View Full Version : Legal Question for Retaining Wall Construction

4 seasons lawn&land
12-05-2009, 11:13 AM
I was wondering what the legal requirements were for building walls at any given height. I would think that at some point in wall height that you need certification or a degree of some sort.

DVS Hardscaper
12-05-2009, 11:27 AM
most walls are to be engineered and stamped by a licensed engineer. build it exactly as engineer specifies, perform compaction tests (if specifed), use suitable backfill (as specified), and you're good to go.

Don't do as specified and the wall fails - you're screwed.

Either way, as far as liability goes, regardless if you did as specified, and the wall fails - you'll be named in the suit, simply because you had your hands in it.

There is a wall near me in a brand new housing community. A big company that more or less does nothing but build walls - built the wall. Well, I forget the logistics, but if I'm not mistaken I think there was a main water line leak or rupture. Which in turn caused the wall to fail. Obviously, not the wall contractor's fault. Yet, the developer swindled the wall contractor to rebuild this massive wall at contractor's expense. And the wall contractor pretty much agreed to it. It's either spend $30k fighting it in court, and possibly losing and incurr more costs. Or spend $30k rebuilding the wall and be done with it.

We're about to begin a wall gig this week. 10' tall, and we have other 10-footers we've done. However, this is the steepest slope we've ever done a 10-footer on. And we're not doing it at the toe of the slope.....we building it in the center! So yeah, I'm nervous :)


4 seasons lawn&land
12-05-2009, 08:47 PM
really wow. Thats not what i expected.

12-05-2009, 11:30 PM
Most people have no clue how to build structurally with natural stone. I went/continue to go to school at The Dry Stone Conservancy in Kentucky. You get certificates for each test you pass.....4' tall fence, 4' tall retaining wall, Corner, Check end, radius wall, stepped foundation and Fence, etc.... The Great Brittan Dry Stone Walling Association web site has PDF's you can download to learn more. Code out here is no engineer 'under 48" including foundation'. There are so many 6-8" thick piles of stone leaning against a slope out here called retaining walls that it is mind boggleing. Rockeries are the actual term people should be using, to their clients so they know what they are paying for.
You get what you pay for as usual.

Just a note.. our walls have 4-5" thick foundation stones, and then our base is 28" deep, through stones at 18" in height every 3', and finish around 12" deep at the top.

Certification would probably be good for those claiming to build retaining walls in natural stone...
I couldn't tell you anything about the concrete product blocks, but I think the above code covers them as well.

4 seasons lawn&land
12-06-2009, 02:04 PM
Dry stone conservancy has a site too. I think the whole concept is really cool. I wish there was something like that in NY or that they would expand their practice across the country. Its still something I'd like to do anyway but I need more experience even for their basic certification... which is'nt very basic.

But it didn't seem to be much of a "school". It seemed they are more of an organization to test you for certification and arrange for you to work on walls for the state with an expert so you can gain experience, and go for the next certification in which case you have to live out there. As far as them teaching I understood they didn't...???

I also think it kind of defeats the purpose that you need 3 client refferences for basic retaining walls.

What level have you made it to so far?

12-06-2009, 07:05 PM
I am working on my 'Journeyman' certification. There are five tests for walls, then styles of coping. The main test is timed. You have to take down and rebuild 8'(or 7') of 4' tall fence in 8 hours which must include a new foundation, two through stones at 18" in height and coping. I did the "boot camp' and passed. Over half of the people failed. I took my assistant the next year and he passed, again over half failed. It is very humbling work. The goal is to be able to build and bill at a reasonable rate to your client while providing them with a product that lasts hundreds of years.
There are many workshops around the country. I was just up in Ontario for the Canadian Dry Stone walling Asssociations Festival where they had 4 outstanding instructors, testing for certification with the GBDSWA, and the upper level people(me included) worked on a structure known as a 'Scottish Black house'.
The Conservancy isn't perfect. But it is an opportunity to learn how to build properly with stone, applying dry stone masonry techniques, with a master builder, gain certification, and meet other people who love stone. I support them 100%.
Dan Snow & Chuck Eblakar are your part of n.y./Vermont, and they teach workshops regularly. Check their websites.
Building structurally with stone is complicated. Yet there are only five rules. Skip a rule and you have an ordinary pile of stones. Apply them consistently and you have structures that will last generations that are easy to maintain and assets.

You can submit images of your work for review for testing back there but it is a hassle.
We did it for our 'radius wall' test..... take images of both sides of the fence at EVERY COURSE, and above, until completion. It is a drag. Way easier to test in beautiful Shaker Village Kentucky with the Instructors present marking their sheets.

Good luck on your path.

Down load the pdf's from the GBDSWalling Associations site. It is the best source to build properly to. All the books are too generalized, good and helpful, but.....

4 seasons lawn&land
12-06-2009, 07:51 PM
I have been waiting for the 2010 workshop schedule to come out. I also have to call and find out where the training courses will be. The site says there are training courses around the country "upon request". I guess they are seperate and more involved than the workshops, and paying.

I dont think the site mentions the boot camp any longer. Do they still do that?

4 seasons lawn&land
12-06-2009, 08:26 PM
scanning the GBDS site and had to post this pic

12-06-2009, 08:48 PM
Your hooked!
Check out the Stone Foundation also. They are great. Marenakos here in Wa. does a workshop called StoneFest, www.stonefest.org . I have helped out with it for the last 2 years.
They do the 'boot camp' during the week they do the walling competition. You won't regret spending the time or money on learning. Just make sure you are in great shape, well hydrated and focused on your goals.
Keep searching the web for workshops. Jared Flynn in vermont also teaches.
Thanks for posting that rad wall.

4 seasons lawn&land
12-06-2009, 09:38 PM
thanks for the info.

These people teach through the conservancy and not independantly right?

So you do the workshops, what are they like, as far as level/skill? Have you done any of the training courses?

Its not easy to find these types of organizations and right now not too easy to find a job in it either.

12-06-2009, 10:22 PM
Here is an image from the Seattle Flower & Garden Show I collaborated on for 2008. Both our companies combined had about 25 people working on it for 3 days to install all the plants and 50 tons of stone. Dry Stone masonry is our specialty and passion. It is hard finding people skilled enough to build crews that will stick around year after year.

12-06-2009, 10:28 PM
All are certified through the GBDSWassociation. Dan has written several books, both Chuck and jared have apprenticed with Dan but also have businesses. All are really good. I have worked with all three and respect their work and them as individuals.

Jobs in this area will come back with the economy.

I went to StoneFest09 here this year and was Patrick Mcafee's assistant( 1 week), and I went to Ontario for their workshop for a week. I do at least two a year and send my guys regularly for training and inspiration. I have been to about 10 workshops in the past 4 years....

The real reason I got into offering dry stone masonry to my clients was the sustainability aspect of it. Now it is 80% of what we do.

4 seasons lawn&land
12-06-2009, 10:57 PM
Awesome display. Dry stack arches always catch my attention. How are they built?

12-06-2009, 11:19 PM
Take the rules apply the exceptions. Build a few with someone who has done them before to learn the key points. You use batter boards to control those details, and 'false work' for the arch.

A Bobcat actually bumped the right side when they were dumping topsoil in for our plants and drifted a stone out of place 3-4".... we all went AHHH! Then our friend Dean went whack with a dead blow hammer and drifted the stone back in place. Their flexibility is an asset. We were lucky too! I am planning on building another outside next week but a cold front moved in yesterday. I think I have to wait until Feb. to get to it.

Another thing... Gothic Arches are easier and more successful than Roman arches. Roman arches need a lot of support up higher above the halfway height. I have only built/collaborated on/with 6. They are not an every day item on my clients order form. They are expensive also as they use a lot of stone.

4 seasons lawn&land
12-06-2009, 11:36 PM
ya I definately wouldnt want to go and build one of those blindly. That could be a bit of a liability concern! Im not aware of the distinction between roman and gothic either.

what are the 5 main rules you mentioned before?

tieing in/back
2 over 1

am i close?

12-07-2009, 09:59 AM
4 really, but the list is longer as you know more
1. One stone over two, and two over one
2. length in to the wall
3. Lay your stones level
4. pack/heart inside the wall( NO FRONT PINNING, the fall out!)
5. Build to your line-Never above
6.Don't hammer on the wall
7. Lay five stones and look at them
8. Consistent batter.....

Roman is a circle, Gothic is the high peaked one that looks like it is missing a segment but is actually stronger. The arch in my picture is Gothic.

Here is an image of a workshop at Marenakos StoneFest 08' where we built a Dry Stone Bridge. Roman arch.4' circumference for scale.

Liability. Someone could end up with a bit of a headache!

4 seasons lawn&land
12-07-2009, 04:27 PM
I'd say.

try posting that pic of the bridge again.

12-07-2009, 09:55 PM
Here is the bridge. It was a workshop project lead by Patrick McAfee of Ireland & Bobby Watt of Ottawa, and hosted by Marenakos for StoneFest 2008. There are 60 tons of stone here for the barrel arch and sides. The foot path is finished with cobbles in a fan pattern. I think 20 something people worked on it for 3 days! It was about 90% completed and then a group of masons came in and put the coping and cobbles on.
Funny talking about this. Today I met with a new client who wants a bridge at their home linking their island on their large pond to the mainland. About a 12-14' span.....

4 seasons lawn&land
12-08-2009, 05:19 PM
pretty cool. Guess thats a roman arch. Do u have any construction pics? Particularly the arch. I dont really get the construction part of these.

Something that would be cool. Windows through a 2 sided wall using that technique.

12-08-2009, 07:10 PM
Yes, I'm sorry, it is a "roman' style arch. The construction pictures look like an Eastern writing style in stone. It is very complicated. The math involved to get the top line of the bridge, cutting all the 'vousoir stones' for the arch, the 'false work', walling, etc..... There is definitely a reason these are not explained in books. We had 2 groups of people squaring stones for the 'Vousoir stones'.... which are the stones that you see that are dark for the arch. They are a montana slate. On the false work we had a string line on the bottom, and centered. When you go to place a stone in the arch you raise the string to the out side of the false work, it looks like the big hand on a clock coming out from the center of a circle, and line your stone up with the string line.

I could write on and on here. Too many details to explain that are critical to their stability.

The cool thing about dry stone masonry is that if you follow those first four rules I gave you, and apply the exceptions, you can build a huge range structurally cool and artistic stone features.

Have fun. Call the Dry Stone Conservancy or visit their web site for details on classes. I spoke with the field director this afternoon and he said they were putting on some unique classes this spring.

4 seasons lawn&land
12-08-2009, 07:51 PM
09 workshop schedule still posted to the site right now. Guess I'll call and see if I can get a 010 sched.

Training schedule also. The site says there are workshops and training (as 2 different things).

It must be extreemly complex (arch) because I really have no idea what your talking about, haha.

12-08-2009, 09:16 PM
There are a lot of details. They are so cool to build.

Here is an image of arches built using 5 gallon buckets for the form work. I went in to my sons school, he is in 6th grade, and brought 1100 pounds of stone for them to build 3 arches with. They all stood. And are still standing 2 months later. They loved the experience and I intervened minimally.

4 seasons lawn&land
12-08-2009, 09:56 PM
Cool project. They look solid enough

this looks farmiliar

12-08-2009, 10:43 PM
Someone else's post/image. I have seen this image appear quite a few times on peoples sites claiming..... it is their work or they were the lead.... Whatever. All of those people would piddle like a puppy when it came time to build the real thing if they had to be 'the lead' and order material-design-build-price-warranty.

I am bidding one now with a 14' span. It is a lot of work. My assistant and I will build it, and maybe one other guy bringing us material for 2 weeks. I am stressed about the scope of it, but know I can pull it off based on my experience, and my mentors input.

4 seasons lawn&land
12-08-2009, 10:59 PM
be sure to post up the pics of that one! I bet the price could change minds though.

That other pic wasn't from anyone elses site, just a google image.

12-09-2009, 12:26 AM
just b/c the image is on google doesn't mean someone doesn't own it...

12-09-2009, 12:43 AM
You know how clients are waving their hands in a sweeping motion, like a king or queen, giving orders to their grounds keeper to do this or that.... I have maybe 12 clients a year and am on projects 3-6 weeks. We started talking about their land and projects 11 months ago. It is also rare that someone calls me and I am out there doing work the next day. I have painted myself into a corner so to speak as a dry stone mason. Plantings and maintanence are about 20% of my business... and half my clients are Canadian.... and then I am in a very middle class county that is used to a relationship with timber, not stone. I spend quite a few months away from home working. So I guess what I am saying is when people hire us, they know what they want, and they know dry stone masonry uses more stone and requires skilled labor to do it. That said, I maybe get 1 in 3 jobs!

The clients can afford it, and want it. I already have quotes on stone prices.

My last post's comment is in context with two friends and their websites....

You can't quit pitchin' big dreams to people just because the economy sucks for 90% of us. The 10% who aren't affected don't notice, and are still shopping.

You should try the bucket arch at your shop or home. They are fun and can be done in 20-40 minutes, depending on how fussy you want to be.

Here is an image of our last job that we wrapped up in mid November. 16 tons of basalt/granite/penn. tumbled.

12-09-2009, 12:49 AM
Own the image or the bridge? It's the same bridge in Marenakos stone yard in Preston Wa., on the same rainy day I took mine. And the same side! Compare the puddles.
But you are right, someone owns the image....

12-09-2009, 01:19 AM
Own the image or the bridge? It's the same bridge in Marenakos stone yard in Preston Wa., on the same rainy day I took mine. And the same side! Compare the puddles.
But you are right, someone owns the image....

i mean the image. it was really a reply to the statement above that someone said, "just found the image on google," which i took to infer to mean that if its on google anyone can use it--which isn't exactly true.

12-09-2009, 01:33 AM
Details.... Can you imagine hiring a lawyer for the misrepresentation of an image? Not me. But you are right. Liberties are taken, not often returned.

12-09-2009, 01:40 AM
i can believe it, i have several friends who are professional photographers, and they've had to go after people who take an entire image, or part of it.

4 seasons lawn&land
01-09-2010, 11:04 PM
From DSC web site

"2010 Spring Workshop Schedule
will be announced in February.
Please check back."