Pro Tips with Jamie Snyder

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5 ways StoneMakers retaining walls have changed the industry FOREVER

Posted by James Snyder on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 @ 40:11 AM

StoneMakers retaining walls have changed the industry, that's a fact! Here are 5 examples of things that retaining walls can do now that were unthinkable before StoneMakers hit the market.

  1. StoneMakersSPEED - Build a 75' long by 4' tall retaining wall in 5.5 hours. That's not an exaggeration, it's actually an understatement. Just so you understand what used to take me THREE DAYS now takes 5.5 HOURS. You know what this means for the consumer - BETTER PRICES!
  2. VALUE - Make a retaining wall that looks like natural stone, but is stronger than stacked stone or stacked block for that matter. Put simply - you cannot get a stronger or better looking wall for the money.
  3. COLOR THEORY - Block retaining walls come in few colors. Some companies have more than others but the reality of it folks is that most companies hover around 6-7 color choices. StoneMakers has 33 colors! And to top it all off you never use just one, which would not look natural. To make our retainer walls look like natural stone we blend the StoneMakers colors. In the end we have an infinite number of colors to choose from.
  4. MONOLITHIC - Back in the day - say 2009 - If I wanted to make a wall look like natural stone I had two choices. Buy natural stone or use cultured stone as a veneer over some type of concrete wall. This wall could be block or poured but the outcome was the same. Sure cultured stone looks fine if done right. Done wrong it looks like the wall has zits. Either way it's nowhere near as strong as a monolithic (one continuous piece) wall is. And Natural stone is flat out expensive.
  5. ENVIORNMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE - No forms mean no waste. Even if every contractor recycled their forms the wood wasted is staggering. A small retaining wall may have a few hundred pounds of wood used as forms. Multiply that times the number of jobs that contractor does a year and you can see how that ads up. With StoneMakers there is ZERO wood to throw away.

Want a professional to come to your home or business and give you a free estimate for your StoneMakers project? CLICK HERE!

Top 5 questions people ask when buying a retaining wall.

Posted by James Snyder on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 @ 15:01 PM

As a retaining wall contractor I get all sorts of questions. Below are the 5 most common questions I am asked about building retaining walls.

1.       What type of material should I make my wall out of? These days there are 2 basic choices block or concrete. The railroad tie or plain old wood tie walls are a thing of the past and rightfully so. They don’t last. If you are building a wall now - SRW (segmented retaining wall) blocks or concrete is the way to go.

retainer wall cornwall ny

Old "Railroad Tie" wall

Retaining wall cornwall NY

New retaining wall made from SWR (segmented retaining wall) block.

2.       I’ve heard all about these new types of walls without forms – what are they and are they any good? The new walls you are referring to are StoneMakers retaining walls. These walls are not only good they are the best! It’s everything a homeowner could want. Strong, beautiful and affordable. It’s only every so often a product like this comes along. If you have a contractor that is certified to do these you are sitting pretty.

3.       I have a lot of water issues, what can I do? Well seems like you already did everything you had to. Telling your contractor about water issues you know for sure to be a problem is essential. Keeping these things secret does no one any justice. Automatically your contractor should build your wall to NCMA specifications. But if he or she is not NCMA certified they might not even know about these specifications so helping them out by telling them about any potential problems is beneficial to all involved. Click here to learn more about the NCMA.

4.       Do I need a building permit for this? Well that depends on a few things. Your local building department will be able to tell you right away. Unfortunately every building department can make their own rules on this so guessing or saying “usually such and such can be done without a permit” is useless. Better to ask for permission than forgiveness.

5.       I only plan on staying here x number of years more. Can this be built cheaper? Sure, but not by me. It’s my job to be honest and the problem here folks is that a wall can either be built to spec or not. The real issue lies in that no one has a spec for a wall built to last 3- 4 years. It’s either built to spec or it’s not, that’s it. I had a customer that had a wall built by another contractor and it lasted three days! Not 3 weeks, not 3 months – 3 DAYS! They were kind enough to open up their home to me one weekend and allowed me to interview them on camera. What they went through was horrible and for them to talk about it with me so that others may avoid their pain speaks volumes as to how caring they are. This video was taken about a year ago and I have since done more projects with them and have more planned. 

To have Albert Group come out and discuss your retaining wall project click here.

8 Tips to make your next paver job turn out great! Pavers done right!

Posted by James Snyder on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 @ 51:09 AM

We’ve all seen it, sometimes it’s obvious and looks horrible. Other times you can’t quite put your finger on it but something is off.  In either case it could have been prevented by following the steps below.  We’re talking about pavers that look bad.  So if you are about to try a paver project yourself or are new to the trade – follow these steps below for surefire success.

  • Dig deep because 4” of base just won’t cut it in cohesive soils. First how do you know if you have cohesive soil, easy bring it to get tested. For a small fee - around $200 - they will tell you the gradation and standard proctor density of the soil. Gradation is the makeup of the soil and standard proctor density is a measure of how “tight” they were able to compact the soil in the lab. If you have more than 1/3 clay it’s time to call a professional and have the soil amended by pounding huge chunks of stone into the soil to stiffen up the sub base.  And my company never uses less than 8” of base material, 12” for driveways.

  • Don’t use a demolition tool for an artist’s touch; pick them up to make them look right. From about 20 feet away they will both look the same but up close there is no competition. A demo saw is a quick and dirty way of cutting an edge or soldier course. I’ve seen it done time and time again by landscaping companies right here in Orange County NY. It sure is faster and that’s great but in the end I’d rather have quality - period.

  • A wedge is for holding a door open not for curves. This is got to be the king of being lazy, you need to make a soldier course around a curvy patio or coping on a pool so what do you do. On a curve the only way to make it look good is to cut EVERY one. Anything else will look chunky and you will inevitably be left with a tiny wedge that you need.
  • Go big or go home,  if you can lift it – it won’t compact anything. Compactors come in roughly 3 flavors vibratory, ramming and kneading. I have yet to have a soil gradation test come back where I was able to use my vibratory plate compactor. Rammers or “jumping jacks” as we call them and trench rollers are the only approved ways of compacting cohesive soils. One thing all the good compactors have in common is heft. The trench roller below weighs over 3000 pounds!

trench roller resized 600

  • I think it’s done. O.K. we talked a lot about compaction, but how do we know when we are done. The only real way is to test it. A simple Dynamic Cone Penetrometer will do the trick and save you the headache of re-doing things down the line. Industry standard is 98% Standard Proctor Density or a CBR (California Bearing Ratio) of 150. Let’s face it if you don’t test you are just guessing and you’re bound to guess wrong at some point.

dynamic cone penetrometer

  • Bond lines – don’t have them running or in a basket. They don’t call them interlocking for nothing. Pavers that have long continuous bond lines are prone to failure. That line is like creasing a piece of paper and is considered a weak point.  In a running bond or basket weave pattern there are loads of long straight lines. However much you may like that pattern do yourself a favor and stay away unless you pour concrete underneath.

         running bond  DSC 3782 (Large) resized 600

        Running bond on the Left, Modified Herringbone on the right, Both look great but the Modidied Herringbone is stronger!

  • You got to keep em separated. The base and sub-base that is. A geotextile such as Mirafi 500x will do just fine. This is basically a layer of tough fabric that keeps the sub-base from contaminating the base while allowing water to pass through.  Check out the PDF on it here.
  • Never lose your edge. Pavers need something at the edges to keep them from moving on the horizontal plane. You can use all sorts of things to do this. A house foundation will do just fine on a patio or walkway that meets the house. Belgium block set in concrete or just concrete by itself will also work great. If none of those appeal to you or are just not an option specialty products are available to do this. Paver edge is sold in either aluminum or some form of plastic. In either case use bright spikes not galvanized. You need the spikes to rust and “grab” onto the soil.

Paver edge

Here we used a retaining wall as one edge and aluminum edging where the pavers meet the gravel

There are countless other tips and tricks of the trade that I have learned over the years but these 8 should get you started.

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3D Landscape and Pool design, You only have one shot to get it right!

Posted by James Snyder on Fri, Feb 04, 2011 @ 41:08 PM

Designing landscapes and swimming pools is what I do. So it should come as no surprise that I can visualize the project before it's even started. That being said, when it comes to landscape design there are so many variables that it may take several attempts to get the design exactly the way the client wants. This is where designing in 3D helps you - the client - visualize what I am talking about.

For instance when I design an outdoor kitchen grill area would you rather see this:Outdoor Kitchen Grill

Or this:3d landscape contractor monroe ny

Even though both pictures represent the exact same thing it is much easier to see the look I am going for in the bottom picture. That is because you don't have to imagine things like the counter overhanging the stools, you can see it.

Check out the video below walking you through a drawing. This will give you a sense of the creative process I use for designing outdoor living areas for my clients. And as always if you would like us to come out and give you a complimentary consultation all you have to do is ask.

5 reasons why StoneMakers Concrete is the best choice for your new patio

Posted by James Snyder on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 @ 20:11 PM

1. StoneMakers concrete looks like natural stone but at around half the price.

StoneMakers Concrete, Stamped, Monroe NY

Think it's real stone? - It's StoneMakers concrete!

2. StoneMakers concrete works perfectly as a coping for your pool. – A paver coping on a swimming pool is very costly, with StoneMakers it’s about half of the price.

3. StoneMakers concrete is low maintenance. - Once upon a time pavers were the desired choice for pool decking. Pavers require routine cleaning to ensure weeds do not grow. See. Weed seeds carried by the wind fall into the crevices and if they are not cleaned out they will germinate and grow. With StoneMakers concrete this is a thing of the past. Now I’m not telling you to stop cleaning around your pool. Just not as often.

4. StoneMakers concrete is stronger than typical stamped concrete. – Because the StoneMakers ingredient is a water reducer and water makes concrete weak a StoneMakers concrete patio will be stronger than a typical concrete patio – stamped or not.

5. StoneMakers concrete installs faster than typical concrete. - StoneMakers needs no forms, this cuts down installation time considerably.

Albert Group Landscaping & Swimming Pools - StoneMakers newest Dealer

Posted by James Snyder on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 @ 44:12 AM

stonemakers dealer logo

About two months ago I came across the StoneMakers Company while checking out retaining wall videos on Youtube. I know what you are thinking. What kind of guy watches videos about retaining walls? Well luckily for my customers it's the kind of landscaper that loves what he does that checks out the latest hardscape videos for fun.

At first I was very skeptical of the video and what was being shown. Can it be true? Build a retaining wall out of concrete that looks like natural stone. Does not use forms and is more economical than natural stone. I smelled SCAM but... on the slim chance that something would really be as advertized I filled out some kind of form on the website. Well, the next day I received a call from Dick Conley. Dick was very helpful on the phone and laid out the process of becoming a dealer. He also suggested I do my due diligence and call some dealers and he emailed me the contact info for 6 dealers. Now being skeptical and figuring it was a cherry picked list I was about to stop the process right there. But I was very interested in the product so I asked for a list of every StoneMakers dealer. Dick gladly e-mailed me a list of all the dealers and I began to call them all. I know having been a dealer for many other products that an upset dealer is not shy about their feelings. Well immediately I was receiving a common message.

  1. The StoneMakers people are great to deal with and will go out of their way to support their dealers.
  2. The product does everything they say it will.
  3. When you go to the dealer training get your hands dirty. Do not just watch.

After almost 50 phone calls I was convinced. I talked it over with my wife Varje and we decided to go for it. Due to some scheduling issues I missed the next dealer training event. But I'm here in Dallas Texas now and I've seen it with my own two eyes. I could go on forever with all it can do but if you are interested check out one of the videos that got me interested in the beginning. I will also be adding new video and pictures from the training over the next few days.

Video of a project from start to finish - Albert Group Landscaping Installs a retaining wall and walkway.

Posted by James Snyder on Sun, Mar 28, 2010 @ 29:10 PM

Here is a project shown from start to finish. We rennovate a front entrance for Mr. & Mrs. Vasco. The original retaining wall and walkway were looking a little tired and the homeowner wanted to dress things up a bit. First we drew them a 3-D design, and upon their approval we started work.

3d landscape design orange county ny

How do you make a corner when building a retaining wall?

Posted by James Snyder on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 @ 55:10 PM

When making a retaining wall you will almost certainly need to make a corner.

You can either make your own or buy them pre-made. I prefer to make them myself because I can control the quality. The pre-made ones are made with the same tool I have at the masonry supply yard by their guys. Sometimes they rush it and one corner is bigger than the other or the corner is not really 90 degrees.

Some contractors do not know how to do these or they don't have the tool and do not want to pay for corners and they make something that looks like this.

 Notice how unattractive the verticle cuts are at the corners, these are two blocks that are mitered together. You may also notice that the contractor did not control the bond lines running vertical in the wall, these are very weak spots. Bond lines are the joint where one block meets another. You should never have one on top of another one, Here you have up to 7 stacked up. This wall will fail no doubt. A local contractor was so impressed with his own work that he posts it on his web page. 

Below is one of our jobs, Notice the nice corners and staggered bond lines in the step treads.

landscaping monroe ny



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