Our clients in Norwalk, CT called Neave Group Outdoor Solutions because their concrete block retaining wall in their backyard had collapsed over the winter.
Their property has very steep slopes so it was imperative that the wall be replaced.
After an initial site visit and consultation I considered several different materials for the wall replacement. Natural stone was my first choice but was cost prohibitive because of the client’s budget. I considered several concrete manufactured products but I was attracted to a new product that I had recently seen. It was a manufactured ledge rock made to resemble Northeastern rock outcroppings.
I wanted to create something out of the ordinary so I proposed we install the new ledge stone product called Rosetta Stone. It is a welcome departure from the artificial-look of most manufactured stone. Our client was considering three different landscape companies for the work and the other companies were specifying the usual manufactured products. We wanted to position ourselves with a product that was a little more unique.
Our price was the highest of the three companies coming in at over $35,000 which put us almost $5,000 higher than our competition. I worked with the client and ‘value engineered’ the finished product down to $33,000. Value Engineering is what we call the process of giving our client the landscape they want in the budget they can afford. This typically requires small changes to the original design and/or specified materials.
We submitted the necessary landscape drawings to the Norwalk Building Department for approval. The permitting process was relatively painless, which is not always the case, and we left in high spirits.
Upon starting the project three weeks later, as we began the excavation process, significant amounts of rain immediately disrupted our construction schedule. As we waited for dryer weather the rain continued off and on for two more weeks. Nothing derails a project quite like the weather.
When we were finally able to resume our work again, we hit solid bedrock where the base for the retaining wall was meant to be constructed.
This began a period of anxiety for the client and our company as we could not excavate to a two foot depth as required by the Town to install a gravel base for a 4′ retaining wall.
We debated various solutions and finally decided that we would excavate as much as possible and use steel rebar to pin the wall to the bedrock . This was the best solution because jack hammering the bedrock would mean expenses ranging from $2,500 to $3,500 per day. Dynamiting would be costly (and dangerous!), require special permits, and would introduce the expense and hassle of adding another contractor into the project. I worked with the town to gain approval of this alternate process and they approved the change.
The rebar pinning solution worked well on all areas except two. Including one in which our Project Manager made the decision to curve one corner of the wall instead of making it a 90 degree turn to avoid protruding ledge rock. He made a good decision-but he did so without talking to the client. Clients are naturally sensitive to changes that occur during the project.
These communication issues are the most common problems on a landscape construction job.
This construction project had two goals: First, rebuild the collapsed wall to hold up the slope, and second, expand the backyard so the homeowners would have the maximum amount of yard space for their young children. When the wall was curved, they saw it as a failure to achieve the second goal. After an on-site conference with all parties it was finally agreed that the curved wall was an acceptable solution. It was agreed that the ledge rock would reduce the size of their backyard as much as the curved wall would.
This proved to be our last obstacle of the project. The weather cooperated from that point forward and the project moved to completion. The results achieved the objectives that our clients set out to accomplish.
These are a few examples of the issues that can arise on a landscape construction project. Working through these problems requires good communication skills on the part of all parties. It is very important to maintain the attitude that all problems can be met and overcome with mutual effort. I find that, as in any human relationship, if you are capable of staying positive and talking through each issue as it arises you will end the project with your contractor/client relationship on very solid ground. The final result is worth the effort.