We all work hard for our money and no one likes to waste it so it bothers me when I repeatedly see homeowners essentially wasting money by selecting a less than qualified contractor simply because they offered the cheapest price. I’m not talking about simple projects like raking leaves, mowing the lawn or anything else that would be kinda tough to screw up. I’m talking about large scale costly residential landscape projects where a mistake can have serious financials implications for the homeowner down the road.
Where I am seeing this most often is in the type of work known in our industry as Hardscape work. Hardscapes involve Paver Patios, Paver Walks and Retaining Walls. There are very specific installation specifications set forth by the material manufacturers that must be adhered to for the installation to be successful. One of the most critical installation specifications is the base preparation. However, it is the base preparation that is one of the most time consuming and costly components of a Hardscape project which makes it the step that is most likely to be skipped by a Contractor who is more interested in a quick buck than building a loyal base of long term repeat clients.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words I will share with you some pictures that we have collected over the past few years to illustrate what I am talking about.
Here are a couple of pictures of a retaining wall that was installed by a Local Contractor who shall remain nameless but has a rather significant history of failed projects. Unfortunately, when these issues happen he won’t return to fix them.
This retaining wall was installed with the Wall Units resting directly on soil (see Photo #2) which is absolutely and totally against the manufacturers specifications, and you can clearly see the result in this picture.
The retaining wall that this poor homeowner paid his hard earned money to have installed is literally laying in his yard. So now the homeowner is out the money that he paid Mr. Fly By Night and he is going to have to pay someone else to do the job the way that it should have been done to begin with. So not only will he have the cost of building the wall correctly but also have the added cost of removing the existing wall and materials.
That’s bad enough but imagine having to remove an entire patio and rebuild it. Oh wait, I have some pictures of that too!
Before we move on, this is a retaining wall in the same neighborhood installed the correct way. The first step is to excavate for the base. The base for a wall like this needs to be at least 6” deep and 18” wide and filled with #411 limestone, which is a crushed limestone with dust. We then run a vibratory compactor over the base in 2” lifts which results in a base that will stand the test of time and prevent freezing and thawing from heaving the wall. Then, Wall Units are placed on the base with the top of the unit even with the surrounding grade. This is know as embedment. The embedment should equal 10% of the total wall height. Each subsequent course is then laid up with a Masonry Adhesive that acts as a glue to bond the pieces together.
When the wall is complete, it may appear that you could simply unstack the blocks but this Masonry Adhesive is extremely strong and will not allow the Wall Units to come apart. With this particular wall project we wanted additional stability because of pressure of the soil that we were retaining so we took the added precaution of stepping each subsequent course of the wall back ½”. This has a cantilevering affect and will ensure that this wall never winds up laying in the owners yard.
This is a picture of the excavation process when we were preparing the base.
Unfortunately for this next Homeowner, Mr. Fly By Night also does Patios. We got a call from this Homeowner last year who had paid to have this paver patio installed the previous year. The paver patio had already failed and again we found the Seat Wall laying in the yard. To properly complete the project and give the client a functional paver patio that they could enjoy for the rest of their lives we had to remove everything that Mr. FBN had installed and start from scratch. This was an expense exceeding $10,000 that was a very, very unfortunate.
I’m sure that with the benefit of hindsight each of these homeowners would gladly go back in time and pay the additional cost of having an experienced, reputable contractor do their project for them because it would have been so much cheaper in the long run.
McCoy Landscape is very fortunate to have a number of highly trained craftsmen who specialize in Hardscape projects, many with over a decade of experience and most have been trained by our own Hardscape Expert, Mark McCoy, who has well over twenty years of experience.
Some Companies like Mr. Fly By Night has employees who are mowing one day and installing a patio the next. Not at McCoy Landscape. Our Hardscape Installers do one Hardscape Project after another nearly all season long.
The benefit of all of this is that our clients can rest assured that there will be no unfortunate surprises like the above pictures in their future.
Matt McCoy is a Nationally Certified Landscape Professional and the President of McCoy Landscape Services, Inc. a Full Service Landscaping Company that specializes in designing and installing Outdoor Living Spaces, Paver Patios and Colorful Landscaping. McCoy Landscape services the Central Ohio Communities of Delaware, Powell, Lewis Center, Westerville, Marion, Mt. Gilead, Upper Sandusky and Bucyrus.