic plants and stone, for example) and (2) whether you plan on doing most of the work yourself or hiring others to do it.  You may expect to pay anywhere from less than $5 per square foot to over $20, depending on your answers to these two questions.

If considering hiring others to do the work, it’s important to get the right person for the job.  One of the best ways to do this is to find landscapes that you admire, and ask those homeowners or site managers who they worked with (landscape designer/architect and/or installer) and whether they would recommend that person.  So if you find a professional you might be interested in hiring, ask that person for references.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about cost.

Cost of design:  Our Program requires professionally-drawn (i.e. landscape designer, landscape architect, certified landscape irrigation auditor, or landscape contractor) landscape design plans for commercial, industrial, or institutional sites.  For residential sites, landscape design plans are not required for the Program.  However, if you want to hire a landscape designer to create the drawing it may cost about $300.  Another option is to purchase residential landscape design software, available on the internet for under $100.  You might find the software takes a little getting used to, but you might also end up enjoying the process.  There is an excellent free “How To” design course at BeWaterWise.com.  This class leads you through the plan drawings step-by-step.  We highly recommend you take this short on-line class prior to developing your plans.

Cost of killing and removing your lawn:  The most labor-intensive part of the process may be removing your old lawn.  Although killing the existing lawn may be time consuming, it’s not necessarily physically demanding.  But removing the dead grass can be a lot of work as it usually requires removing the top two to four inches of soil.  You may be able to hire someone to do this for you for about $500-$900 depending on the size of the lawn.

Cost of the irrigation system:  It takes a new water-efficient garden one or two years to get “established”; that is, for the plants and root systems to significantly mature.  Once established, your WaterSmart landscape will require less water than during its establishment period.  Some of the factors you should consider when estimating the cost of irrigating the new landscape include:

  • Will you be able to use an existing irrigation system, with minor improvements, to meet the lower water needs of your new WaterSmart landscape?
  • Do you want to install a completely new, very efficient irrigation system such as a drip system? 
  • Can you do most of the work yourself or do you need to hire someone? 
  • Do you want a fully automated system or are you willing to invest the time necessary to do a lot of the watering yourself?

Cost of hardscape:  Hardscape can be a wonderful addition to most landscapes: new walkways, patios for outside entertaining or dining, decorative planters that add interest to your landscape.  Hardscape features can add the most pleasure to your garden by increasing your livable space and creating a peaceful place for you to relax.  Another benefit to most hardscapes is they require little maintenance; no watering, mowing, fertilizering, etc.  (Please remember:  your WaterSmart landscape can contain NO impermeable hardscape such as concrete; any hardscape you add must allow water to infiltrate into the soil.)

There are two basic cost issues related to adding hardscape.  First: the cost of material can range from a couple of dollars per square foot to more than five or six dollars depending on your choice of materials (such as inexpensive brick vs. flagstone).

The second cost issue is whether you install the hardscape yourself (zero labor cost) or pay someone to do it (usually several dollars per square foot.).  As always, when considering paying someone to do the work for you, check their references – that’s the best indicator of whether you will be happy with their work or not.

You’ll find a lot of information about hardscapes at your local hardware and specialty stores and on the Internet.  This research will help you figure out whether it’s a project you can handle yourself or if you need to hire someone.

Cost of plants:  Probably the three most important cost factors related to the cost of plants are:

  • Common vs. exotic:  Exotic plants will cost more; common plants less. While it’s fun to add a few uncommon plants, they can get pricey.
  • Less mature vs. full grown plants:  Fairly young plants of a particular species will cost you less than larger, more mature individuals that a nursery has “nursed” for several years.  Other than trees, many plants can achieve close to full size in one to three years.  Some experts believe it’s healthier for plants if they are purchased young and allowed to mature in the soil that will become their permanent home, as opposed to maturing in a pot.
  • Labor:  As with other aspects of your landscape, doing it yourself is, well, free.  Expect to pay about $3 to $7 per plant for installation.

Financing Available for Water Efficiency Projects through the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program

PACE program financing allows property owners to fund qualified water efficiency projects with little or no up-front costs. Residential, commercial and municipal properties located within participating cities or unincorporated areas of San Diego County may be able to finance up to 100% of their project and pay it back over time through their existing property tax bill as a voluntary property tax assessment. The PACE program may require participating contractors to perform the work. For more information, please visit your city’s website to determine if your city participates in the program.  If you live in an unincorporated area of San Diego County, please visit the County of San Diego’s PACE website.