Under pressure

Compaction is the key to success if you want to give your customers a quality patio.

A beautiful hardscape is only as good as its foundation. Without compaction, soil can shift, meaning the project will have to be redone in three or four years.
Photos courtesy of Papescapes

Designing and building a hardscape for a customer is an intense process involving strenuous labor from your crews.

But all of that could be a waste of time if you don’t take into account the type of soil and how you need to handle it.

Ryan Pape, owner of PapeScapes, says while compaction isn’t required on a residential hardscape project, unless a landscape architect or engineer specifies it, he still recommends doing it.

“Compaction is the first step in doing quality work,” he says.

His company is located in Burton, Texas, where the ground is made up of expansive soil.

“If you don’t have compacted soil underneath your patios or walkways, it’ll shift and move,” he says.

To achieve the compaction, Pape says you first need to know exactly what you’ll need to do the job.

“There are a lot of compactors out there on the market,” he says. “Know your need and what you’re going to use it for. Do your research.”

Some compactors are made specifically for trenches, while others are made for patio work, and some will even put down water on the soil as they work.

He suggests buying name brands because it’s important to stick with something you know will work.

He also suggests making sure it can hold up to weather and daily abuse.

“A reliable and dependable piece of machinery is our number one concern,” he says.

The equipment.

Compaction equipment comes in three options: a hand tamp, a plate vibratory compactor and a vibratory roller compactor.

Pape describes the hand tamp as “a rudimentary tool.” A 10-by-10-inch steel plate with a pole attached is used for small patios or simple things when the force of a human is all that’s needed.

The plate vibratory compactor is a step up and is used for larger paver patios. It vibrates the plating to work on compaction.

The final option is the vibratory roller compactor, a 48-inch smooth drum roller used for driveways and larger patios.

Knowing what compaction equipment you need to get soil ready is the first step to start a hardscape project.
Rent vs. buy.

After you decide which piece of equipment best suits your needs, it’s time to figure out whether your best option is to rent or buy.

“I would probably say about 80 percent of the time now we rent our compaction equipment because it does take so much wear and tear,” Pape says. “These machines go through so much stress from the compacting; we just felt it was easier to rent.”

The company used to purchase the equipment, but because it’s used so much, basic maintenance was needed often. Prior to renting, PapeScapes had a plate vibratory compactor that lasted about three years.

“We’re using compaction equipment probably three or four times a month,” he says. “We use it several days at a time. We found it was easier to cycle through and let someone else maintain it.”

The end result.

According to Pape, commercial work typically requires 95 percent compaction, which is when a tool is used to see how closely compacted the soil particles are. You’ll never be able to reach that rate without the right equipment. Even with residential work, his team still tries to achieve that 95 percent rating on all jobs.

Compaction will raise the price of the job, but Pape says that shouldn’t matter.

“If you don’t take the right steps and you want to cut corners and not compact your site, you’re going to do a disservice to your client because it’s not going to be done right,” he says. “It’s always better to do it the right way and charge a bit more than to cut corners and have a shoddy job that has to be done over in the next three or four years.”

March 2016
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