Mis-use of Retaining Wall Sales

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by DVS Hardscaper, Mar 24, 2007.

  1. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,417

    This thread isn't intended for me to boast about myself.

    I am trying to drive a point that we ("we" as in all contractors) do not need to push wall sales everytime the ground drops in elevation. With sowing grass seed, planting groundcover / vegatation, or building up the base - YOU CAN stabilize the soil and your interlocking pavement will last a lifetime.

    This makes me sick.

    I do so many consultations where the prospective clients tell me "the other contractors tell us we need a wall here..."

    Folks - yes walls are needed!


    Take a good look at the slopes along you state highways. Steep slopes supporting the road - not stabilized with a wall - but stabilized with GRASS!

    I did an estimate this week where the owners told me the other contractor said "you need a six-inch high retaining wall..." LOL! "Six-inches"?? What in the world! That would be a trip hazzard! They DON'T need a wall, all you have to do is build up with a thicker base, and gradually taper soil out into the yard!

    I live on the side of a mountain. My backyard falls away. Infact, I have imported fill to where I have an 8-foot drop behind my home. I plan to build a patio to resemble a scenic overlook. I initially had thought that because of the drop in elevation - I would need a retaining wall to hold the patio. Well the fill has been in place for 4 years and has naturally settled. Wild vegatation has stabilized the fill. I NOW plan to construct my patio with NO wall.

    In the pic below, the other contractors wanted to sell the client a 16" high wall to retain the left side of the patio, where you see the juniper growing.

    We got the job because I assured the client that no wall is needed. I told them "get some ground cover established and that slope won't go anywhere".
    4 years later nothin has moved, and the clients are content.

    If you tell them they need a wall, and you WANT the job - THEY BETTER NEED A WALL. Cause if a competent, veteran contractor comes along and prices the work - they're gonna get the job, as they ain't gonna sell something that isn't necessary.

  2. mrusk

    mrusk LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,260


    LOL this crosses my mind alot when i drive along high ways, rail road tracks etc. I've seen proposals from other companies where they recommend walls in spots you could easily grade the 2 foot elevations changes out.

    In some spots you do need a wall to gain space or whatever.

    Sometimes a sloped hill with plants would just look out of place is a design, and add 5k of mulch installation to the customers yearly budget.

    I think we might have a good thread here.
  3. cedarcroft

    cedarcroft LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 442

    well whether or not a wall is needed, on the patio in that picture, I don't know. but I do know that the guy looks pretty damn comfortable and he is living my dream retirement!
    BUt I agree, alot of contractors (been guilty myself) will throw a wall up at the drop of a hat. in some situations it is necessary in order to create more space in tight areas, but I have seen plenty of walls where a nice planting bed or swale would do just fine.
  4. mrusk

    mrusk LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,260

    The more i think about you, just because a wall is installed that could of been graded out and planted, doesn't mean its wrong.

    A wall is one way to deal with a elevation change. Another way is to graded it out and plant.

    Both ways are fine methods.
  5. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,417

    there ARE times where a wall may be called for, or simply used for asthetics.

    But, our clients trust us. We are spending their money.

    There are a millions reasons why a wall may be needed.

    But, I constantly see / hear of contractors specing a $1200.00 wall - when in reality it is not needed. I'm talking in regards to patio gigs where money is a factor and the client simply wants a patio. In and out. No landscaping. No lights. No columns. Nothing! Just a patio!

    As mentioned a million times, I live on a small mountain (for those that forgot!). And in one direction the road has a steep drop - probably at least a 15-foot drop. And there is nothing other than tapered and cut soil supporting the road. If this works for a road, with proper THINKING - it can work for a patio, and it does!

    People often write "I priced a job at 17 grand and someone else did it for 14 grand, how can they work for so cheap?" When the reality is.....maybe they simply seized the moment, as I did with the job pictured above.

    In the pic shown below (not the greatest pic, I know) you can see there is a 24-inch retaining wall on the left. Their backyard falls QUICKLY and steeply away from the dwelling. 50% of the entire patio was built up with crusher run 24-inches! Then as you can see we gradually tapered soil into the yard. Turned out PERFECT. 6 yrs ago, and not 1 repair call.

    I dont remember the price of this job, as we did in in 2001. But instead of risking loosing the job because the price is lets say $20,000 WITH a wall all the way across, we found a way to do it for $17,000 with NO wall. If I can do something and save our clients expenses they don't need.....I'm going to do it.

  6. GreenMonster

    GreenMonster LawnSite Silver Member
    from NH
    Posts: 2,702

    Andrew, the more you talk about this, the more I think you're starting to hit on the fact that budget is often a factor. When it is more of a factor, we would be more apt to do more with less. No wall or shorter wall (height or length). Maybe steps can be built into a hillside instead of a tall or tiered walls.

    The other factor is intended use. In your first pic, it appears as though the customer could have had a much larger patio if you had indeed installed a wall. Maybe another 6' out? But if that wasn't needed or desired, there is nothing wrong at all with stabilizing with the plantings.
  7. tthomass

    tthomass LawnSite Gold Member
    from N. VA
    Posts: 3,497

    I'm selling, hopefully, a customer a job tomorrow that uses boulders instead of a wall. Everybody else in the neighborhood has the same landscape "template"...........lets all just wrap the corner of the house with a wall and put a tree in the middle of it. Large Cryptomeria will be working in with the boulders, ornamental grasses, shrubs etc....make things come together.

    If I build a wall for a customer I often break it up with plant material so that it is not overbearing.
  8. Precision Lawns

    Precision Lawns LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 283

    I think the point of this thread is:

    Be honest with your customer. Which I agree with.
  9. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,417

    Mark - Thats a 900 SF patio in that pic, if my memory serves me correctly. with a lower level, plus a deck up above - with just 2 people that live there, on a property that drops about 35 feet straight down :)
  10. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,417

    yes, "be honest" :)

    But, it's also about competency.

    What propmted this thread is the estimate I did last week where another contractor wanted to sell the owner a 6-inch high wall!!!!!!

    What was he thinking? HE WASN'T!!

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