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4 Popular Retaining Wall Systems

Friday, April 12th, 2013

© Clint Pino, Cornerstone Retaining Walls, Inc.

There are a number of retaining wall systems available on the market today.  Each manufacturer produces its own unique styles, sizes and colors.  However, there are 4 systems that I install more than others.  Their quality & beauty, as well as their ease of installation, make these retaining wall systems a cut above the rest.

The AB Europa® Collection Retaining Wall System

Manufactured by Allan Block, the AB Europa® Collection of retaining wall block is designed to convey an Old World style, replicating the ambiance of an old European village.  During manufacturing, the block is tumbled, which softens the edges & gives it the look of natural stone.  Its rugged, weathered appearance makes it an ideal choice for those preferring a natural or rustic look.

AB Europa® block has a built-in setback & is available in 4 different sizes.  Each size can be used individually or combined to create a number of different patterns (called AB Abbey Blend™ patterns).  They come in 3 different colors:  grey blend, tan blend and red blend.  The colors can also be mixed & matched to add variety & interest.

The AB® Collection Retaining Wall System

With its distinct beveled edges, retaining wall block from the AB Collection captures a classic & timeless look that integrates beautifully into almost any landscape design.   Also manufactured by Allan Block, it comes with a built-in setback & is available in the same sizes & colors as the AB Europa block.

The difference between the AB Europa® block & the AB® Collection block can be found in the edges.   Instead of rough, chiseled edges, AB® Collection block has clearly defined edges that give it a sharp, clean-cut look.  It is ideal for those desiring a more stylish, upscale appearance.

Just as with the AB Europa® Collection, the various sized blocks can be used alone or combined with other sizes to create interesting patterns (called AB Ashlar Blend™ patterns).  Colors can also be mixed.

AB Courtyard Collection™ Retaining Wall System

The AB Courtyard Collection™ is a 2-sided system that is especially manufactured for installing benches, sitting walls and pillars.  It is often integrated into a landscape design as away to enclose a patio area.  This creates a stunning courtyard appearance & also adds boundaries & defining lines to the landscape.

There are 2 styles available.  The AB Courtyard Collection block has clean, classic lines, while the AB Old Country Courtyard Collection block has rugged, weathered lines.  They both come in grey or tan.

Mesa Retaining Wall System

Mesa retaining wall block is a system that works beautifully when the situation calls for a vertical or near-vertical wall.  This is often the case when working in tight spaces.  With no built-in set-back, the wall can be built at a 90 degree angle.   The block comes in just one size & is a very simple, straight-faced block.  Manufactured by Basalite, it is available in 3 different colors.

Choosing a retaining wall system that is best for your situation will depend upon its purpose, the surrounding landscape & your budget.   Many manufacturers also produce pavers that will integrate beautifully with your system.  A supplier or your builder can help you decide which product is right for you.

To see pictures of walls we’ve built using these retaining wall systems or for more information, visit our web site at  To set up an appointment for a free consultation, call Clint at 303-564-4175.

4 Ways to Help Prevent Retaining Wall Failure

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

© Clint Pino, Cornerstone Retaining Walls, Inc.

Retaining walls are so much more than beautiful landscape elements.  They are workhorses built to restrain the earth behind them.  They need to hold up under constant pressure as the force of gravity pushes against them, or else they will fail.  Failed walls will sag, crack, bulge, lean, produce large gaps, or collapse.  Often times, the only way to fix a failed retaining wall is to tear it out and rebuild it.

The good news is that most retaining wall failures can be avoided.   Let’s take a look at 4 preventive measures you can take to help ensure your retaining wall will hold up.

1.  Drainage. The lack of proper drainage is the most common reason for retaining wall failure.  When water is absorbed into the soil behind a retaining wall and it has no place to go, the pressure behind the wall is increased.  If the water continues to build up, it will eventually push the wall out, causing it to bulge or collapse.  Installing drain pipes and using a clean, granular rock for both the backfill and the base of the wall will allow water to drain out.   The pressure will be released and wall failure will be prevented.

2.  Compaction. Poor compaction will eventually cause a retaining wall to shift, producing large gaps within the wall.   The soil needs to be compacted once at the point of excavation, again after the gravel base has been added, and each time backfill is added.  (Backfill should be added after each course of the wall has been installed).  The most effective way to do this is to use a piece of machinery called (you guessed it!) a compactor.

3.  Reinforcements. The type of reinforcements needed depends on a number of factors – the soil conditions, the type of material being used to build the wall, and the height of the wall.  The most common type of reinforcement for modular block retaining walls and rock retaining walls is geogrid.  Geogrid is a mesh-like fabric that helps stabilize the soil and secure the wall.  It is normally added every 2 or 3 courses.

A wall built in clay-like soil will need more geogrid than a wall built with sandy soil.  Likewise, a tall wall will need geogrid for extra reinforcement, whereas a short wall normally will not.  Timber retaining walls require deadmen, which are timber secured perpendicular to the wall.  Deadmen help anchor the wall to the soil it is supporting, increasing stability.

4.  Engineering. Certain conditions call for a retaining wall to be professionally engineered before it can be built.  Walls exceeding a certain height (usually 3 – 4 feet, depending on soil conditions) should always be engineered.   Retaining walls that will need to hold up against additional pressure, such as a wall restraining a parking lot, should be engineered.  Local city or county ordinances may also require engineering for retaining walls.

Before You Get Started

Before you get started, do your homework.  If you are hiring a builder, talk to them about retaining wall failure.  Review your contract carefully to make sure all the costs needed to build the wall properly are included.  If you are going to do it yourself, be sure to follow the installation instructions.  Check into local ordinances for retaining wall requirements.  Don’t hesitate to consult with your supplier or a professional retaining wall builder if you need assistance.

When built properly, retaining walls have the potential to last hundreds of years.  Investing in the proper materials and taking the time to build it right will mean all the difference between a retaining wall that lasts and a retaining wall that fails.

Cornerstone Retaining Walls, Inc. is committed to building retaining walls that will last a lifetime.  To view pictures of projects or to get more information, log on to www. or call Clint at 303-564-4175.

Retaining Wall Cost Considerations

Friday, June 11th, 2010

© Clint Pino, Cornerstone Retaining Walls, Inc.

“How much does a retaining wall cost?”  It’s a question I get asked often, but there’s no cut and dried answer.  Due to the fact that there are so many variables in retaining wall construction, it is impossible to quote a “one size fits all” price.  Every situation is unique and every retaining wall is different.

Let’s take a look at the various factors that determine what a retaining wall will cost.


Some of the most popular materials used to build retaining walls are timber, modular block and natural stone.  Each varies greatly in price, depending on the size, the style, and the source or the manufacturer.  One thing to keep in mind is that – while one material may be cheaper than the others – it may actually cost more in labor to install.

Most retaining walls require the use of drain pipes and backfill materials, such as crushed rock or gravel.  In certain situations, soil may need to be brought in.

Grid or tiebacks should be utilized in retaining walls taller than 3 feet to add stability and strength.  Cement, glue, clips, pins or nails may be also needed for added reinforcement.

Machinery and Labor Costs

Excavation – Most retaining walls will require some sort of excavation, either by hand or by machine.  A trench needs to be dug in order to bury the first course of the wall below ground level.  For tall retaining walls, additional courses may need to be buried to help keep the wall stable and secure.  Those walls will require more extensive excavation.

Compaction – Every so often, the backfill of the retaining wall needs to be compacted.  This stabilizes the wall and helps prevent it from shifting.  Compaction is best done with a machine called a compactor.

Labor – As a general rule, natural stone retaining walls cost more to build than timber and modular block walls.  This is due to the time and effort it takes to fit random pieces of stone together and properly set back the wall.  Modular block takes less time as the block is manufactured to fit together and the set back is often built in.

Other Cost Considerations

Tiered retaining walls or walls that integrate pillars, steps or curves will incur higher labor costs because they are more time intensive to build.

Building permits may be required by your city or county.  Certain circumstances, such as a wall exceeding a certain height or a retaining wall designed to support a driveway, may require engineering.

Access also needs to be taken into consideration.  A building site where materials can easily be delivered and moved around by machinery will cost less than a site where materials need to be transported in with a wheelbarrow.

Retaining Wall Cost Quote

As you can see, a multitude of factors determine the cost of a retaining wall.  When you receive a quote, make sure that the builder has taken all the above variables into consideration.  Doing so will help ensure that there are no surprises when the bill arrives.

Cornerstone Retaining Walls, Inc. is located in Evergreen, CO.  You can get more information at or call Clint at 303-564-4175.

Tips on Hiring a Retaining Wall or Landscape Contractor

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

© Clint Pino, Cornerstone Retaining Walls, Inc.

Many homeowners prefer to hire an expert for their home improvement projects rather than do it themselves.  And understandably so. They don’t want to waste time and money on something that might not turn out the way they envision.  They want the project done quickly and they want it done right.

At the same time, many people are leery about hiring a contractor.  Often it’s because they’ve had a bad experience with one or have heard horror stories from someone who has.

While there’s no guarantee that you won’t have problems with your contractor, there are some guidelines you can follow that will increase your chances of hiring one who is both honest and trustworthy.

Get it in writing. Make sure that the details of the project are outlined in a contract that is signed by both you and the contractor.  If the scope of work changes while the project is in progress, be sure to get a change order.  The change order should detail the work added or eliminated and specify adjustments to the cost.  Don’t forget to obtain original signed copies of all contracts and change orders.

Insurance matters. Ask to see a copy of their general liability certificate, then call the insurance company and verify coverage.  Contractors without insurance will often do the work for a lower price, but it comes with a risk.  You could end up being financially responsible for any damage the contractor does.

Cheapest isn’t always best. Don’t go with a contractor just because their bid came in the lowest.  Many times a contractor whose bid is significantly lower than the competition will end up taking shortcuts and produce poor quality work in order to increase their profit margin.  Surveys have shown that people who have hired the lowest bidder are most often disappointed with the end result.

Get references. Get at least 3 references and follow up on them.   Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints filed against the company.  If possible, ask to view prior work that they’ve done.

Wait to make the down payment. Many contractors will ask for a down payment in order to pay for your job materials up front.  But homeowners don’t want to fork over money only to risk never seeing the contractor again.  Ask if the down payment can be made once the materials have been delivered and the work begins.  An honest contractor will agree to these terms.

Get a warranty. Get a written warranty that specifies exactly what is covered and what is not.  If you have questions, be sure to get them clarified in writing.

Use caution, do your research, and ask questions.   You’ll then be confidently on your way to hiring a contractor you can trust along with a completed project that will bring you long lasting enjoyment.

5 Advantages of Using Modular Block for Your Retaining Wall

Friday, January 8th, 2010

© Clint Pino, Cornerstone Retaining Walls, Inc.

Most people think of retaining walls as a functional way to retain soil.  In truth, retaining walls have a myriad of uses.  From a visual standpoint, retaining walls add beauty and visual interest.  From a practical standpoint, retaining walls help control erosion and create more usable space.

However, not all retaining walls are created equal.  Modular block retaining walls, also known as segmental retaining walls, have several added advantages over other material, such as natural stone or timber.  Let’s take a look at them.

1. Options, Options, Options

Once upon a time using modular block for your retaining wall meant you had one choice – a uniform gray block that looked like concrete.  Luckily, those days are gone forever.  Retaining wall block now comes in a wide variety of shapes, colors, sizes, textures and patterns.

Modular block can now replicate the beauty of natural stone or duplicate the look of brick or cobblestone.  The creative block designs and patterns can help you achieve almost any look you desire.  Rustic, old world, classic and antique are a few popular styles.

2. Ease of Installation

One of the most highlighted advantages of using modular block is the ease of installation.  Since the blocks are specifically manufactured to fit together, building the wall is often as easy as stacking one block on top of the other.

In comparison, natural stone or rock retaining walls require the time consuming effort of trying to fit random pieces together.  This makes them highly labor-intensive and costly to install.

Another advantage of retaining wall block is that many designs automatically setback when stacked.  (A setback adds a slight inward slant to the wall which helps to reinforce it.  It is also known as the batter of the retaining wall.)  This built-in system eliminates the time and guesswork needed to properly setback rock or natural stone retaining walls.

3. Easily Integrated

Block can be chosen to compliment your other hardscape material such as pavers and brick.  In addition, retaining wall block can be used to create other beautiful landscape features such as planters, steps, pillars and patio enclosures.

4. Environmentally Friendly

Simply stated, retaining wall block is not chemically-treated and will not harm the environment.  Timber, in turn, has lost its popularity due to the chemicals it releases into the ground which can be harmful to the surrounding vegetation.

5. Long Lasting

It’s been said that the Great Wall of China was built utilizing some of the same methods that are used to build segmental retaining walls today.  Therefore, a well-built segmental retaining wall has the potential to last hundreds of years.  Compare this to the average life span of 15 to 20 years for timber retaining walls and it is easy to see why block is the better choice.

Regardless of what material you choose, the use of a solid foundation, appropriate backfill, proper drainage and good compaction will all contribute towards a retaining wall that will be around for you to enjoy for many, many years.

Cornerstone Retaining Walls, Inc. is located in Evergreen, CO.  Paver installation is now offered in addition to retaining wall construction.  View pictures and get more information at or call Clint at 303-564-4175.