Retaining walls are found across many American homes landscape, where they serve various functions, ranging from purely decorative to protecting your building's foundation from damage. It is estimated that over $4 billion is spent on foundation repair in the US annually. A common cause of foundation damage is soil erosion which can be rescued with retaining walls. Retaining walls help control soil erosion by managing water runoff and preventing flooding. A properly constructed retaining wall will also increase the aesthetic appeal of your sloped landscape, boosting the value of your property by 15% - 20%.
Whether the objective is to protect your foundation, save your landscape from erosion, or improve your curb appeal, the construction of retaining walls is a tedious hardscaping project best left to professionals near you. Qualified retaining wall builders work in compliance with masonry-related industry standards and national safety regulations while helping to achieve all objectives within your budget. The following questions will help you determine the best retaining wall building contractor to hire near you:
Are You a Licensed Retaining Wall Building Contractor?
Retaining wall building contractors are generally required to have a government-issued contractor's license. The specific requirements for obtaining these licenses are usually determined by the licensing board of the state where the contractor intends to work. Note that sometimes, counties and cities within the state may be responsible for coming up with these requirements. This is usually the case in states like Illinois and Missouri. In Michigan, a state license is usually issued for all types of masonry work, and retaining wall building contractors are generally required to obtain a residential builder and maintenance and alteration contractor's license.
In California, retaining wall building contractors are required to obtain a masonry contractor's license if they intend to perform jobs that cost more than $500, labor and materials included. In Arkansas and Hawaii, retaining wall building contractors are exempt from obtaining contractor's licenses for projects that are worth less than $2,000 and $1,000 respectively. In Maryland, retaining wall building is considered a home improvement project, and contractors must obtain a home improvement license for this, while in Oregon, a construction license is required for any type of real property-related construction activity.
You can find out the specific retaining wall building contractors licensing requirements for your state by contacting your local consumer protection agency. Make sure that your retaining wall building contractor meets these requirements. You can also call the licensing agency to authenticate your retaining wall building contractor's professional license.
Are You a Bonded and Insured Retaining Wall Building Contractor?
Insurance and bonding are important factors to consider when you want to hire a retaining wall building contractor. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses and 5,333 fatal workplace injuries were recorded in 2019, with the construction industry accounting for 20% of these workplace fatalities. Hiring a retaining wall building contractor near you that is neither insured nor bonded leaves you exposed to financial liabilities like getting sued if a work-related injury occurs and lack of compensation if your project is not properly completed.
Ask for copies of your contractor's insurance and bonding certificates and contact the organizations that issued them to verify their validity. Make sure that the insurance premiums are paid up and that the insurance plan includes general liability and workers' compensation coverage at the very least. You can also contact your local consumer protection agency to find out whether your state of residence has any mandatory bonding requirements for retaining wall building contractors.
What Kind of Work Are You Specialized In?
Before you build a retaining wall, you have to consider the following factors:
- The type of soil on your property
- The intended location and function of the retaining wall
These factors determine the type of retaining wall that will be best suited for your property, and the type of material that can be used for building it. The most common types of retaining walls are listed below:
- Gravity Retaining Wall â€“ this type of retaining wall uses its sheer weight and mass to hold back soil or any other materials. It is the most basic type of retaining wall and can be built using a wide variety of materials which include pavers, bricks, unmortared stones, and dry-stacked stones
- Cantilevered Retaining Wall â€“ These types of retaining walls typically have steel bars run through them, and they are sometimes referred to as reinforced retaining walls. Cantilevered retaining walls are generally attached to a slab foundation in the form of an â€œLâ€ shape. This slab goes under the soil, and the weight of this soil holds it down, thereby preventing the retaining wall from tipping forward and falling. Additional vertical wings can also be added to the retaining wall's foundation slab to provide extra strength and rigidity. Cantilevered retaining walls are typically used for commercial buildings
- Anchored Retaining Wall â€“ this type of retaining wall uses anchors attached to it by cables that are then driven into the earth to support its weight. Anchored retaining walls can be used to provide additional support to the other types of retaining walls
- Sheet Piling Retaining Wall â€“this type of retaining wall is typically used in situations where space is an issue, and it basically involves driving a thin wall made from materials like steel, wood, or vinyl directly into the ground. Sheet piling retaining walls can only be used in areas that have soft soil
Always find out the type of retaining wall that your contractor is specialized in building and make sure that this type of retaining wall will perform the functions you require from it. Even though many professional retaining wall building contractors near you are generally capable of building all types of retaining walls, you should always get confirmation on this from your contractor.
Who Will Do the Work?
Always make sure that your retaining wall building contractor informs you of the exact number of workers that will be involved in building your retaining wall, including any apprentices or subcontractors. This way, you can ensure that everyone involved in the project is properly licensed, insured, and bonded per the requirements of your state of residence. It is also a good idea to find out from your retaining wall building contractor whether the involvement of any additional workers will have any effect on your bill.
Do You Offer a Warranty?
A warranty is a guarantee that the provider of a good or service offers to the person that pays for this good or service. Professional retaining wall building contractors near you would typically offer their clients a type of warranty known as a workmanship warranty. The specific name that this warranty is referred to may vary by the contractor, but it usually covers the cost of any building defects in the retaining wall for a specified period.
Warranties can be offered orally, in writing, and they can also be implied. Regardless of how they are offered, these warranties are usually legally enforceable, therefore, it is always a good idea to request a written copy of any warranty that you are offered. This way, the warranty's terms and conditions, as well as the circumstances under which the warranty can be voided, are stated clearly.
Will This Job Require a Permit?
One reason why you should always hire a professional contractor when you want to build a retaining wall is that these contractors generally know the permit requirements for different types of projects. A permit is an official government approval that you must obtain before you can carry out a home improvement project that will significantly alter the footprint of your home. Permits are typically required for retaining walls that exceed a particular height, and this height varies by location. For example, in Seattle, Washington, you do not need to obtain a permit to build a retaining wall that will not exceed four feet, while in Branford, Connecticut, no permit is needed as long as the retaining wall is less than three feet.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a permit is not required for any retaining wall that is not higher than two feet measured from the lowest level of grade to the top of the wall where no surcharge is supported, as long as the retaining wall does not impound certain types of liquids. In National City, California, a retaining wall building permit will not be required provided that the retaining wall does not exceed three feet, does not have any vehicular loading present, and has a level backfill.
Note that any professional retaining wall building contractor near you would know the specific permit requirements for your locality. However, you may also contact your city's building department to confirm this information for yourself.
Will You Provide References?
You should always ask the retaining wall building contractor that you intend to hire to provide you with references. According to the Federal Trade Commission, any credible contractor should be able to provide you with no less than three references. Contact these individuals and find out what they think about the contractor. If you feel that their opinions may be biased, you can also utilize the services of third-party websites like Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Google Review to get opinions and reviews of clients near you online on your retaining wall building contractor.
Do You Have a Business License?
In the United States, any business that has less than 500 employees is considered a small business. Many retaining wall building contractors are either employed by or own businesses that belong to this category. These businesses are typically required to obtain a business license that allows them to operate in a specified area.
You should always make sure that the retaining wall building contractor you intend to hire has a valid business license and is therefore authorized to conduct business in your locality. You can contact the Office of the Secretary of State for your state of residence to find out the specific business license requirements for retaining wall building contractors in your locality. This office can also help you authenticate any business licenses that contractors may present to you as theirs.Â
What Are Common Retaining Wall Problems?
Some common problems that can lead to your retaining wall failing are:
- Inadequate drainage
- Inadequate footing
- Improper soil and global stability analysis
- Foundation issues
- Unanticipated loads
- Subpar construction
- Saturated backfill
- Improper reinforcement placement
How Much Does Building a Retaining Wall Cost?
The average cost of building a retaining wall in the United States is $15 - $30 per square foot. The total amount of money you will end up paying depends on the type of material used and the size of the retaining wall. Some common retaining wall building cost estimates are listed below:
Cost estimates by type of building materials per square foot:
Cost estimates by type of retaining wall per square foot:
What Are the Factors That Affect the Cost of Building a Retaining Wall?
The cost of building a retaining wall is affected by the following factors:
- The type of materials used for the retaining wall
- The height and length of the retaining wall
- The intended location of the retaining wall (this includes the cost of clearing/preparing the area for building)
- The labor-intensity of the job
What Qualifications Should Retaining Wall Building Contractors Have?
Although retaining wall building contractors generally learn on the job by working with more experienced contractors, many of them typically have high school certificates or an educational equivalent. Some of these retaining wall building contractors also attend technical schools where they study masonry-related courses. Professional retaining wall building contractors can also obtain certifications from masonry-related trade associations like the Mason Contractors Association of America.
Do You Need a Handyman or a Retaining Wall Building Contractor?
Building a retaining wall is a task that requires the right skills and equipment, and handymen do not have these. Handymen are neither trained to know the types of retaining walls that work best with different types of soils, nor are they trained to understand the impact factors like soil and drainage can have on the wall. On the other hand, any professional retaining wall building contractor near you is trained to consider all these factors and more. Therefore, you should always employ a professional retaining wall building contractor if you want your retaining wall to be properly constructed, safe, and effective.
What Are the Common Post Retaining Wall Building Expenses?
After building your retaining wall, you may wish to carry out certain enhancement and improvement actions on the wall. The most common of these are cleaning, sealing, waterproofing, and painting. Cleaning, sealing, and waterproofing will cost you an average of $5 - $10 per square foot, while painting will cost you an average of $2 - $5 per square foot. It is advisable that you find out whether your retaining wall building contractor offers these services or can recommend other professional contractors that do. Note, hiring consultants near you help reduce cost due to limited travel expenses on repeated visits.
Does Homeowner Insurance Cover Retaining Wall Building Expenses?
Homeowner's insurance is a type of insurance that covers damages to your home and property. It is estimated that property damage caused by fire, wind, hail, lightning, water, freezing, and theft was responsible for more than 95% of the homeowners' insurance claims filed annually in the United States from 2014 to 2018.
Many homeowners' insurance policies classify retaining walls as detached or other structures, and these types of structures are typically covered for up to 10% of your policy's dwelling coverage limit. However, the types of retaining wall damages that a homeowner's insurance policy will cover are usually not as extensive as the damages that the same policy will cover concerning your home itself. For example, some homeowners' insurance policies do not cover damages to retaining walls that are caused by water.
In some cases, a homeowner's insurance policy will explicitly state that it does not cover any types of damage to retaining walls. Therefore, it is important that you properly study and understand the fine print of a homeowner's insurance policy before you pay for one. Make sure that the policy clearly states the types of damages to your retaining wall that it will cover, and the amount of coverage that it will provide.
Can I Use Digital Payment to Pay My Retaining Wall Building Contractor?
More and more small businesses in the United States, including retaining wall building contractors near you, are willing to accept digital payments these days. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a decreased use of physical payment methods like cash, checks, and money orders to curb the spread of the virus. Digital payments also have the advantage of making transactions more transparent, faster, and easier to conduct. Notwithstanding all of this, it is always a good idea to make sure that your retaining wall building contractor is open to being paid via digital methods. If your contractor prefers cash, checks, or money orders, then you should insist on collecting a receipt for each transaction.