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Pros and Cons of 3 Types of Retaining Walls

Posted by James Snyder on Sun, Mar 30, 2014 @ 55:05 PM

Here are 3 types of retaining walls available for your project. They all have their pluses and minuses – let’s check them out.


Wood Tie retaining wall – Although sometimes referred to as a railroad tie retaining wall they are rarely made from railroad ties anymore. They are simply wood ties that are fastened together to perform the duties of a retaining wall.

Price:  $$$$, 2 out of 4      Difficulty:  ****,  2 out of 4


  • Cost – A wood retaining wall can be very cost effective.
  • Easy – Wooden tie retaining walls are often installed by do it yourselfers. They require few tools and can be installed quickly by homeowners and landscape companies alike.
  • Beauty – A wood retaining wall can look great, making it the “old reliable” choice for many landscaping companies.


  • Wood Rots – Wood will eventually rot. The new pressure treated stuff is amazing, but there will be a time when you will need to call your retaining wall installer to replace it.
  • Strength – While great for holding up a two foot tall plant bed A wood retaining wall would not be my first choice for more complex projects.

Wooden Retaining Walls Monroe NYA wooden retaining wall - Monroe, NY

SRW Block Retaining Wall – SRW’s are Segmental Retaining Walls that use high quality concrete blocks to create a retaining wall.

Price:  $$$$,  3 out of 4      Difficulty:  ****4 out of 4

  • Versatile – They can be used in a variety of situations to create curves, corners, stairs, columns, and more. SRW’s are often the choice of Landscape and Hardscape contractors.
  • Strength – One of the strongest, longest lasting types of retaining walls on the market.
  • Beauty – Block Retaining Walls look great, one of the mail reasons for their popularity, besides the two reasons above that is. 
  •  Speed – SRW’s install fast.


  • Color Choice – SRW walls are only available in the colors that you see in the catalog.
  • Installers are not regulated – I have seen many block retaining wall failures and poor craftsmanship as a result of inexperienced retaining wall installers. While a small project may be just fine for a “new guy” the more complicated jobs require more experience.

Retaining Wall Builder Monroe NY

A Concrete Block (SRW) Retaining Wall, Monroe, NY


StoneMakers Concrete – StoneMakers concrete retaining walls are built with high strength concrete and then textured to look like stone.

Price:  $$$$, 3 out of 4      Difficulty:  ****4 out of 4

  • Versatile – StoneMakers concrete retaining walls can be created in just about any shape you can dream up.
  • Strength – Normally a tie with block, but StoneMakers walls can be made thicker in areas where more strength is needed.
  • Beauty – StoneMakers concrete retaining walls are an attractive alternative to standard concrete.
  • Speed – StoneMakers retaining walls install fast.
  • Trained Dealer Network – To install a StoneMakers retaining wall, dealers must attend training where they learn from the best in the industry.
  • Permanent – You will need heavy equipment to dismantle a StoneMakers retaining wall.

Retaining Wall Installers Monroe NY

Another Happy Customer! -This retaining wall was built in Orange County, NY

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What type of retaining wall do I need?

Posted by James Snyder on Tue, Feb 05, 2013 @ 44:12 PM

Retaining walls come in several varieties. Some of the most common types are:

  1. Wood or Tie walls
  2. Concrete Block
  3. Poured Concrete
  4. SRW – Segmented Retaining Wall
  5. Gabion
  6. StoneMakers Concrete
  7. Mafia Block

Wood Tie Walls

                Wood tie wall are common with DIY’ers, they are not as common with the pro’s. These walls tend to have a shorter lifespan than the other methods listed here for a few reasons. Since they are wood and wood will rot most professionals do not see much upside in installing these. The material itself is only slightly less expensive than concrete so there is not much savings there. The amount of digging is the same so no savings there as well. They just install a little faster. For a 1-3’ tall wall that will be installed by yourself you might be happy with this type of wall. For taller walls consider a more permanent solution, doing these things twice can be very expensive.Concerte block wall ny

Concrete Block walls

                Concrete blocks look like the ones you remember being called cinder blocks as a kid. They are rarely made of cinders anymore but instead are made of concrete. Concrete Block walls can be used as a retaining wall however they are used more often as a load bearing wall. This is mainly because SRW’s and poured in place walls have taken over this market. Since a concrete block wall often times requires a substantial footing and loads of rebar and a lot of labor most pros would rather just pour that type of wall.

Poured concrete

Poured Concrete wall Fishkill NYPoured concrete walls are great when done correctly and disasters when corners are cut. One common mistake is to incorrectly lay the rebar inside the form, or use the wrong type or amount. As a homeowner it is important you have a contractor that doesn’t cheat here. If they do you will be paying to do it over. See the picture to the right. When it goes wrong there is no repairing it, just replacing it. That job was done by a contractor in Fishkill, NY and only lasted 3 months before it broke.


                SRW’s installed correctly can be a great choice. The upside is that they are easy to install fairly easily. They are lightweight (usually around 100 lbs each) and they look good. The downside is that it is easy to skip steps such as burying courses, geo grid, properly compacting the base, etc. When these steps get skipped the project is in jeopardy. I have seen walls incorrectly installed fail completely.


                A gabion wall is made from a cage filled with rocks. These are pretty simple to do, and usually very strong. These are mostly done in industrial areas or by roads and bridges. They allow water to run right through them. The look of them can be debated but most homeowners do not like them for their back yard.

StoneMakers Concrete

                StoneMakers concrete walls are only installed by a network of StoneMakers dealers so the downside is that you may not be able to find a dealer near you. This is constantly changing and chances are if you live in a moderately populated area there will be one. These walls take a lot of skill and know how that no homeowner would know without being taught. The wall because of the proprietary ingredients is much stronger than a normal concrete wall. This type of wall is also much more attractive, as the name implies you make the wall look like stone. This wall is a great choice for almost any retaining wall scenario and is what we use.

Mafia Blocks

                Mafia Blocks get their name from the size resembling coffins. Aside from their unflattering name they are extremely heavy and require a medium to large excavator to lift or some other piece of equipment. They are great for making bins at the landscape supply yard to put mulch and gravel in. Most homeowners would not want these things in their backyard.

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How to Use Walkways and Retaining Walls to Create Winter-Magic

Posted by Josefine Koehn on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 @ 00:09 PM

landscaping_albertgroup_new_yorkSnow can add some true magic to your garden. When you look out of your window on a white, glittery surface, branches heavy with fresh fallen snow, it is easy to get lost in the silence of this wonderful Christmas scenery. True, soon enough there will be footprints, shoveling and more mushy weather, but just follow our simple tricks to preserve the white winter magic a little while longer.

Walls of Delight
Retaining walls can be very attractive in a winter landscape. They provide space for the snow to collect and can be easily decorated with a few pine-branches, a lantern or some lights, depending on how natural you want the wall to look. Next spring or summer, think of planting some patches of decorative grass around your wall. This will add color to your winter landscape. Another beautiful addition is the installation of decorative tiles set into the wall. Texture and color should fit the surroundings and add an attractive splash of color. Choose flower motives to remind your garden-visitors what it will look like again in a few months.

If you do not have a retaining wall, you still can add all kinds of structures to ad eye-appeal to your winter garden. Birdhouses are a wonderful addition to every yard. You can put them on wooden stilts or hang them in a tree. Other possible snow-catching elements are fences, arbors, benches, and boulders. If you just want to add something right away, choose simple tepee-like structures, made out of bamboo poles. You can decorate with natural materials, pines and red berries, lanterns, lights or Christmas ornaments. Have fun with it!

Outdoor Christmas-Trees
To add to the beauty of your wintery landscape, you should make sure to feature some trees and shrubs in your yard, that hold their bare limbs horizontally. This way snow can collect and creates the striking design of dark and light. Crabapple or Dogwood trees are good choices to create wintery silhouettes. Add some berry-full bird food to decorate your outside Christmas tree. 

Encourage a Walk in the Snow
To make sure, your winter landscape will get the attention it deserves, include some paths that garden-visitors can use in any weather. If you do not have walkways in your garden, which always add to a more park-like feeling, just try to create a path or two through your winter wonder land. You can use lanterns to mark the way.

Easy Winter-Decorations
For a wonderful one-time effect you can simply fill paper-bags with some sand and add a candle. Another easy to make outdoor winter decoration are ice-cakes. Take a Bundt cake pan or even a bucket and fill with water. Include decorative objects, like pinecones, pine tree branches, rowanberries or Christmas ornaments to be frozen in the ice cake. Use some warm water to get the ice cake out of the pan, set on some pinetree branches and enjoy!

For more ideas about landscaping projects for your garden contact Jamie Snyder of Albert Group Landscaping.


How to Avoid Retaining Wall Failures

Posted by Josefine Koehn on Mon, Nov 05, 2012 @ 10:09 AM

landscaping_Washingtonville_New York
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy our thoughts go to those who were affected.  With the destructive power of nature still in our minds, we also want to take a closer look on the durability of hardscape features. Many of you have probably passed an otherwise beautiful residential development, but noticed the crumbling or tilting of a retaining wall. How can that happen? And even more important: How can you avoid the failure of important hardscape structures?

Generally retaining walls provide lateral support for vertical slopes of soil, which would otherwise collapse. Retaining walls are used for landscaping purposes, such as changing the topography of a yard. Since there is no yard without a slope, retaining walls are used often to level of terrain for a swimming pool, a patio, terrace or other landscaping feature.

To build a durable wall, it takes some planning and designing. Factors that should be considered are purpose of the wall, site placement, drainage, foundation, construction materials and building code issues. If the general engineering principals have not been applied, failure will occur, the wall will crumble, crack, puddles will develop around the top or the base of the wall, and the wall will set excessively or even sink.

Building Codes
Building Codes are made for a reason! Retaining walls should always be considered as load bearing construction not as an aesthetic feature, although new materials like StoneMakers concrete will allow us to design aesthetic and durable constructions. When calculating the effect of the earth pressure one also has to consider the contribution of water – plus worst-case scenarios, such as long lasting rainstorms or melting snow. All Albert Group Landscaping construction comply with the applicable building codes.

The foundation is one of the most important parts of you wall. The footing and foundation system ensures that the retaining wall can resist the imposed lateral forces. It will also prevent the wall from sinking or settling excessively. Well designed and built walls utilize steel reinforcement bars or other methods to tie the wall to the foundation.

Most retaining walls fails because rising groundwater or soil-moisture builds up too much pressure for the wall. When the imposed forces of soil and groundwater exceed the resisting forces of the retaining wall, failure occurs. Therefore all retaining walls should be constructed in a way that provides drainage for all water that collects behind the wall. Possibilities are a gravel drainage blanket and/or pipe behind the wall.

As you can see, proper design and engineering are essential to build a functional and long lasting retaining wall. Feel free to contact Jamie Snyder if you have any questions. Albert Group Landscaping also can provide you with a free estimate for your next landscaping project.

Retaining Wall_Hudson Valley_New York

How to Care for your Retaining Wall

Posted by Josefine Koehn on Fri, Oct 12, 2012 @ 00:09 AM

Retaining_Wall_Landscaper_MonroeFall is here. The leaves are turning color – and you might find yourself enjoying some long and beautiful days in your yard. Now is also the time to check your hardscape. Take a walk around your property and inspect your walkways and retaining walls for damage and cracks. Here are the most important factors you should look out for.

Weeds are amazing. They can grow almost everywhere. And occasionally it might happen that something green is growing on your retaining wall or walkway. The easiest way to take care of unwanted weed growth is to pull the first sprout, before the plantlet can grow into a forest. If plucking weeds is not your thing, you can spray annually like you would with the lawn.

A few leaves are not a problem, but if they accumulate, especially over the winter, they might discolor the surface over time. To protect your hardscape you also should make sure to wash salts and chemicals of the surface. And if the finish begins to wear, you should seal it again.

Surface Treatment
This is an area, which can be easily overlooked: The areas surrounding your wall. These areas should actually be treated as part of whole the wall design. It does not matter, if they are paved or beautified with landscape planting, mulch or turf. These areas provide an important function for the wall, they capture and route the water. Therefore you should replant bare areas and encourage the growth of ground covers and flowers. Most importantly look for areas of erosion and re-landscape if necessary. A little bit of work can prevent major erosion and therefore real problems.

Site Grading
While all retaining walls should be designed and built so that rain and water can drain easily, you might notice a puddle behind or in front of the wall. These low spots might occur due to excessive settling. If this happens you should not ignore it, but pull the landscape away and add enough fill to allow proper drainage.

If you take care of your hardscape it can last a long time, but it is important to check walls and walkways from time to time. Don’t let a little problem sit until spring comes, it just will get worse over the winter. Contact Albert Group Landscaping if you have any further questions.

Fall_Maintanance_Landscpaer_New York

What Types of Material are Best for Retaining Walls?

Posted by Josefine Koehn on Sat, Aug 18, 2012 @ 01:09 AM

swimming_pool_landscaper_lagrangevilleWhen it comes to residential retaining walls, there are various materials available. To help you decide, which material will work best for you, we want to give you some basic pros and cons and describe the two main materials, we recommend, in detail: Segmented Retaining Wall Blocks and StoneMakers Hardscape.

Wood is not Durable
Although some contractors might offer it to you, we recommend staying away from wood. While the up front costs are affordable and the installation is quick and fairly easy, wooden retaining walls are a short-term investment. Wood is simply is not as durable as other wall materials, mainly due to rot and infestation with insects. And don’t be fooled, just because it seems easy, to pile some railroad ties, they still need to be reinforced with braces and deep anchors. No matter, where you build your wall, it needs to be able to support the weight of soil and water. How long is your wall supposed to hold up?

Natural Stone is Expensive
Traditional stone retaining walls can be beautiful and have a very natural look. The number one reason, why many people decide against a natural stonewall, is the huge expense. Natural stonewalls are very labor intensive, and even if the project has been built professionally, stones might shift and the mortar used while stacking might crack.

Brick is Less Versatile
A brick wall is often used to match brick accents on the house or a garden path. Many brick walls are actually built from cinderblock that is reinforced with rebar and than faced with brick. Those walls are pretty strong and durable, but also very labor extensive and require a special accommodation for drainage.

Segmented Retaining Wall Block
Segmented Retaining Walls can be built of various concrete blocks. Some systems are designed so that the blocks interlock with each other - which provides a mortar-less solution. Segmental Retaining Walls rely on gravity and the blocks are designed to gradually step back into the earth they retain, to provide more strength. There is a huge variety of concrete blocks available, so you can choose are cleaner or a rather weathered look. Most systems allow the integration of curves, corners and stairs, and the blocks can be split to fit the shape of the project.

StoneMakers Hardscape Changed the Industry
After being in this business now for almost 20 years, I can tell you, that “StoneMakers retaining walls are not only good, they are the best!”, says Jamie Snyder of The Albert Group Landscaping. StoneMakers’ propriety concrete product can be completely customized. There are 33 colors available, which can be mixed to an infinite number of colors. While the product is strong – actually twice as strong a typical concrete – it can be shaped into almost any design. “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.”


Patios, Walkways, Waterfalls and Walls Installed in Days Not Weeks

Posted by James Snyder on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 @ 26:10 AM


If you’ve owned a home for a long time, then you’ve probably had quite a bit of work done on it, both inside and out. You know all too well that certain home improvement projects can take an interminable amount of time to complete, causing an extended disruption to your normal home routine. No matter how professional and efficient the crew conducting the work may have been, you probably wish they could have been done and out of your hair a lot sooner than they were so you could get back to normal.

But those of you contemplating an outdoor home beautification project, such as a patio, walkway, waterfall or the like, are in luck.

These projects require concrete, obviously. And traditional concrete projects take a lot of time to construct. But a company called StoneMakers has changed the home beautification game forever with a proprietary mix that drastically reduces the time it takes to build a project that will not only be aesthetically pleasing and durable, but will significantly improve the value of your home.

We recently built a retaining wall for a customer using the StoneMakers mix, and the results were incredible. We had heard all about this incredible product, but we remained skeptical until we actually saw it being used before our eyes in a product demonstration. But even then, we didn’t know just how revolutionary the StoneMakers concrete mix could be until we put it to use ourselves.

The retaining wall was 75 feet wide by 4 feet tall; not a huge job, per se, but a substantial one. Previously, that kind of project would take one of our crews about three days to complete. Astoundingly, though, when we built this particular wall using the StoneMakers mix, it took less than six hours to finish the job. That’s simply incredible, and calculates to some extreme savings for the customer when you consider most jobs are charged by the hour.

The main reason StoneMakers’ proprietary mix is superior to traditional concrete is that the mix allows an artisan to build, say, a wall, without having to use forms such as railroad ties to support the concrete. Not having to do so not only greatly speeds the construction process, it also results in a longer lasting and more aesthetically pleasing project that doesn’t require nearly the amount of maintenance that a project made of typical concrete needs.

It should be pretty obvious to you that we are true believers in the StoneMakers’ mix. To find out how we can put it to work for you, call Albert Group Landscaping at (845) 283-8787.


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