Setting up our new offices and prepping for Quinn!

It’s been a while since our last blog. We have been incredibly busy at Lewis Lawn Care and Masonry. We moved into our new office space in October this year at 557 4th Street in Troy. We have been putting a lot of effort in transforming it from an old police station to our office space and yard. Patty has joined our team as the Administrative Assistant. She has been pumping out the mowing contracts and we are ready and geared up for the mowing season. The last thing on our to-do list at the office is getting our new yard set up for the season. That is where the focus of this blog comes in.

Our plan is to repave our yard and fix the entrance – currently, the yard is a mix of dirt (oftentimes mud) and broken concrete. This also includes fixing the retaining wall, ripping up the blacktop and repave. Our contractor is set up to excavate the blacktop that currently exists (it is not pitched correctly and would create a surface where water would be trapped for the layers above). We use KC Construction out of Green Island for this type of work and other heavy machinery solutions. We have been working together for a decade or so.

The next problem to solve was getting asphalt bids and build the retaining wall. We got two bids so far and are waiting on the third. Both bids are from companies we know through the volunteering world – Cooper Paving and Smith’s Paving & Sealcoating.

To get started, the first step was to excavate the retaining wall to get the grade correct on our hill entrance. Last Thursday, we demoed the existing wall and tore it down. Since Polly was forecasted to be all rain and 37 degrees overnight, we weren’t too concerned with our entrance being blocked by some dirt overnight. We could still sneak the truck by, but it was tighter with the dirt pile in the way.

We were surprised to see the snow accumulate overnight. We had all our trucks moved to another location (plows on and ready). We kept checking overnight to see how much snow was coming. It became obvious that it was not going to be a rain event and was in fact, a snow storm. The back yard at the office became an afterthought to fighting winter storm Polly. In the end, Polly dumped about a foot of snow on us and man, was it heavy. Our backs are still hurting from it! Also since the temperatures were so high the days before, the ground was incredibly soft. As a result of this, we have a couple accounts where we have to return to fix their grass and grade out some tire tracks and plow marks.


As this is being typed, we are preparing for winter storm Quinn. Another 9-14 inches they are saying. We are at 50.8 inches in Albany this year. Our typical seasonal average is 60.2 inches. Quinn should get us to our average.

On Tuesday, we were able to finish our wall and regrade for now. We still have to wait for Polly’s snow to melt in our yard before KC Construction can come in and rip up the yard. Now we will have to wait for Quinn as well. We plan to be out most of Wednesday and all day Thursday. In our typical fashion, we don’t go home until all of our 110 accounts are done. The concrete will have to wait longer. Thank goodness Country True Value on Rt.4 still has shovels and shear pins in stock. Polly did a number on our snowblowers and we had to replace many shovels. Here comes Quinn!


Repairing a garage after car damage

We’ve all done it, step on the gas instead of the brakes. Well this time, it happened and someone drove through the back of their garage! This happened years ago, and since then, the house was sold. The current owner wanted to get this repaired so that there isn’t any permanent damage to the garage in the future.

Since the garage was made of bricks, repairing it was just up our alley. Unfortunately, when a car strikes the side of the building (we’ve had this happen in the past!), the damage is low. When this happens with brick, we must replace and repair that area, as well as the brick above it. As you can see in the pictures, we had to tear out a large section of brick to repair the garage.

This particular damage happened near a window so we also had to support the window before we tore down the wall. Fortunately, the roof rafters ran side to side and there wasn’t a heavy load on the back wall. The roof was supported by the sides of the garage so minimal framing support was necessary. When bricks are damaged, usually you are able to “tooth” the bricks in to the area that does not need to be replaced. These areas require a little bit of extra work to make sure we fill the tops of the bricks with mortar so the replaced bricks are sealed and completely supporting the existing bricks above it and the sides of it.

Once supported and torn down, we started laying from the bottom. Within a few days we had the garage repaired. The final piece is to acid wash the bricks that were laid to clean them up from any extra mortar left on the brick throughout the repair process. The garage is now repaired and the client can rest assured that the structure is safe and fully secure.

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Fixing an Existing Paver Patio in East Greenbush

Paver walkways and patios are often large investments for your outdoor living space. They transform the look and feel of your yard and create a space that you, your friends and your family enjoy for the spring, summer and fall months. These projects do, however, require maintenance and repair over time.

We have a customer whose patio had started to grow unsightly weeds in the joints every year. This customer approached us to install new polymeric sand in the joints and to fix the edge restraint as well as fix the trip hazard at the top of the stairs.

Visible edge restraint and weeds growing through the cracks.

Polymeric sand and edge restraint have evolved in the 15 to 20 years since this patio was installed. In the past, regular sand would be swept into the cracks, which would breed weeds and moss after a few years. The edge restraint would then be installed directly on the stone dust. Stone dust is no longer recommended by the ICPI (interlocking concrete pavement institute). Twenty years ago, stone dust was the final base material before pavers – we now use one inch of concrete sand. Furthermore, there are new recommendations on the installation of the edge restraint, putting the final grade one inch lower than the paver instead of right against it. This allows us installers to hide the edge restraint and create a more beautiful, seamless line around the pavers.

On the left, the stair with the trip hazard. On the right, the patio is now leveled with the stair.

For this customer’s project, we dug out below the current edge restraint and installed longer pins in the areas that the edge was creeping up.  We also installed new polymeric sand, which made the patio look brand new. Finally, we raised the level of the patio on the upper level to meet the stairs. We did this by pouring concrete to prevent the loss of base materials under the stairs.  The concrete will harden and prevent the trip hazard from forming again over time. This overall maintenance will allow your patio to live on for many parties and backyard grill outs for years to come.

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Common mistakes when painting masonry

Painting brick is all over HGTV lately. They show beautifully white washed brick or accent brick walls painted to enhance their character. If this is done right, it can actually be a really great way to accent your home. Unfortunately, if done wrong, it can compromise your structure.

There are different varieties of paint – latex, acrylic, oil-based, water-based, etc. Not every variety works for every application. In masonry, paints that lock in moisture eventually cause the masonry to retain water and break down. This causes the block, brick or mortar to become weak and your structure to become compromised. For this reason, we always recommend using masonry paint. These paints allow the masonry materials to breath and for moisture to be released (in gas form) from the masonry work.

For the job pictured, the homeowner painted his chimney with a typical outdoor paint. This paint is one that you would use for wood siding to protect it from water getting in. This caused moisture to build up from the condensation inside the chimney when the furnace would vent. In order to fix this, we ground off the paint (a 2-day process) and let the chimney dry out. Then we parged the chimney to give it a textured finish. If the customer wanted to paint it with masonry paint at this point, it would be safe. Parging gives the masonry an extra “skin” and helps to prevent further damage.

This is a classic case of beauty vs. function. Having a professional walk you through the work can avoid compromising your home. This customer reached out before he needed his entire chimney replaced. Luckily, we were able to fix the chimney and still create the beautiful aesthetic he was looking for.


A few afterthoughts on Stella

Being a part of the snow plow industry is a wild ride; it can be fun, stressful, exciting and dangerous all at once. Our most recent storm, Stella, came in with plenty of notice. The week prior, we had a forecast of 5-8 inches. Once we see a forecast of 2 or more inches, we begin to plan for the storm. Then we can fit the particulars (such as time, length of the storm, density of the snow) into our preseason prep work. Turned out for this storm, the people who expected to be able to handle the winter themselves, ended up needing help. In this post, I hope to detail why we do contracts and preseason work and how it affects our ability to fight the storm.

To start I should detail what we do for preseason. Most of our contracts go out in September. We are able to stake out our properties so we know where asphalt meets lawn and areas to avoid. We then input the accounts into our software system and print out laminated route sheets for each truck. All of our accounts are put into routes and we assign a foreman/crew leader to manage the route. So before our shovels and plows hit a driveway, we have invested hours into the account. We also maintain and check our trucks regularly throughout the season, whether or not we see snow in the immediate forecast. Broken plow lights, broken shear pins and broken truck mirrors were some of the casualties of Stella.

Stella was a storm that started during the day, roughly 6-8AM Tuesday morning. A lot of our contracts have AM triggers (meaning we clear at a certain time in the morning if a certain amount of snow has fallen). We have others that have triggers throughout the day. This contract language is meant to reduce phone calls and miscommunication during a storm. For context, we have over a hundred plow accounts. Some are residential and some commercial. So knowing that Stella was upgraded to a 18-24 inch storm, we had a couple trucks out plowing our seasonal customers from 8AM Tuesday on. Stella finished dumping on us at around 9-10PM on Tuesday. Normally this is a great time for a storm to finish – we are able to clear snow through the night and only have a few clients left to serve. However, since we got nearly two feet of snow, every account took 2-3x the amount of time. Our AM Tuesday guys were still out plowing and all of our trucks were out and plowing by 1AM Wednesday. We had most of our clients cleared by 8AM Wednesday when the largest influx of phone calls for new clients came.

We had done really well at clearing our contracted customers driveways and parking lots, when we got slammed with phone calls. With a couple guys already passed 24 hours straight of plowing, there were plenty of people calling in for their driveway to be cleared. Most of the time this is welcome, but this storm was difficult to manage, not to mention the extra accounts. We ended up taking on another dozen or so clients. By the time it ended we had one person out for 34 hours straight, another at 27 and a couple more at 20+ hours, not to mention the handful of guys who did anywhere from 4-17 hours. Altogether, we may have put in 140 man-hours of clearing snow, just Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday added another 40 on top of that. It’s always a tough stretch, but worth it.

In the end, we were happy with our work on Stella. By Friday, we didn’t have any clients with any concerns. Some of our employees were happy with their overtime, others who couldn’t wait to get home and finally get to bed. All in all, we are just happy to get our clients back to their everyday work and keeping them safe.

A few tips for someone looking for a plow driver either right before, or during, a storm:

  • The difficult part with clearing a driveway that we have never been to is the likelihood of damaging the property and/or damaging our truck. The best thing to do is to have a couple photos of your property in summer time and an overhead drawing of your driveway. If that seems cumbersome, just getting a contractor to look at your property and write a contract for on-call work.
  • If you don’t contract for your driveway to be done, please be patient as we try to get to your house. We have to serve our contracted clients first and we do our best to help new clients out afterwards.
  • If you have an order out for your driveway to be cleared and you decide to do it yourself, please give us a heads up. Most drivers are tired, running solely on caffeine and to be honest, can be irritable. We are trying our best and it’s always appreciated if we know you don’t need us to come out.


Prepping at our shop before the big storm.


Checking out a driveway for a new client, as you can tell sometimes it can be difficult to see the exact location and shape of the driveway, and if there’s anything under the snow we might hit.



Doing our best to get the snow around the cars (we don’t offer digging out cars as a service).

Repairing the brick at Harmony Mills

This fall, we had the privilege of working on what was once the largest cotton mill in the world. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is part of the Harmony Mills complex in Cohoes.

We repaired the bricks on what used to be the power plant, constructed in 1911. There were multiple locations near the roof, windows and sides of the building that needed replacing. There were also places where bricks were falling off the building because the mortar was failing. We relaid those sections in order to prevent any further water damage and damage to the building itself. The owner plans to convert the space into a restaurant – we look forward to seeing how the inside transforms!

Replacing a front stoop

We were recently hired to replace a front stoop in Cohoes. This particular stoop was in need of replacement because it was beyond repair. The top cracked, then the owner parged the top of it and accidentally pitched the landing towards the building, allowing water to get in. This caused the sill plate (which was made from regular wood, not pressure treated) to completely rot away, compromising the support of the entire structure. Needless to say, we had to replace the sill plate. 

Rather than pouring new concrete steps, we sold the customer a set of precast stairs. These stairs have a better finish and are less expensive than a poured in place stoop. With the proper conditions, this is a great alternative to a stoop and will save customers thousands of dollars. to support the precast steps, we poured concrete into sono tubes, four feet into the ground. We then installed a concrete slab in front of the stairs for a landing as well as a concrete landing on top of the stairs. To finish the project, we installed new metal handrails on the top landing and stairs as well as a new pressure treated wooden handrail on the adjoining front side walk. 

The result was beautiful, and better yet, will last the customers for years to come. 




Techo-Bloc Baltimore retaining wall

We recently finished this retaining wall at one of our customer’s homes in Troy. The customer chose a chestnut brown Baltimore wall by Techo-Bloc that highlights her home beautifully. Our customers can choose from a variety of colors, textures and patterns for their design and we work with each client individually to find what suits their needs best. We love how this one came out!

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A patio installation

In early spring, we installed a patio around this customer’s pool and they recently opened up the pool for the season. They were kind enough to let us come back and grab some pictures – and we’re glad we did because look at how beautiful it looks! We hope they spend the summer lounging on a patio chair and soaking up some rays. streamview patio pool 3


streamview pool patio

All about mulching

As landscapers, we install mulch regularly. Most of our landscaping clients want new mulch every spring to freshen up their flower beds and enjoy a beautiful yard all summer long. However, there are more benefits to mulching your gardens than just aesthetics.

  • Mulch helps with weed suppression. It does not completely eliminate weeds as they will germinate on top of mulch and some grow through the mulch from the dirt below. Preen can be added to the mulch to help even further. However, nothing works better than actually just pulling the few that come up every 3 weeks or so.
  • Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil. As the sun hits, the layers of mulch particles will prevent evaporation of the moisture at the soil level. As rain or a sprinkler provides moisture, the mulch will allow it to permeate through to your plants.
  • Mulch provides insulation from extreme weather. While the summer heat will try to evaporate the moisture in the soil or dry out your plants, mulch adds a barrier of protection. Likewise, frost can hurt shallow root plants and mulch keeps the temperature of the soil higher during those abnormally cold days. Additionally, mulch prevents the soil erosion during hard rainfalls.
  • Mulch provides nutrients as it breaks down. Mulch is made up of organic material. As it breaks down, the material provides new fresh nutrients to your plants. This helps them to grow and flourish.

We are often asked which color mulch is best. While this is a preference, there are other factors in selecting a color. The three basic mulch colors are red, black and premium brown. Red and black are dyed mulches; they are essentially pallet boards sent through a grinder and blasted with dye. After about a year, the dye washes off and the mulch fades considerably. Also, the dyed mulches tend to take longer to break down and amend the soil because they are such large pieces. Oftentimes we find ourselves removing these mulches after a couple years because they don’t break down. For these reasons, we recommend premium brown mulch. This is a natural product and has not been dyed so it breaks down quicker and amends the soil. You do need to lightly apply more mulch since it breaks down; however, you will have more nutrient rich soil as a result. Premium brown mulch also remains consistent throughout the year and will not fade.

Clients also ask us often about weed paper. We do not recommend installing weed paper since the initial benefits do not outweigh the initial costs, future costs and trouble. Typically, if you install weed paper, you will enjoy a weed-free garden that first year. Then spring comes and you find exposed weed paper due to frost heaving. Since this doesn’t look appealing, you rip out the exposed portions. Dust in the air will also eventually settle on your mulch, allowing for weeds to germinate on top and grow through the weed paper. So, you will be weeding anyway. Additionally, weed paper prevents moisture from permeating through to your plants, preventing the nutrients from mulch breaking down and amending your soil. It might seem great to have no/low maintenance option but in the end, it will cost you later.