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I was mowing a neighbors lawn for the first time recently and when I got around to their back yard, there were two landscape blocks laying in the grass, which had fallen off the top row of one of the retaining walls. I was pretty surprised by what I found when I started looking at the walls...............

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There are 5 retaining walls in the backyard area. They support the hills which were created when the original excavation took place to create a "walk out" lower basement level.

The largest wall is 50' long and between 5' and 7' in height. I didn't include a picture of that wall. That wall is along the swimming pool patio and on a sloped area of the back yard which is running away from the house towards a ravine. . This wall is leaning forward as well, past vertical for about 1/3rd of the wall length. The remainder of that wall is vertical, with none of it leaning back a few degrees as it was when built.

There are two walls each about 40' in length. These two walls are between 4' and 6' in height and one of these is the first wall pictured above. Both of these walls are at the same level in the landscaping, but across the small yard on the lower area from one another.

The fourth wall is 35' long and just below the wall shown in the first photo. It is the third wall on that side of the lawn and between 3' and 4' in height.

The fifth wall is 28' in length and shown on the last two photos. While it is the shortest wall in both length and height, at between 2' and 3' in height. it is also leaning forward enough that two of the top row blocks had fallen off and were left laying in the lawn and the previous people mowing mowed around the blocks lying in the lawn. It's also pretty clear that the base of the wall along the grass wasn't being trimmed with a string trimmer.

Surprisingly, there is a corrugated drain pipe at the base of each wall, which exits to the grass area. I can't tell from the little of the drain pipe I can see at the end of each wall if the drain has a fabric sock on it or if it is surrounded by gravel for proper drainage.

Issues which are pretty apparent with each wall include the following;
  • The blocks are not interlocking or attached to one another. The only thing holding them in place is the small lip on the back of each block and gravity.
  • There is no grid or anchoring system in the walls.
  • Many of the plants in the landscape beds have become oversized and are putting a lot of pressure on the back side of the walls.
  • While the drain tiles are in place, its hard to tell if the drains function or if they are plugged. Plus, each of the drain pipe ends are open without any screens or other methods to prevent critters from using the drain pipes for residences.
  • To properly rebuild the walls, its going to require tearing down the existing walls and removing all of the landscape plants and bushes.
  • Personally, if it were my lawn, I would pallet these existing blocks and offer them for sale on Market Place. I would rebuild the walls with larger, engineered interlocking wall blocks.
Recent Quote for a retaining wall for our Neighborhood Entrance.
There are some very large cedar bushes at the entrance to our neighborhood, which was the original entrance gate and stone walls to the estate which occupied over 640 acres of this property over a century ago. The large field stone walls with the original wrought Iron gates were retained when the neighborhood was built. This provides a unique and attractive historical entrance to the neighborhood. This also serves as a small common area which is maintained by the neighborhood HOA.

Below, is a photo which shows these bushes. The walls and the gate are shown in the background. My camera lens was covered in dust from mowing when I took this picture, so excuse the haziness of the picture.....

There is a sloping grade under the cedar bushes from the road to the level which the upper walls and the bushes which line the original driveway can be seen. These other bushes are maintained and kept trimmed and these bushes are going to be retained when the large cedar bushes are removed.

From the road where I am standing to take this picture, to the level where the walls and the gate exist, is between 36" on the left side of this picture and 42" on the right side above the actual road level. Once these bushes are removed, a retaining wall is going to need to be built to stabilize the hillside, plus also provide an attractive visual entrance to the neighborhood.

At the base of the photo below, you can see the actual blacktop entrance road and the pea gravel which someone else installed years ago as a "walk way". Amazingly, they installed the pea gravel on the walking grade, with a weed barrier material under the pea gravel. This makes walking up the slope between the cedar bushes a dangerous and risky adventure.

This pea gravel path is another thing which needs to be changed and will be. The 3' of grade change walking on pea gravel takes place in about 8' of the path, so the slope, while short in length is still steep, especially with pea gravel on landscape fabric underneath. (I still can't believe someone thought that was a good idea to build.....)

In fact, to discourage people from walking up the dangerous pea gravel slope, I intentionally allowed the cedar bushes to grow across the walking path. Once the bushes are removed, I plan to build steps in that area as part of the new retaining wall across the front of the slope to support the upper area and provide a nice visual entrance to the neighborhood.

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I had two different landscape contractors come out and look at this project area. It was decided that a retaining wall, between 36" tall on the left and up to 48" tall on the right side be constructed. The proposed wall would be 45' in length, with a small radius on each end.

Intentionally cropped from the photo are the street signs on the left and right, which i designed and installed last year. This is a "Y" configuration with the picture taken from the bottom of the "Y". One entrance road to the neighborhood veers to the left while the other veers to the right. Eventually, the roads loop around and intersect well into the neighborhood.

As a result, there are two ways to enter the neighborhood from the dead end county road, which is at the base of the "
Y". These roads are all privately owned and maintained, including about 200' of road at the base of the "Y" which leads to the area where the new wall is going to be built.

Traffic leaving the neighborhood on the road to the right, now have a Stop sign and the traffic leaving the neighborhood on the road to the left just make a partial right hand turn and onto the county road. The bushes shown have gotten so large they block any view of the traffic from the opposite neighborhood road until you are in the intersection, which is one of the reasons the large bushes are being removed. Also, the bushes are infested with red spiders and are dead underneath and beyond help at this point. So out they will come and a new entrance will be created, including the retaining wall with steps in the center and some new small plantings and annuals and perennials in landscape beds.

The wall specifications which were bid by the two landscape contractors were as follows;
  • The retaining wall 45' in length, varying from 36" in height on the left to 48" in height on the right.
  • Opposing radius on each end of the wall, to incorporate the street signs and their stone bases.
  • No steps were included in the wall, just a solid wall of interlocking, engineered blocks
  • Anchoring of the wall using Geo Grid into the hillside behind the wall.
  • The site would be provided clear of all bushes, etc for the companies to build the wall upon
  • All new plantings, etc. would be provided by and installed by the neighborhood at additional cost.
Basically, the landscape companies were building the wall on property which is ready for construction of the wall.
Quotes Received
Company A quoted a price of $12,500
Company B quoted a price of $13,350

These work out to approximately $80 / $85 per square face foot of the new wall.

(both quotes have now expired. I was contacted by each to see if I wanted to be "put into their project schedule" and I was told the "revised quotes would be at least 10% higher." Also, with their current work load, it would be late summer or early fall at the earliest before they would be able to get to this project.)

Other Private Neighborhood Landscape construction projects completed this Spring / Summer Include the following;

1. A brick and stone patio with short partial walls on two sides to serve as seating positions around the flush installed fire pit. The entire patio is about 500 sq feet and with the fire pit and other details, was completed at a cost of $38,000.

2. Another landscape stone patio with a fire pit. This fire pit is on top of the ground with a steel removable cover. This also has curved short walls with seating positions and is approximately 380 sq feet in size and was completed at a cost of $26,000.

Cost break Down of the two private projects, Simple cost divided by gross size equals a cost of
$
76 per sq ft for project 1.
$69 per sq ft for project 2.

Three different landscape projects involving patio and wall construction and the costs vary between $70 and $80 per sq foot of either wall face or floor space.

Based upon these quotes, Its going to be interesting to see the quotes for replacing these walls which are collapsing. The other projects all involved working with "ready to dig and start building" sites, where the neighbor with the failing retaining walls has significant demolition and site work necessary to get ready to build the new walls.


So what do you think the quotes to replace / rebuild the neighbors failing retaining walls are going to be?




 

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Don't know but it's going to hit their pocketbook pretty hard.

I've got a retaining wall that was concrete block which is failing and needs replacing. I may attempt replacement this fall doing the work myself or at least the removal of shrubbery and basic excavation. It's curved and goes from 4' at the highest to nothing over about 20' or so.

I need to explore the interlocking blocks that have more stability than the small liip blocks which I've used on low projects of less than a foot in height.

Anyway I go is going to cost a bit, even if I do the work.

Treefarmer
 

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We need a picture of said block, top an bottom and also weight of each block.
I think Home Depot probably makes a mint of $$ selling worthless blocks.
 

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Beings how walls have been brought up, I thought I would chime in with my project. 175’ linear feet, average height 3.5’, 8”x24” rock base, approximately 18” to 24” width gravel behind wall, geo grid and 4” corrugated pipe w/sock. Been working on it since the last part of March this year. Laying 80# blocks does make an old man feel like an old man. Getting the base in and the first course perfect is the hardest and time consuming part. I’d never be able to afford to hire it out and at times during the build, I wonder what the hell was I thinking to take on this wall. My brain is much younger than my body. My son will help when possible, but I’ve done at least 75% by myself and my buddy, my 2520.


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Beings how walls have been brought up, I thought I would chime in with my project. 175’ linear feet, average height 3.5’, 8”x24” rock base, approximately 18” to 24” width gravel behind wall, geo grid and 4” corrugated pipe w/sock. Been working on it since the last part of March this year. Laying 80# blocks does make an old man feel like an old man. Getting the base in and the first course perfect is the hardest and time consuming part. I’d never be able to afford to hire it out and at times during the build, I wonder what the hell was I thinking to take on this wall. My brain is much younger than my body. My son will help when possible, but I’ve done at least 75% by myself and my buddy, my 2520.


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Dang that looks good. I get it on the 80lb blocks. That used to be an easy lift, now I have to think about it and decide if it's worth it.

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SB
Like when your neighbor wall was put in, that was probably the newest and greatest material back then. Time changes and so does ways of doing it.
 

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Can't answer your question @SulleyBear , A LOT.

I agree the very large concrete barriers that are set in place are probably the best long term solution although they lose on aesthetics. Once walls get over a certain height, particularly if there a series of them in a step like fashion, there needs to be structural engineering to be done correctly with tie backs into the hill.
 

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Blocks should have been pinned with rods, and every third or fourth courses of block should have had a layer of geo fabric, stone and a socked four inch perforated drain pipe behind it. Water and plants are the primary destroyers of retaining walls.
 

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I’d just demo it all and slope it getting some slope compatible plants.
 

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I’d just demo it all and slope it getting some slope compatible plants.
Probably the easiest on the wallet too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I’d just demo it all and slope it getting some slope compatible plants.
And there goes their walk out basement...........nice in theory, but wouldn't work in this case. Plus there is a swimming pool patio, etc. behind the top wall, which needs access and support.

In reality, this house shouldn't have been built with the walkout lower level on this lot, because of the need to dig out the access and need multi level walls on each side. Plus it involves a second level deck off the back of the house, etc. A picture taken back from a distance would illustrate the complications, but I don't want to reveal the specific home or its location.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Beings how walls have been brought up, I thought I would chime in with my project. 175’ linear feet, average height 3.5’, 8”x24” rock base, approximately 18” to 24” width gravel behind wall, geo grid and 4” corrugated pipe w/sock. Been working on it since the last part of March this year. Laying 80# blocks does make an old man feel like an old man. Getting the base in and the first course perfect is the hardest and time consuming part. I’d never be able to afford to hire it out and at times during the build, I wonder what the hell was I thinking to take on this wall. My brain is much younger than my body. My son will help when possible, but I’ve done at least 75% by myself and my buddy, my 2520.


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Raco232, great looking project!

Do you have the block lifting tool designed for those specific brand and design of blocks, which allow you to pick up the blocks sort of like how ice blocks used to be handled? I know the block manufacturer sells the block lifting and setting tools as that is part of my block selection consideration. I don't want to have to have any fingers under the blocks at any times..........for obvious reasons....Slinging 80 plus pound blocks is enough work, I don't want to add smashed fingers in the process.

If you haven't seen or aren't aware of the block lifting tools, make sure to check with the block source. If nothing else, I know they are shown demonstrating the block handling tools in Youtube videos..........
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
By the way, first bid for the wall replacements is in at $79,000..........with many contingencies for as much as another $15k - $20k..in possible costs depending upon choices made....(I figured mid $70's based upon other quotes for other projects...)
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Updated entrance photos.......as the work starts.

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After first side bush removal...

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Second side bush removal.....

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@SulleyBear Amazng that someone thought the fabric under pea gravel was a good idea.????? An accident waiting to happen.
 

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Sulley, I must say that the entrance looks much better in your photos without the shrubs. Gives a more open feeling and lets you see the columns.

I do have a block lifter for the Versa-lok blocks. It’s a must have tool to handle the heavy rascals. I purchased it thru my local Versa-lok dealer. Looks pretty simple and can easily be made, as long as you have one to go by.

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