Retaining Wall - Experts please help

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by StoutandPorterMan, Jul 16, 2011.

  1. StoutandPorterMan

    StoutandPorterMan LawnSite Member
    Messages: 2

    Hello everyone,

    I just want to start off by saying that you folks have a wonderful forum and I'm very excited to have found it, especially for someone like myself who is brand new to landscaping.

    Here is my story...I recently had excavation work done to my backyard in an effort to finally install a well deserved patio. We ultimately carved out a big chunk of land, which will allow us to install a descent size patio and it will require a retaining wall that is 5 feet in height.

    Before I started the excavation process, I decided it would be best to have a landscaper come out to my house to provide his thoughts and recommendations on our project. I found this landscaper through the Nicolock website as a contractor they recommended to install their products.

    I was extremely impressed with this landscaper and we ended up following his recommendation on what to excavate based on our patio size needs. Basically, he advised us that we can install a Nicolock Trinity wall system and it would require only 2 feet of crushed stone between the retaining wall and the ground ledge.

    Well, a few days later this contractor informed me that we would need 5 feet of geogrid per the specs based on a discussion he had with Nicolock. He recommended we remove another 3-4 feet of land, which would pretty much come up to my fence line. Well, at this point our excavating equipment was already returned and removing additional land was not an option. More importantly, this 5 feet of geogrid would reduce my patio size by quite a bit so I was a little annoyed.

    Anyway, here is my concern...shouldn't this contractor know through experience that 5 feet of geogrid would be required to install this 5 foot retaining wall? Afterall, he was recommended though the Nicolock manufacture directly...perhaps he never installed a retaining wall that was this high?

    Well, earlier today I had a 2nd contractor come out who I also found through Nicolock. He basically said I'm screwed because my retaining wall would require 5 feet of geogrid and my patio was too small to justify the cost of the wall itself.

    Just a couple of hours ago, I had a masonry contractor visit me. He suggested that I avoid the Nicolock wall system and go with cement and stone instead. By taking this route, I can avoid the 5 feet of geogrid since the cement and stone would only require 2 feet of crushed stone and whatever else.

    Well, I posted pictures below of my backyard. You will notice that there are little orange rocks that I spray painted. These rocks illustrate where my retaining wall would reside if I were to take the Nicolock wall system option (5 feet from ground ledge).

    Assuming I go with the masonry option, I'll have more patio space since geogrid would not be required.

    Sorry for the long story...been a long week. I was hoping you can just offer your suggestions on how I should proceed. How durable are cement and stone retaining walls anyway?

    Thanks again!


  2. amscapes03

    amscapes03 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 398

    Do you have a pic that looks towards the deck and stairs?
  3. Snyder's Lawn Inc

    Snyder's Lawn Inc LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,530

    There is other brands of wall block can use that dont need the grid Oldcastle make some lip lock If build it with inside curve that will reforce the wall The oldcastle lip lock every row will set back 1'' and back fill at least 2ft of clean rock between wall and earth
  4. Karmascapes

    Karmascapes LawnSite Member
    from NLR, AR
    Messages: 44

    I don't know where you are located so there might be some differences in the methods based on down here. We would need more info on mason's recommendation, or at least i would.

    Is the mason suggesting concrete block as "stone" or is he actually referring to rock and mortar? There are several different ways to tie a wall in to support back pressure and create a functioning long lasting retaining wall. Here a common way is to drive t-posts (some call them steel pickets) into the ground at an angle and tie it off to the rebar that is set inside the block. also was the mason suggesting digging footers for the wall? If you were going to build a block and mortar wall a footer will allow the wall to remain stationary, reinforce it with rebar, and include rebar inside the block. Some folks also only fill the bottom 2 rows with cement.

    If you decide to go the route of the mason or a gravity wall, go look at their previous work.

    Don't know if this helps any, but if you give a few more details you might get a few more responses.
  5. StoutandPorterMan

    StoutandPorterMan LawnSite Member
    Messages: 2

    Thank you for the replies.

    The masonry contractor suggested we proceed with rock & mortar...the old school method I assume? This contractor is Albanian and I have witnessed their work myself by seeing completed projects around town here in Connecticut and it's all extremely impressive. I guess my concern is the durability of rock and mortar taking into consideration our NE climate.

    I added a few more pics looking towards the stairs and deck. The first landscaper suggested we dig 12 inches below the concrete slab that connects my stairs, so we did just that. I placed a can of spray paint to illustrate this depth in front of my stairs.

    Well, contractor #2 & #3 pointed out that 12 inches is too much and we should have only gone down 6-8 this point I'm wondering why the 12 inch depth as well.

    Thanks again,




  6. Ecoscapes

    Ecoscapes LawnSite Member
    Messages: 76

    What about a dry stacked natural stone wall? That's what I do mostly, to me the block walls look corporate and bland, not always, I'm sure they have thier place in residential landscapes. Mortar and cement have thier place as well but there's nothing like the look of a quality built well crafted dry stone wall. Your soil looks gravel and sand based, if it was more clay/loam I'd be more concerned with having proper drainage. There won't be any mortar cracking in time with a dry stacked stone wall. The artistry of a dry stacked wall is certainly a feature for any property, rather than stone trapped in mortar or using manufactured block that looks like your in a corporate park. With dry stacked I'd use a 10 inch base of 1inch drainage rock. the back of retaining wall gets built with rubble stone then drainage rock behind that, vs. the block or mortar wall with just drainage rock behind it, seems much sturdier longterm, the wall breathes and its built up in the rear and the front. I'd also use some kind of geo grid or construction fabric. Just another option!
  7. PatriotLandscape

    PatriotLandscape LawnSite Bronze Member
    from MA
    Messages: 1,209

    All three contractors are wrong. What you need is an engineer by both the standards set by nicolock and your town government. This would have brought any design changes to the front of the project rather than half way through the excavation. It's not the contractors fault for not knowing what length of grid to use he isn't qualified to male that choice.

    It is his fault for not getting an engineer involved but it's not his responsibilty to know pay for any changes.

    Who did the excavation?
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  8. PatriotLandscape

    PatriotLandscape LawnSite Bronze Member
    from MA
    Messages: 1,209

    Use a bigger block than whatever the nico is and you cam shorten the grid length
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  9. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,622

    This is a scenerio that most of us good, competent contractors face daily. I do my best to educate the prospective client and try to draw awareness of what needs to be done and why. Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to a rock. And about 3 times a year, homeowners come on this forum looking for help from us.

    I don't even know where to start. And yep, most of the responses already provided, are my thoughts.

    1st of all Nicolock approves contractors to be their installers regardless of their experience. I am an authorized Nicolock contractor. BUT......the guy that got me in has known me for years, he's seen our work, and knows me well. But we're also the real deal. And they're primarily putting patio guys in their program, not so much wall guys.

    Your first contractor should have known this stuff the instant he walked in your backyard. And MOST IMPORTANTLY.......YOU should have looked at his jobs, called his references, and checked him out.

    And like Patriot said, an engineer should have been involved. We have a commercial r-wall pending that just came our way last Thurs afternoon. I have not even been to the site yet. BUT......the engineer that we use is already notified and has been sent the site plan. By the close of business on this coming Tuesday I'll have preliminary (unstamped) wall drawings to use for estimating purposes.

    Like others said, there is other block that can work without grid. However, the block is usually wider. You can build a wall with Keystone Standards doubled back to back as well. But you have to excavate more, just as you would with using grid. Techo also has the monumental wall block. 1100 pound unit!

    I'm not trying to be rude, but looks like you're in a little bit of a jam now. The wall done right is going to cost a pretty pretty penny.

  10. PatriotLandscape

    PatriotLandscape LawnSite Bronze Member
    from MA
    Messages: 1,209

    Why is the ecavation done without a contractor chosen to build a wall.

    Or why are you wasting other contractors onsite time if you already have a "certified installer"?

    Honestly from what I am reading you are getting in the way of the install. You probably wanted the best price and chose someone from that. Looks like you are trying to control too much.
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