Help choosing retaining wall material

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by Waltb, Oct 9, 2011.

  1. Waltb

    Waltb LawnSite Member
    Messages: 19

    Homeowner here seeking some advice from you guys…I would like some opinions on retaining wall material. We’ve had 23 tree’s (Bradford pear and pine) and numerous old shrubs removed in the past two months. We’ve started planting new material and will finish the front yard and plantings along the fence in a few weeks.

    I’m torn on what material to use for the wall. Do we go with the manufactured blocks that seem to last for years without worry of cracking??? We’re not thrilled with the look, BUT once everything is planted around the pool and mature a couple years will you really see it? I have two friends in the landscape industry (one with engineering degree) that will install the wall so it will be built correctly. The highest point is 41” and my friend said he would still like to use a couple layers of geogrid just because…..He is pushing Diamond Pro stone face but again…I’m just not sure so that’s why I’m here.

    I like the look of stucco and stone but do these walls last as long as the manufactured blocks? I know it’s all about installation but this is where I would have to find someone since I don’t know anyone that would build this type of wall. I’m guessing as long as a liner is used behind the cinder block that would help with moisture issue…rebar should help with stability, etc…

    And then there is classic brick which I think may fit our landscape best but is it “old school??? Is brick too much since our house is brick??? I would face the same issue as the stucco wall since this would be applied to the block.

    We may be adding additional decking as the plan shows but that will happen later next year. If you’re wondering about the blue paint, that was not us…haha We’ve been here since May 2010 and we think blue was the previous owners favorite color but that too will be changed along with the tile..too many projects with this house!!

    Also, our yard is fenced but we will eventually need a fence around the pool when we start a family, which should be next year if everything goes as planned. Our designer planned for the fence to be installed on top of the wall. I’ve seen products for this purpose (SLEEVE-IT or just a cylinder form for the concrete to be installed.

    What do you think?

    Front after tree/shrub removal



    When we moved in









    The plan


  2. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,553

    The choice of wall material is entirely up to you.

    Yes, with my company we primarily install segmental block. However, I am not a huge fan of it, in terms of using it for a residential application. It is very lego'ey looking.

    Natural stone will give you the most beauty. If installed correctly, it will last forever. Being you're in SC, you do not have cold temps and freezing and thawing to worry about. Ask yourself this: What kind of look does charleston have? Legos or old world?

    Also, you have the pool. And the money you're investing is centered on that pool. Some stuff to think about:

    1) How old are your kids? If your kids are over 16 years in age - your peak pool usage days are about history.

    2) How old are you? Once people approach retirement age - they start traveling, busy contending with health issues, and no longer desire to have the pool anymore.

    Pools are like indoor aquariums. They require maintenance and after a while become a nuisance. Older pools are notorious for hindering the sale of the property, even when in great condition.

    So, even though you didn't ask - make sure YOU REALLY WANT THAT POOL before you invest money centered on it. Think long and hard about the future.

    A few short years ago I had a client spend $40k with us to landscape and hardscape around their pool. Last I heard - they stopped opening the pool (we have winter here), kids went off to college. It's a real shame, $40k wasted. They'll probably end up having us remove the pool.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2011
  3. Waltb

    Waltb LawnSite Member
    Messages: 19

    Thanks for the response DVS! Very good questions! I've enjoyed reading your posts for the past couple of years (yes I'm a lurker..haha)

    We're a couple in our early 30's that purchased the house last year and one of the reasons we purchased it, was the pool. We currently don't have any children but that will change next year..We've been waiting on the wife to finish grad school.

    The house and pool were built in 1986 and it was a distress sell in a desirable neighborhood so we jumped on it. It's been a whirlwind the past 1 1/2 years updating the interior since there was 3200 sqft of 1986 to update but we're done with everything except the four bathrooms.

    I am very conscientious of the value of our home, the money invested and market conditions and we're still ahead of the game by around 20k from my guestimate. Of course, who knows what the market would bring but we have no plans to sell any time soon.

    The pool was replastered and new decking with permacrete four years ago and all pool equipment is only two years old.

    As stated in my original post, I am very fortunate to have friends in the industry so I'm able to purchase everything at their cost. I'm an IT guy so I'm always helping it forward is what I'm all about.

    To finish up the front yard plantings and the privacy line in the back (Little Gems and Ligustrums) with mulch and irrigation work should run around 3,200 (B&B material no more than $90 for tree's and $50 for Ligustrums) and I have 6,500 budgeted for the wall which can be increased if necessary. The wall is 109' long, 41" at the highest point so hopefully we can stay within budget. Of course, if we incorporate the columns throughout the wall and fence line that will increase so we'll see.
  4. bigslick7878

    bigslick7878 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 809

    The only way you are building a wall that size for that amount is if you build it yourself. 400 sq feet material alone will cost you about $5k if not more. Blocks, backfill, geogrid, drainage, caps etc it all adds up.
  5. shovelracer

    shovelracer LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,008

    I am not a fan of the diamond wall stone, although the stone cut is the nicest of the 3 choices IMO. There are fancier choices like Belgard Belair just as an example that will be closer to a natural look. Modulars will be your cheapest option. What you can do it cut the wall sides off and just landscape the slope, then have a nicer wall straight back at the tallest point and push it back in an arch to create more pool level space. Something like this _/ \_
  6. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,553

    Waltb - you have a sturdy, beautiful home.

    With that said, if you and the Mrs like the look of natural stone - then do the natural stone. It will compliment the home perfectly.

    The Legos - they'll fade. (I call man made block Legos) And I dont think they'll compliment the home to it's potential.

    I studied the pool, thought it looked like it had new plaster. (we spend alot of time around pools). The pool will make a great place for kids, birthday parties, adult parties, etc. So go for it, make it a nice backyard!

  7. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,553

    if you go the stone route - try to find a stone mason to do the wall, someone that does stonework every day.
  8. Waltb

    Waltb LawnSite Member
    Messages: 19

    bislick7878 - Yes, if we go with manufactured block, it will be constructed with very little labor costs.

    If we use the stone cut in the upgraded variegated color I was quoted -

    Large - 7.46
    Medium - 6.02
    Small - 2.50
    Cap - 4.72

    I'm not sure how these prices compare, not asking, but I'm hoping when my friend makes the purchase they will be cheaper. I was told the blocks from 36 sqft to a pallet.

    I can purchase CMU's for .76 from a local concrete company.

    shovelracer - Good idea about the slope..I need to give that more thought. I'm still trying to figure out an economical way to fence the pool without breaking the bank.

    I think I'm going to add a second door to our screened porch coming straight out to the pool in the middle. There is already concrete at that location (grill there for now) and if I do that, I will have a door for the pool area that can be locked down to keep children and dogs out. I will just need to have a fence around the pool up that meets the porch.
  9. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,553

    since your house is brick, have you considered veneering CMU with brick?

  10. Waltb

    Waltb LawnSite Member
    Messages: 19

    DVS - Yes, we are thinking hard about brick right now. I hope to have a two quotes this week from full-time masons. We are lucky in that we live 1/4 mile from a brick manufacturer and every few weeks they have a "yard sale" where they sell the under/over fired, excess stock, etc... for great deals. I'm not sure if they manufacture veneer but I've had co-workers purchase their brick for various projects at a very deep discount.

    If we did go with brick we could add a few designs in the wall that should look classy. The wife isn't so sure about the brick with the tropical feel we're going for around the pool but I think it will be fine. We could add the brick columns with the black aluminum fence that would look very nice. I like brick over the lego's and my guess is the stone is going to cost at least twice what we've budgeted so that won't happen at this time.

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