As outdoor spaces become more and more complicated with elements like fireplaces, kitchens, bars and more, contractors are looking at prefabricated kits to take on more jobs and finish them faster.
Matt Ladd, owner of Ladd-Scapes in Harriman, Tennessee, uses a lot of kits for outdoor living areas. The company also uses ready-to-finish products for a more custom application. Those products are basically preassembled and Ladd-Scapes can then choose stone, sandstone, brick or any other façade to finish the job.
The company has been using kits for 10 years, but does a good mix of custom and prefabricated installations. Serving the greater Knoxville area, Ladd-Scapes installs pavers, retaining walls, outdoor living areas and more.
In order to choose between prefabricated kits and custom work, Ladd looks at the veneers on the house and the overall concept of the project his team is working on.
“What’s on the house, what we’re installing as far as paving or retaining walls and that just kind of goes into the factor of what we decide,” Ladd says. “We try not to get too many materials involved – keep it to where it flows and it looks like everything was built with the house and that can go either way – custom or prefab units.”
Since custom jobs are so much more time-consuming, prefabricated kits can reduce the cost in man-hours. “Obviously, you can install something in a lot less time than you can a custom application,” Ladd says.
Kits typically run 15 to 20 percent less than custom jobs when you’re comparing apples to apples, Ladd says. Ladd-Scapes prices its jobs not only on the elements involved, but the logistics as well. “I’ve had instances where kits can be more expensive just for not being able to bring a machine into the backyard – when you have to crane it or carry it,” Ladd says.
The profit margin on jobs vary due to the weather and the labor involved. Typically, custom jobs are a little more profitable for Ladd-Scapes, at least to start out. “In reality, we’ve found that the kits and those prefabricated units tend to, at the end, be a little better profit because of the labor time, but because of the craftsmanship that’s involved in the custom side of things, typically the profit margin tends to be a little bit higher for us.”
Ladd says logistics are the biggest disadvantage when it comes to kit installations.
“It’s not designed for every project. You’ve got to be able to get the kits to the place where you’re going to install them and sometimes fences or houses are built really close together,” Ladd says. “Easements just do not allow that so something custom where you can wheelbarrow or hand-carry things in is more applicable.”
And customers are happy with both custom and kit installations. Ladd says that he hasn’t noticed any difference at all in the quality of a prefabricated a job when compared to a custom job when done correctly. He says that while kits are less expensive, they aren’t cheaper.