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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 Increase Your Livingspace with Retaining Walls

Posted by Josefine Koehn on Fri, Oct 26, 2012 @ 00:09 AM

retaining_wall_Lagrangeville_New_YorkAre you longing for the warm summer evenings, when you could enjoy sitting in the backyard way past midnight without even having to wear a sweater? Does your living room feel just a little bit too cozy and crammed after all those beautiful nights you were able to spend on your patio under the stars? You are not alone. According to the American Institute of Architects' first Home Design Trend Survey 48% off all homeowners in the US prefer an outdoor living space to the traditional green lawn.

Companies Take Indoors Outside
Many companies respond to that demand. There are amazing new outdoor furniture-options. The new fabrics are made from acrylic fibers and are fade-resistant and waterproof. SunBrite TV and Mirage Outdoor Concepts both sell flat-panel LCD television-set, which are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions and temperature changes – and are equipped with a wireless connection.

How to Create an Outdoor Living Space
But it takes more than just cozy cushions and entertainment devices to create a real outdoor living space. To be successful you should adopt some of the same principles that make the interior of your home comfortable. That means you need some walls, a floor and a ceiling. Start by establishing the outline or boundary of your outdoor room. The idea is to create an area where you don’t feel watched by your neighbors. Like in your home you want enjoy some intimacy.

Complement your Home with a Retaining Wall
Especially if your yard has different levels or is slightly sloped, a retaining wall can be a great starting point for your new room outdoors. With StoneMakers concrete we are able to create almost any shape – and even the color can be mixed to complement your actual home. This way your outdoor space will really feel like an extension of your indoor living area. Thanks to the flexibility of the material, it even is possible to add different features to your wall, like a bench or sitting area, different water-features, a fire pit or fire place.

Why choose StoneMakers
Because the material is so easy to work with, StoneMakers allows us to even carry out the most creative design-ideas. At the same time you do not have to worry about the durability. StoneMakers is twice as strong as typical concrete. 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.

The New York based landscaper has a lot of experience to implement different outdoor living ideas. „We have built outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, BBQ-pits, waterfalls, pools, whole entertainment areas“, Snyder explains. Albert Group Landscaping is also certified by both the National Concrete Masonry Association and the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute. „You can be assured that your project is installed correctly“, says Snyder.

The Albert Group Landscaping does offer complete solutions for your backyard make over. „Before we start, we offer our clients a 3D rendering oft he project“, explains Snyder. „This will allow you to see your project conceptually before you buy.“ Are you ready to increase your space? Contact Jamie Snyder and ask for a free estimate.


Insights as to why retaining walls fail – Part 2

Posted by James Snyder on Wed, Mar 09, 2011 @ 01:09 PM

The 6 top causes of retaining wall failure.

Retaining walls can fail for any number of reasons, some more common than others. Usually when a wall fails there is more than one thing wrong with the wall. One thing that all failed walls have in common is that the failure was avoidable.

1. Drainage not installed correctly – or at all - as we will see is sometimes the case.

Walls must be drained, if they are not you will have a problem. Depending on the season, amount of water and wall material the wall fail in different ways. Bt the point here folks is that the wall will fail.

retaining wall builder washingtonville nyNotice how this wall had no gravel behind it or around the drainige pipe

2. Soil not reinforced.

Geogrid is used to reinforce soil, forget to use it and all bets are off.

Check out how strong Geogrid is in this video below.

3. Base not correctly installed.

Base must be installed correctly. A wall cannot be balanced on a pad of gravel the same with as the wall material. At a minimum the base must be 3 times as wide as the first block and set deep enough to bury one block.

4. Rebar not correctly installed in concrete walls.

When building a concrete retaining wall rebar must be used correctly. The corners are especially tricky, I tried looking online for a picture of the correct way and only found one.

Here it is.retaining wall builder monroe nyAll the others looked like the picture below which is wrong.

retaining wall builder goshen ny



Below is what happens if you do it wrong. The wall is only 4 months old! In this photo the rebar is too few and not in the correct position.

retaining wall builder harriman ny

5. Block walls not installed correctly (you truly won’t believe this!)

Believe it or not there are contractors out there that build retaining walls upside down. A lot of them! It’s just stupid, but it happens. Here’s a picture of a retaining wall where the block is upside down, no drainage to speak of, no soil reinforcement, base too  high etc etc…

retaining wall installed upside down This wall shown here was built upside down. The slots should be facing up and the holes fasing down.

6. Some retaining walls need an engineer.

Don’t try and save money here. If your wall needs to be engineered hire one, preferably that specializes in walls. See, when an engineered wall fails it’s comes down to one of two things. Either the contractor did not follow the engineers plans or the engineers plans were bad.


In closing, retaining walls are projects that demand to be built correctly. Trying to save money on a wall is false economy. You will pay much more in the end if a wall fails.

I was motivated to write this article because of a story I had been told about a year ago that still sits in the back of my mind. I went to a retaining wall seminar at the New England Grows trade show. We learned all sorts of things about retaining walls that are only interesting to people like me that build them. The Speaker - Vern Dueck – has built more walls than probably anyone in I know of. He actually holds the patent for the Cornerstone wall system.

At the end of his seminar he told us about a friend of a friend that had asked about building a retaining wall. Vern told the guy based on his description of the project an engineer was required. Well people being people and trying to save money he decided to build the wall himself – without the help of an engineer. That guy did have help though, his wife and a plumber friend that had a small excavator to help dig. Nearing the end of the project the wall fell and killed his wife. The wall fell extremely fast, he was talking to her when it happened. This was 100% preventable.

Not every wall needs an engineer and truthfully most of the walls I build don’t. They are simply not tall or complicated enough. But when a retaining wall professional says the wall needs an engineer he’s not saying this to make his engineer friend rich. He’s telling you this because your project is not an off the shelf cookie cutter type of job. Besides a good engineer will save you money. You won’t over or under build it. Over building costs more because of materials, under building costs more because you do it twice or worse someone gets hurt.

Insights as to why retaining walls fail – Part 1

Posted by James Snyder on Sun, Feb 27, 2011 @ 36:12 PM


If you are reading this chances are you may be considering a retaining wall in the near future. Or you may have already had a wall installed that recently failed. Unfortunately folks, some people this year will buy a retaining wall that will fail. That’s a fact –some dishonest or unqualified contractor will take advantage of someone. Hopefully reading this will give you some basic knowledge so you can avoid being a victim. In a perfect world you would just be able to trust every contractor that showed up to bid and award the project to the lowest bidder and get the same quality of the highest bidder. This will seldom work out.

Check out the video below to hear a client of Albert Group Landscaping & Swimming Pools talk about what they went through when their retaining wall failed and how we helped them.

Failed retaining wall orange county NYHere is a 4 year old retaining wall that needs to be replaced - before it crashes into the homeowners 4 year old garage.

 There will be a lot of information here, so I will post this in two posts. For someone truly looking to buy a retaining wall– I promise to make this article worth the time to read.

Every year - in my relatively small service area - I receive 10-15 calls from people that have had a retaining wall fail. Now I’m not talking about an old tie wall that simply rotted away –I get another 20 or so calls for those. I’m talking about retaining walls less than 5 years old - some less than 1 year old - that have failed to 1 degree or another. I feel that it is my job here to give you the information you need whether it is good, bad or indifferent.

The Good:

If this wall has started to fail and is just leaning it has probably not hurt or killed anyone yet. The good thing is that you now know to keep your family away from it. It’s a good idea not to put anything in front of it either - like a car.

More Good:

You may have actually gotten lucky and learned a lifelong lesson. You get what you pay for. From now on - every project you do – you will also do your “due dillagence.”

The Bad:

When I receive the call for a failed retaining wall the conversation usually starts out like this. “I need someone to come over and give me an estimate to fix a retaining wall.” The bad is that not only are retaining walls not usually repairable, the material often needs to be replaced. See you might be able to re-stack a block retaining wall, but you will not get down to where the problem originated.

More Bad:

A retaining wall will most certainly cost more to fix than you originally paid to build it in the first place. Simply put there is more work to do now. Assuming when the wall was first installed there was no wall there, now you have all a failed wall to throw away. This is not cheap. Now if the reason the original wall failed is that you went with a low bidder, you’d be foolish to go the “cheap route” again.

Even more bad:

Trying to sue the original contractor will only make your lawyer rich. An honest lawyer will tell you that you will probably win the lawsuit. Now once you have a judgment against that contractor he will almost certainly have filed bankruptcy. I personally know of 4 contractors that have used this tactic to avoid payments of one form or another.

The indifferent:

Noting really is indifferent about a retaining wall failure. It will cost you time and money to fix. Your property will become a construction site again. Like buying car parts you are spending money just to get back to where you started.


Part 2 coming soon where I analyze:

The 5 top causes of retaining wall failure.

  1. Drainage not installed correctly – or at all - as we will see is sometimes the case.
  2. Soil not reinforced.
  3. Base not correctly installed.
  4. Re-bar not correctly installed in concrete walls.
  5. Block walls not installed correctly (you truly won’t believe this!)

I had the opportunity to interview Mr. & Mrs. Enriquez about their retaining wall project. They were generous enough to talk about what happend to them so that it won't happen to you!

To Scheule a free estimate with Albert Group Landscaping and Swimming Pools click here.

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.

StoneMakers Skeptic Turned Believer - Concrete walls without forms!?!

Posted by James Snyder on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 @ 04:10 PM

WellStoneMakers Licensed Dealer I am on my way home on Delta flight 2508 enjoying the free web access and reflecting on my week of StoneMakers training. First of all, A sincere Thank You to David Montoya. David Founded StoneMakers and was our host & trainer along with his son and crew. Also joining us was a StoneMakers dealer from LI (the island - as we call it) Peter Castillo of Castilloscapes in LI. If you are reading this and live in LI call up Pete, he's THE guy.

Well what can I say, EVERYTHING StoneMakers claims is true! I can't believe it myself. Truth is, what we learned should not work according to everything I've ever been told about concrete. And, the results speak for themselves, just check out the videos below.

The idea is simple. Make a wall that is monolithic, and have it look like stone. As simple as it sounds, it is just not possible unless you can get the concrete to stand up vertically without forms. Sure you can make a wall with forms or out of block and then add a veneer later, but that's not monolithic and it's expensive. You could also make a wall and add a layer of concrete on top and stamp it but that layer will be thin and not have much depth to it. Both of these techniques are subject to de-lamination. Now with the StoneMakers process we can create a wall or patio without forms and add  texture before it has cured. Not only that, any shape you can dream up (within reason) can be achieved. Want a bench that looks like a tree? No problem. How about a giant waterfall that looks like cliff rock? - I'll take mine in gray with tan hi-lights please. Want your new wall to match the brown tones of your home? We can do that too. The possibilities are endless.

A side effect of building a wall using the StoneMakers process is added strength. Typical concrete will be between 3-4000 psi. Because the StoneMakers product is also a water reducer and water makes concrete weak. The StoneMakers concrete recipe will be much stronger sometimes as much as 6-7000 psi.

If you have any questions please feel free to comment or call me at 845-283-8787.

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.



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