Why no two retaining walls are alike

Offering reliable landscaping services to homeowners in British Columbia since 2013

Picture of Natasha Maerz

Natasha Maerz

Owner/Office Manager

When it comes to having any home renovations done, whether it is inside your home our outdoors, each contractor is going to give your project a different end result.

Back 40 Landscaping knows this because we are retaining wall experts, being in the business for over eight years. We are trained and certified Allan Block wall installers, and have built every type of retaining wall you can think of.

You might be thinking that the majority of a construction project needs to be the same. Let’s say you are getting a new lawn put in. This is a “simple” project and doesn’t involve that many steps to complete.

One contractor may scrape your old grass and a couple inches of dirt, while the other gets rid of 4 inches and brings in new top soil so that your yard has better drainage. One contractor may lay sod, while the other lays seed. The ways that a “simple” project can be done are endless, and only increase when the project is a large one.

Construction type jobs are looked at as a commodity (people think that they are done the same way regardless of who does them), while in reality they are anything but. When you go buy a T.V it is going to be the same (as long as you stick to the exact same model and brand) whether you buy it from best buy or Walmart. You might get lucky and find that Walmart has a deal going on for that T.V, and you save money on the exact same thing you would have spent more on at best buy.

Home projects that have a company coming in to do the work do not work like this.

To help you better understand why construction jobs are not commodity based, we are going to be using an Allan Block retaining wall as the example.

Contractor A and Contractor B will be using the exact same concrete Allan Block to build the wall, and the wall will be the same length and height.


Contractor A


  • The wall build gets started. You are sure that your contractor can build your retaining wall, but are unaware if they have any training or certificates to back that up.


  • Contractor A’s crew are smoking and swearing on site, and they showed up an hour late. The owner, and the person you have been speaking to this entire process, is not on site, and you have no idea who is in charge, or what anyone’s name is. You notice new people coming in and out your yard all week.


  • The retaining wall trench is getting dug by hand and wheel barrows are being used to get the soil out of your backyard and onto the street. You notice that your grass is getting eaten up by them coming in and out of your yard, and you are wondering what it is going to look like when they are done. A huge pile of soil is being put on the road, blocking your entry to your driveway.


  • It seems like your trench is not very deep, and the crew is tired of digging by hand.


  • Your neighbors come and complain to you that the street is messy and the crews’ cars are in their way.


  • The project seems to be getting done quickly, and blocks are being slapped down at a rapid pace. The wall seems a little wavy and uneven.


  • The soil that was dug up for the retaining wall trench is used as backfill for the wall. No drainage pipe or fabric is being used behind the wall.


  • When the project is done and the crew leaves, you notice that your wall is not looking that straight, and the heavy soil that was used to backfill the wall is already pushing your wall over. Your road is messy, and now you are going to have to spend days cleaning up and reseeding your yard.


  • In a couple of months, you notice that your wall is failing. When you call the company, they ignore your calls and you are nervous about what will happen when the wall fails. You wish that you had done your research and not just compared price when it came to getting your wall done. Now you need to get your wall redone, and will be paying double or triple of what you originally paid for the wall to get done in the first place.



Contractor B


  • Contractor B shows up to your site on time, and has already prepared you for what to expect during the project. The entire crew along with the owner do a site walkthrough with you and your partner, and talk about any concerns you have so that everyone is on the same page.


  • While equipment is being unloaded, one member of the crew is leaving a door hanger with information for all of your neighbors, letting them know to contact them if they need anything, such as cutting down the noise or moving equipment.


  • Another member of the crew is laying down plywood to protect the grass and surrounding areas.


  • The entire crew is dressed appropriately, are polite and you feel like you already know them because you watched their bio videos on the company’s website.


  • You saw that each member of the crew is trained and certified by Allan Block themselves, and that all of their walls get approved by Allan Block.


  • Machines are brought in to dig your trench, and track dumpers are used to get the excavated soil from the backyard to the front. In a little while a dump truck will come and pick up the soil, and the crew sweeps the road after It leaves so that the street is clean for your neighbours.


  • Your trench looks like it is dug to the correct depth.


  • When it is time for the retaining wall to be based, the crew uses a laser level and a string-line to ensure that the base is perfectly straight, giving you peace of mind that the wall is going to be wave free.



  • The soil that was dug up for the retaining wall trench is hauled away, and gravel is brought in as backfill for the wall. You see that fabric is placed, along with a drainage pipe. Your contractor explains that the gravel acts as drainage as well as the pipe, ensuring that water will drain away from your wall, instead of pushing up against the wall and causing it to fail.


  • The wall is then compacted so that all the gravel is tight behind your wall and will your wall will not sink.


  • On the last day of the project, you and the owner go through the entire site to go over the job. Any questions or concerns are dealt with. While you are walking through the site, the other crew members are cleaning the street, picking up the plywood and raking your grass. Other than having your new retaining wall, it looks like no one was there. You can relax!


  • Your contractor contacts you 3 days, 3 weeks and 3 months after your project to ensure that everything is still going well. If you email or call them, they answer you, and your wall is looking just as good as the day that you got it done.


As you can see there are huge differences in how Contractor A and Contractor B not only build their retaining wall, but how they communicated with the homeowner, used different equipment, and had a completely different crew.

The purpose of comparing the two contractors is simply to show that you cannot compare the same retaining wall build through estimates, and that no two walls will ever be built the same. As a homeowner it is imperative to do your research before hiring a contractor to do a project for you.