retaining walls

Everything You Need to Know About Retaining Walls

If you ever walk past a house that seems to have come right out of Jane Austen or imagine yourself strolling through a countryside lane in Middle Earth, chances are that there might be a stone wall somewhere in there; perhaps pushed up against the side of a hill. This is called a retaining wall. 

Like the best things in life, a retaining wall is both pretty and functional. If you have a need or a desire for one in your own landscaping to up the quality of your outdoor aesthetic, knowing more information will always help you to make the best decisions. This guide will help you know exactly what a retaining wall is and how it works, how much a retaining wall will cost, tips and tricks about retaining walls, how a retaining wall will add to your yard, and even some of the best and most creative retaining wall ideas out there! 

What is a Retaining Wall and How Does it Work?

retaining walls
Image Source – https://www.bobvila.com/articles/retaining-walls/

A retaining wall is a wall built of a material solid enough to “retain” (hold in place) dirt and soil behind it. These might be used in a front or back garden, flowerbeds, or any other landscaping structures to ensure that rain, erosion, and other natural issues don’t cause shifts in the soil and a spread or collapse of whatever it is you were trying to keep together. 

There are four primary types of retaining walls: gravity retaining walls, reinforced retaining walls, sheet piling retaining walls, and anchored retaining walls.

Gravity Retaining Walls

Gravity retaining walls

Gravity retaining walls tend to be a little bit shorter in height and rely solely on their own mass (and, ergo, the laws of gravity working with their weight) to keep soil in check. This allows versatility with the materials that can be used when building a gravity wall, and in general, they are a simpler structure to build, with the wall and perhaps a trench or concrete seal at the bottom being the only necessary ingredients. 

Reinforced Retaining Walls

Reinforced retaining walls
Image Source – https://www.hcgeosynthetics.com/geogrid/pp-biaxial-geogrid/geogrid-reinorced-retaining-wall.html

Also known as cantilevered retaining walls, reinforced walls are one of the stronger models because of the foundational support that they exhibit. The wall runs in an L-shape, with the main part being above ground and holding the soil in place, while the shorter part in the form of a slab goes beneath the bed. The weight of the dirt on top of this slab is what keeps it from falling forward. Some reinforced retaining walls have additional structural help in the foundation. 

Sheet Piling Retaining Walls

Sheet piling retaining walls
Image Source – https://surfcivil.blogspot.com/2012/11/sheet-pile.html

If you have soft soil and are tight on space, a sheet piling wall might be your best bet. Sheet piling walls are just a thin piece of material (usually steel, wood, or vinyl) that is driven into the ground by the soil. Sometimes there is additional support offered with a vertical corrugated structure. 

Anchored Retaining Walls

Anchored retaining walls
Image Source – https://vincivilworld.com/tag/anchored-retaining-wall-advantages-and-disadvantages/

An anchored retaining wall is when anchors are driven into the ground to support the wall, and then they expand while below ground through mechanical or pressurized means from above. Anchored walls can help support any of the other three types of walls, though are most typically used for either large sheet piling walls or a higher load. 

Geogrid

Geogrid isn’t a type of retaining wall, but rather a type of material that is helpful for adding to the strength of the wall. It’s a mesh of sorts that acts as a support to the soil that is being kept inside the boundaries. The soil grabs for the geogrid rather than pushing on the wall, and so it alleviates much of the pressure on the stones. Geogrid can be so strong that even sand castles can support concrete when using it!

How Does a Retaining Wall Work? 

Essentially, a retaining wall will take a sloping property and help make it functional and beautiful, leveling out certain areas for texture and aesthetic and protecting the yard from the damages of erosion.

Using a variety of materials (stone, brick, wood, concrete, etc.), a retaining wall can even be practical outside of keeping soil in, as it can provide things like outdoor seating or even some privacy if placed correctly. 

The materials are stacked or pushed into the ground to create a barrier around the soil bed that they are hemming in, and the soil cannot escape due to the strength of the structure. It makes dangerous land safe (and also makes them ideal for flower beds and gardens!).

It depends primarily on the material that you decide to use (plus labor and parts), but it can cost thousands of dollars to build even one retaining wall. But don’t let that deter you! They have a purpose beyond their beauty, but the fact that they have such an additional aesthetic appeal will add value to your life, and to your home. 

Ask your engineer for a price per square foot; on average it is:

  • Can $19-$38 for basic concrete blocks.
  • Can $18 for brick.
  • Up to Can $32 for wood. 
  • Up to Can $50 for stone or poured concrete.

So now, if you’ve decided that a retaining wall is right for you and your yard, let’s look at some practical tips for what to do – and what not to do – when adding one into your landscaping. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Building a Retaining Wall

It can be exciting to add a new structure to your home! But keep in mind that retaining walls are not only meant to be beautiful but meant to be functional. Here are some tips to keep in mind while making decisions for your retaining wall. 

Do Get Help from an Engineer

It might be expensive, but it will be worth it in the long run to have a retaining wall that works. It’s not that you can’t DIY, but installing a retaining wall is more complicated than you might think (especially one taller than four feet) and checking over your plans with a professional could make things much easier.  

Do Check Your Materials

Is that geogrid, or snow fence? Are you sure that’s the material you want for your wall? Have you double-checked your measurements? It can save a lot of work, in the long run, to check everything before you make decisions that you can’t go back on. 

Do Confirm With Your Local Authorities

You might need permission and permits to build your retaining wall, so know of any potential problems before you begin construction! And don’t start digging before you have checked if there is a pipe or line where you’re planning to make a trench! Call DigSafe for your state to make sure that you don’t have any dangerous complications. 

Do Lay Materials Evenly

If you use, say, cinder blocks to make your wall and put the first row on a slope that goes down to the side, you will find yourself laying an entire wall that goes the same direction, which looks messy. If you need to, build tiers of walls rather than one large one, but make sure that the bottom layer of each wall is on even ground! 

Your wall should be sloping from top to bottom in a way that leans into the soil it is retaining! Just not from side to side. 

Don’t Put Your Wall Near Problematic Roots

The last thing you want is tree roots ruining the structure you’ve just built! A quality foundation is imperative to a good retaining wall, but Mother Nature can disrupt that if you don’t choose a good location to build. 

Don’t Forget About Water!

Water is the enemy of all structures. Groundwater can begin to make your wall unstable if you don’t plan for it ahead of time, so it is extremely important to build a drainpipe and gravel or another draining mechanism into your design to account for the flow. 

How Installing a Retaining Wall Will Add Beauty to Your Backyard

Retaining walls can be some of the most beautiful pieces in your landscaping if you design it right. Here are some of the primary things to consider when you are thinking aesthetically about your wall. 

Materials

The materials you choose should compliment your home, the rest of your yard, and whatever the retaining wall is supporting (garden, flowers, etc.). Below are the most common materials. 

Stone is timeless and popular for retaining walls as it adds a more grounded feel to them. Plus, they are lower maintenance than some other materials! 

Brick is low maintenance, too, and punctuates a lawn with a very intentional accent. Brick is cozy, clean, and clear – great for bringing attention to your walls! 

Concrete is heavy and durable, and while its aesthetic doesn’t fit everywhere, it gives a clean and urban vibe that invites imagination to collaborate with its blank slate. 

Finally, wood is a great choice for adding a natural feel to your yard and has a wide variety of options that can match many locations. 

In the Soil

Growing something inside your retaining wall will automatically elevate the elegance of your yard. Flowers of any sort will evoke Versailles when you see them peeping over tiers of block stone walls, and even just greenery will be sure to let people know that you are intentional with your choice of decoration. 

You can even plant small trees (with non-invasive roots, of course) near (not on) your retaining wall! To have an inviting yard is to tell people that you respect them and yourself, and the land that you live on. 

Twenty Cool Ideas for your Retaining Wall 

  1. A brown wood-tiered wall that only grows grass gives a sleek, modern look that almost turns your yard into gigantic steps of a giant. Another great idea for grass retaining walls involves grass-covered steps and gives the impression of a naturally occurring staircase! 
  2. Building a retaining wall around a centerpiece, like a fountain in a courtyard, takes the level of architecture from “pretty” to “dancing-in-Europe-at-sunset-gorgeous.” 
  3. Untreated steel, while not a conventional material, gives almost a post-apocalyptic vibe that can go well with desert homes or a rustic farmhouse. Or try marble for a grandiose display! 
  4. Using huge boulders as your material easily gives the impression of a wall built long ago that has remained standing for centuries. It’s whimsical and impressive at the same time. 
  5. Building benches into your retaining wall gives a romantic feel to the landscape, no matter what material you use!
  6. Putting a matching in-ground pool into the center of your retaining wall can look and feel like a garden oasis; who wouldn’t love that?
  7. Making tiers of steps that lead up your wall into a walkway or entrance to your home gives your house the feel of a castle, and gives your guests the experience of walking up to one!
  8. An intentionally uneven wall with carefully placed plants is the perfect opportunity to have a waterfall running down your retaining wall. Just be sure to have carefully placed pipes to handle it! 
  9. Basic concrete can sound boring, but hand your kid a box of sidewalk chalk and let them get to work changing that blank slate into mural after mural of colorful artwork!
  10. Draping plants lend a mysterious, Victorian appeal to a retaining wall – especially if it is so concealed by leaves that it looks more like a hedge than rocks!
  11. Large, flat rocks built as steps into a garden retaining wall are like building stepping stones across a magical pond. In other words, beautiful and desirable. 
  12. You can use shaped stones to create patterns on your wall, like rows of diamonds! It’s eye-catching and eye-keeping. 
  13. A latticed retaining wall, especially a tall one, has the opportunity for many different plants to grow out of it and show a vast vertical garden to your guests! 
  14. If you live in a place with gorgeous natural rock landscaping then you can consider using that to build your retaining wall and blend in with your natural habitat, making it look almost as though your home was raised upright from the ground. 
  15. Multiple high retaining walls can make little pockets of privacy – almost like house rooms in your backyard. 
  16. Multicolored materials make for a vibrant wall that pops out to the eye and brings charm to any yard. You can try making a mosaic with flat stones and lines in between – beautiful! 
  17. Textured material walls – interlocking blocks, overlaying blocks, even using garden planters as part of the wall – are a great choice for anyone looking for an artistic aesthetic that delights the eye!
  18. Using different materials for one wall (like stone and wood) is a cool way to mix vibes and give a unique flavor to your home. 
  19. Sleepers are materials that are used to keep a structure in place, like the flat railroad tie that supports the other two. Using vertical sleepers can add a very smooth look to your retaining wall, almost as if using a cookie-cutter on your grass!
  20. Lights. You can add lights to your retaining wall and give it a warm, adventurous look that is great for summer evenings around a grill or fire pit (which you can also build into your retaining wall!) 

Retaining walls are beautiful, practical additions to any home, and elevate the quality of life to anyone who experiences them. There is something beautiful about walls, grass, greenery, and flowers all mixed together to preserve soil and preserve elegance. Call your local engineers and landscapers and tell them about your dream retaining wall! They want to help you as much as you want to build it. 

 

Restoring chimney

What You Need to Know About Restoring Your Chimney?

A fireplace can be one of the primary centerpieces of a home. Whether it is used in your kitchen, a bedroom, or living area, the warmth and light that it exudes draws people near it for fellowship. If you’ve spent the money to install/maintain a fireplace in your home, then you know that it should work as well as it looks. 

The hidden yet primary worker of a fireplace is a chimney. When a fire is lit, it goes overtime to ensure that the smoke is funneled outside rather than filling your home. Without a properly working chimney, your fireplace will either be purely decorative or a nightmare when you strike a match in the firebox. 

When you set out to repair or restore your chimney, it’s best to get an idea of how much it is going to cost, how it can be done, and what sorts of repairs you might need. Here’s an overview of some basic knowledge that will help you make the right decisions for your home, family, and beautiful fireplace. 

How Much Do Chimney Repairs Cost? 

restoring your chimney

Costs will vary depending on what feature of your chimney needs repairs, but the average cost would be around $576. Your price will depend on the material your chimney is made from, the size, the kind of issues you are dealing with, etc. 

A basic brick-and-mortar repair could cost anywhere between $253-$2,532, and the price point will fluctuate depending on what type of material your chimney is built from. Brick repair will be a cheaper option, whereas stucco can easily go from $1,266-$5,064 if your repair needs are more extensive. Individual features (cracks, wood rot, etc.) can be as low as a few hundred dollars to repair if there isn’t much, but issues like spalling (broken or missing bricks and stones), repointing, or tuckpointing (replacing mortar, sometimes aesthetically) can cost much more. 

One of the most costly issues you could encounter is waiting too long to fix an issue (especially in the crowning) which could result in the need for a full replacement of the chimney. In that case, you could be paying well into the thousands instead of hundreds, so be sure to jump on repairs in a timely manner! 

And if you notice damage to your chimney, hold off using the fireplace until you can get it fixed! Working with a damaged chimney can cause even more damage and be dangerous. 

Are Chimney Repairs Covered by Insurance? 

Homeowners’ insurance tends to cover unexpected or unprecedented events (also known as “Acts of God”) such as natural disasters. If your chimney is damaged by a violent flood, earthquake, tornado, etc. then you have a good chance that your insurance will cover the repairs. 

However, if your repair needs stem from something a little less catastrophic – like old, worn-out materials or your contractor doing a bad job building it – then you might have a little more trouble filing a claim. Insurance companies need to see proof that the damage didn’t come from your own lack of routine maintenance or ill-chosen craftsman. 

The best thing to do is to check your fireplace and chimney regularly for issues and get people that you can trust to install anything that it needs. Then, know what your insurance plan covers and keep yourself up to date on what it offers. Do your best to find the plan that is best for your family! “Insurance is an investment,” says Pete Karageorgos, the director of consumer and industry relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada “so you want to take the time and do it right.” 

Can a Roofer Repair a Chimney? 

Whether or not a roofer is the best choice to repair your chimney depends on what exactly the repair is! 

If your issue has to do with a leak, there are a couple of things to look into before hiring anyone. Water coming down your chimney can be an issue that stems from a broken cap or crown (what covers the chimney up at the top), or from cracks and broken bits in the chimney itself with the brick or stones. If these are the cases, then you should consider calling a chimney specialist rather than a roofer. Roofers won’t have the experience or knowledge to handle the problem the same way that someone whose expertise lies in chimneys will. 

A third option, though, is that your chimney might be leaking from the flashing. Flashing is a thin piece of metal that attaches the chimney to the rest of the roof around it. When it becomes warped or out of place (or maybe even attacked by wild animals seeking your chimney for a new home), water can come through what was once airtight. In these cases, a roofer is actually a good person to call because the process of replacing the flashing will require the removal of the roof around the chimney, and the ability to put it back together afterwards. Be sure to find an experienced roofer for this and one who will offer you proper materials for your flashing

Other issues with a chimney may require other specialists. Brick masons will be able to rebuild major aspects of your chimney, or even replace it completely if it came to that. And chimney sweeps do more than sing and dance through London: they play an important role in cleaning and maintaining your chimney, as well as fixing moderate damages in the brick and mortar. So while a roofer is great for flashing or other areas of your roof, in these other areas you will get the best quality work with someone who knows exactly how to deal with a chimney. 

What Are the Most Common Types of Chimney Repairs?

Like any part of a house, chimneys need a lot of maintenance and routine checks to make sure that they are functioning properly. And because they deal with fire and gas, neglecting to do these things can be quite hazardous for you and your family. Knowing what some of the most commonly needed chimney repairs are can inform and inspire you to take a look at your own chimney and determine whether or not it might be time to get someone out there to fix it up. 

Blockage

restoring your chimney
Image source – https://www.mychimney.com/blog/4-reasons-regular-chimney-sweep-services-are-so-important/

Blockage is anything that is plugging up the chimney and keeping it from releasing the smoke and gases properly. It might be anything from a bird’s nest to just a buildup of waste and debris, but either way, it is imperative to keep blockage out of your chimney! Unaddressed blockage can result in house fires. 

One of the most dangerous forms of blockage is creosote. As you burn wood in your firebox, both soot and black tar (creosote) will float up the chimney and get deposited in the lining of the flue. Creosote is flammable and is the cause of many chimney fires in homes. Like other blockages, creosote can also impede the escape of carbon monoxide out of the chimney. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that is deadly to humans and frequently found in homes that have malfunctioning chimneys. When there is no airflow in and out of a home, a fire will devour what little oxygen there is, and then carbon dioxide; finally creating carbon monoxide which has nowhere to go if the chimney is blocked. The only option is for it to flow back into your home. 

Ensuring that your chimney is regularly checked and cleared of blockage (and NOT using it if you know that it is blocked!) will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. But even so, it’s a good idea to buy a carbon monoxide alarm if you use a fireplace or any fuel-burning device in your home. Far, far better to be safe than sorry! 

Chimney Lining

restoring your chimney
Image source – https://www.kcsweep.com/chimney-liner-install/

The lining in your chimney (also called flue lining) is one of the most important pieces. It is what helps vent your chimney (and prevent things like carbon monoxide poisoning). A cracked lining could be extremely dangerous because it can also spread fires to parts of your home that could catch fire. 

If you do not have a stainless steel flue lining, consider getting one. Steel, rather than clay, is far more heat resistant and therefore damage resistant, and takes much longer to need replacing. Be sure to examine your chimney lining regularly (at least once a year) to ensure that all is working properly and to mitigate any damages! 

Caps and Crowns

restoring your chimney
Image source – https://theconstructor.org/tag/chimney-crown/

When you think about the fact that a fireplace/chimney’s primary function is, well, fire, then it makes sense that its most deadly enemy would be water. A chimney’s cap and crown are on the front lines against this enemy, and if they aren’t in top shape then the structural integrity of your chimney could pay the price. 

A chimney crown is a slab that seals off your chimney from water and the elements. If it is cracked or not as watertight as it is meant to be, then the water can trickle in and cause the mortar of your chimney to soften and begin to crumble. Crowns need to be checked frequently to ensure that they are working up to snuff. 

A chimney cap is a part that covers the flue and keeps everything from rain, debris, and curious wildlife from sneaking in. Without a proper cap, rust and decay can enter the chimney, and gases and fires could enter your home. 

Masonry

restoring your chimney
Image Source – https://www.mychimney.com/blog/4-major-types-chimneys-used-residential-commercial-buildings/

The structure of a chimney itself – the brickwork, stucco, stone, etc. – can actually be one of the most enduring elements of a chimney if the masonry was done right. But with time, erosion, and of course improper maintenance of the cap and crown, the chimney can need repairs just like any other function. 

If a brick is cracked or out of place, then “repointing” or “tuckpointing” can be done to fix the problem. Repointing is grinding out the mortar between bricks that is getting worn down and replacing it with fresh mortar. Tuckpointing is replacing the mortar and choosing that matches both the original mortar and the bricks to refine the lines and create an aesthetic approach to the repair. 

It is possible that you may have to replace entire bricks on your chimney if there has been too much damage done to them. This can be frustrating, but remember that it is cheaper in both the financial realm and in the peace of mind to pay someone to replace a few bricks instead of dealing with an entirely collapsed chimney. 

All of this may sound expensive, overwhelming, and maybe not even worth having a fireplace to deal with in the first place. But that does not have to be the case! Remember that fireplaces are an investment for you and your home, and keeping them that way can make your days in the house that much better, and also improve the value of your home. 

The best times to have an inspection of your chimney is right before and right after the wintertime (which is when fireplace use is the most prominent). It’s important to catch issues before they become dangerous or catastrophic events that can claim lives. It doesn’t have to be scary with some precautions and knowledge about how your fireplace works and what sorts of things to be aware of. And your inspector, of course, should know these things as well and can discuss them with you. 

A fireplace can be one of the primary centerpieces of a home. Whether it is used in your kitchen, a bedroom, or living area, the warmth and light that it exudes draws people near it for fellowship. Don’t let small issues detract from that fact, and give your chimney what it needs to protect the fireplace so that your house and family can enjoy all of the benefits!