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Business integrity?

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by shovelracer, Apr 5, 2009.

  1. shovelracer

    shovelracer LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,008

    So I got called on an estimate through a referral. The customer built a 4' wall into a hill with a slope above. Actually the call was for the backfilling and some yard grading, not the wall. Here's the problem. The wall was built with a Diamond style block and half the lips were knocked off to accomodate the curve. The base was stone dust not 0-3/4. The bottom course was not buried. The excavation for the base was not sufficient. The drainage rock was actually 0-3/4. and only 1 foot high. The wall had no geogrid and the excavation was not more than 2 foot behind the wall. There were other issues but these are the big ones. The wall was standing, but the top 3' were in need of backfill.

    I politely pointed out the issues I saw in a gentle way as I can see this guy had spent many hours carrying buckets and block to the site. Wall was maybe 400sqft. I then explained that if I backfilled the wall that most likely it would cause it to fall over in a short time. He didnt seem to think it was an issue since no one else had brought up the concern. I thanked him for his time and told him I would send him some information as we agreed.

    I then sent him an email stating our fees for the service he requested for the rest of the property. I then politely explained why I felt the wall should be rebuilt, explained each flaw I saw, why fixing was important, and the effect if left the way it was. I as always invited questions and the offer of advice. We will see if I ever hear anything back.

    They had several companies offer to backfill, no one brought this up. They had one local farmer guy ready to go, but decided at the last minute that he couldnt take his tractor on the slope. Did I provide a professional business approach? The except from this portion of the email is below:

    "On a different note I would like to address the wall. Please do not take the following as an attack on your hard work. We have installed many walls and are certified by the Concrete Masonry Association for segmented retaining wall installations and are fully aware of the amount of labor it takes to create these structures. I am just trying help you protect your investment. I have seen many walls fail over time that were not constructed properly. When this happens it can cost more to repair than if the initial installation was done properly the first time. If there are issues that need fixing it is much easier to address them now than it is to deal with them later. Lastly I have seen walls in need of repair prevent homes from being sold and dramatically lower the selling price.

    Again please take this as some friendly advice meant to help you save money in the long run.

    I took a good look at the wall while I was there and saw several things that caused some concern. First is the lack of a properly placed GeoGrid. A GeoGrid system is meant to reinforce the wall system to the earth behind it. The wall blocks themselves are not capable of withholding the pressures placed on them. This depends on the site conditions, but in northern NJ walls as low as 3 foot have failed without geogrid systems on many occasions. The addition of an additional foot is not as simple as adding block it changes the entire structure and forces placed on it. Second I notice the backfill drainage material was not the proper aggregate and not of a sufficient depth. The drainage system is meant to release hydro dynamic pressures from behind the wall. Without a properly functioning drainage system the wall will certainly fail in time. The drainage system for segmented retaining walls is of far more importance than it would be with other wall systems. Third, I noticed that wall base was not sufficient at least at the ends. The wall base should extend horizontally from the bottom course at least as far as the wall block is deep. IE, your base should be no less than 24" wide and no less than 6" deep. It should also be properly compacted and consist entirely of "qp". Stone dust has no use in these systems. Lastly for a wall that tall you should have at least 1 full course buried, I would prefer to see 1.5-2 courses buried along the entire wall. Without this the bottom will push out certainly.

    I realize this is a lot to take in right now. I also realize that the thought of redoing the wall upon my recommendation probably does not make me your favorite person right now. I ensure you however that wall system as I saw it has some structural flaws that could lead to very costly repairs in the future. Taking the time to rebuild properly as per the manufactures recommendations will create a lasting structure that will provide years of enjoyment and outlast any of us. Also consider the fact that many people will bid the soil job without addressing these issues in order to make a buck. We believe in doing the job right the first time, and it would be against the beliefs that we have built our company on to let these issues go unmentioned.

    With this said I hope you can review this with an open mind and think about the long term results. We have made our suggestions, and should you still be interested in the soil grading we would be very happy to help, however we would require a release that removes us from any liability involving the wall, it's failure, movement, or settlement behind the wall system, for the soil job to take place.

    My recommendation is to contact the engineer for grinnell and review the proper placement of a geogrid system, and start over with the wall. Now that you have done it once the second time will be much easier.

    Again I hope you can review this openly, and not have a negative view about us because of the recommendations. I would be very happy to answer any questions you may have and assist in any way we can to help you along with your project.

    Feel free to email or call

    Best Regards,"
  2. fool32696

    fool32696 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 993

    Your letter was well written and thought out. I try to do the same for my customers. Most will just blow you off and go with the cheap guy though.
  3. Bru75

    Bru75 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 582

    You've done all you can, and I think it was the right thing to do. He might surprise you and take your advice, but probably not.
    The only thing I would have left out was the offer to backfill after he signs a release. Your choice, of course, but I wouldn't touch that unless he agreed to a rebuild.
    People will see you and your equipment during the backfill, and should the wall fail they will remember that, and they most likely won't know that you didn't build the wall.
  4. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,601

    This is what divides the competent from fly bys.

    I was pricing a hardscape gig recenty. The people got 5 quotes. They wanted Rocka steps built almost exactly as they are shown in the 2008 Techo catalog. Ok, no problem.

    BUT....to keep the soil from eroding away from the steps, you need to make small retaining walls EXACTLY like the Rocka pictures in the 2008 techo catalog!

    No one else caught on to this detail. But I did, and my proposal reflected such. I even spent about 10 minutes going over the step construction and why the retaining walls are needed. The people were very impressed.

    Well, this also made my proposal higher. They ended up going with another contractor that doesn't think it's important to make sure the soil will not erode out from under/around the Rocka steps.

    There is no doubt in my mind that in 3-5 years the people will see/experience exactly what I was talking about. They got five quotes. I have 13 years experience with this stuff, what the hell do I know. None of their other quoters have anywhere near that experience. And when the steps do erode, the home owners will be too embarassed to call me to come fix it because they will know they should have taken my advice.
  5. Meezer

    Meezer LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 272

    That's why those HO's need to pay the"Stupid Tax":laugh:
  6. Mid-Ohio Scaper

    Mid-Ohio Scaper LawnSite Member
    Messages: 135

    Serves them right. If they're too damn stupid to see a common sense problem, they should pay to have it built twice if not three times. I used to try with people like that, but after awhile it's like beating your head against a damn wall.
  7. Meezer

    Meezer LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 272

    Yes, that's what we call paying the "Stupid Tax" They're stuck on stupid & need to pay.:laugh:
  8. LB1234

    LB1234 LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,208

    LOL, back in my younger days I worked at a bagel/sandwhich shop. We called it the "a$$hole tax". Any idiot customer with no patience or thought their crap didn't stink got an "extra" tax added on.

    I guess the same applied to the service industry as well...go figure.:laugh:
  9. zedosix

    zedosix LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,665


    What you told him was correct, I think the letter is a bit winded but I'm sure he got the point. In your case, if you backfill the wall and it tips over, who is the owner going to blame that on. You!

    I think he just learned a hard lesson, these people think they are going to save money and it ends up costing them more.

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