Sunday, September 29, 2019

Finishing the Front Yard Retaining Wall

Having established that we have enough stone for the Front Retaining wall, and gotten a reasonable image of what it will look like, we now have to take it all apart, and put it back together with mortar holding it in place.

I could do that myself, but I'm not certain that my skills extend this far.  We want it to be level, and straight.  The steps should slope slightly so that water will run down the steps, not sit on them or pool at the back of a step.  And we want each course of stone to be offset from the previous one, to form a "stair step" effect, so that it does not look as imposing.  I can understand how to do the offset, but after a course or two, it seems the center of gravity of the wall will not be over the stone.  I can shovel dirt behind it, as I go, to keep it from falling over, but I'm not sure if that is the best solution.  How are stair-step walls done?

So, given the amount of work necessary to get this far, and that this will be a major feature of the front yard, which every ones sees as they come in the house, I figured I should look at getting someone else, a professional, to do it.

Basilio Ramirez (512-293-0886) of Ramirez Concrete Work & More was recommended to me.  He came out on Wednesday to look at and discuss the project, had an estimate by Thursday, and could start by Saturday.  $1650.

On Saturday, Basilio showed up with Jorge, and a pickup truck of sand and masonry cement.  They mixed the sand and cement in a wheelbarrow to make mortar.  They were very comfortable with the mortar, and had lots of time to work with it.  They first took the walls apart, then put wet trails of mortar down the middle 1/3 of the cement support for the wall, placing the stones on top of that and positioning them.  Then the same for the next level, and the next. 

If there was a problem (at one point there was a vertical joint between two blocks that was over another vertical joint), the blocks could be removed, the old mortar scraped off (and by "old", I mean 5 minutes or so), put back in the wheelbarrow with the other mortar, mixed a little, and then more mortar was applied and the stones re-laid, in a different order to shift the vertical joint.


They kept at this, stone block after stone block, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mortar, until all the stones were set in place.  Then, effectively for cosmetic reasons, on the outside of the wall, they went back and put mortar in the vertical joints, and filled out the horizontal ones to match the front of the blocks.  After this "icing" was applied in all the joints, they used a wooden-handled wire brush to smooth the mortar off and clean up the joints.  Using the wooden handle to sort of shape and smooth things, and the the wire brush to clean off any extra.



 They didn't bother with the inside of the wall, since it was going to be filled and covered with dirt -- no one will see it.  Other than the top course of stone; they did do the top course on both sides.



That was it.  They got there around 7:00 AM, and were done by 2:00 PM.

I checked on Sunday, and the mortar seems very hard.  On Monday, I will start to move dirt from the mound that I have from the trench back to fill up the retaining wall.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Roughing in the Front Yard Retaining Wall

We completed pouring a cement base to put the retaining wall on.  That lets us stack the stones on the base to see how things will look.  Along the sidewalk, for example, we have:



This extends up along the sidewalk until it disappears into the ground.  All the while it is flat and level, while the ground raises up to the street.



At the same time, it extends from the sidewalk, in front of the house over to the partition wall.



This part of the wall starts 4 stones up on the left near the door (so about 24 inches tall), slowly sinking into the ground until it meets the partition wall at the same level, only 2 stones (12 inches) tall.



The main exception to this smooth flow is in the section next to the sidewalk.  Part way down, we want to build a stairway that goes from the sidewalk up to the level that the dirt will be behind the retaining wall.  We need a new base for that stairway.



This is a bit hard to visualize.  The stairs themselves will be the longest 6x6 blocks we have -- those from 26 inches and up.  These stairs will need support to hold them up.   We do that by providing two sets of blocks running perpendicular to the stairs.


The stairs then bridge from one set of blocks to the other.







 In addition, we need a "box" around the stairs to keep the dirt that will be brought in from falling onto the stairs from the sides. 



So this appears to be two separate structures -- a box to hold the dirt back, and in that the stairway.


 This completes the rough work for this retaining wall.  We have the concrete base.  We have the blocks, for both the two sections of the wall and the stairway.  This shows that we have enough stone.  Now we need to take it all apart, and put it back together, with mortar holding it in place.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Preparation for the Front Yard Retaining Wall

The Front Yard Retaining Wall is designed to start next to the sidewalk and then continue across the yard to the partition wall that separates our front yard from the neighbors.  It varies in height, being taller near the front door and then gradually lowering to meet the partition wall as it moves across the yard.  With the base prepared by the partition wall, we need to continue the base for it across the yard.

Starting near the trench, where the wall base has already been created, we need to move across the yard.  There is currently a low garden bed wall separating the yard from the bed in front of the house.


We will remove this short wall and dig down to prepare it for the new larger wall.  The new wall is constructed of 6x6 limestone blocks.

So first we remove the existing wall.



We remove it up to the sidewalk, and then turn and dig out a new section along the sidewalk, towards the street.



The wall has two sections -- along the sidewalk and from the sidewalk across the yard.

The section along the sidewalk is to be flat and level.  So as the ground rises towards the street, the wall continues straight ahead and "dives" into the rising ground, so that the top is always level.  That means that the corner near the door will be higher (more levels of stone) than the end nearer the street, where the wall becomes flush with the dirt and "disappears" into it.  The first course of stone work is mostly below ground level near the street, and continues flat for only 10 or 12 feet before it is so far below ground to be invisible.

So the height at the corner defines the height of the entire wall.  We start by pouring a concrete base at the corner itself.



and then extend that, level, down the sidewalk until it needs to be stepped up.  Once that dries, we can then stack 6x6 blocks on it, to see how the wall will look.



Notice, for example, that a couple yards from the beginning, we want to put a set of stone stairs that will lead up to the new yard level, the level of the dirt that will be behind the retaining wall.

For all of this, we need a bunch of 6x6 limestone blocks.  We buy 2 pallets of them from Whittlessey Landscape Supplies, and have it delivered.  This costs $664,31 for 7438 pounds of stone.


We first need to see what we have.  Unpacking the pallets, we have 43 blocks that are 24 inches long or more.



Four of these broke/fractured on the pallet.

Another 56 blocks are between 16 inches and 24 inches in length.



And then there were 13 short blocks, of less than 15 inches in length.

We also needed more concrete, for the base to put the stones on.  That will all be below ground and not visible.  We bought 10 60-pound bags the first trip and another 12 bags on another trip.

Plus we will need mortar to hold the blocks in place.  These blocks are actually big enough (6x6) and heavy enough (a 24 inch block weighs 72 pounds) that they can be used as "dry stack", where they are just piled on top of one another without mortar.  But we want to offset each course slightly to create a slight stair-step appearance, so we will mortar each course in place.  We want a white mortar, to match the white color of the limestone.  There is no white mortar in the cement/mortar aisle at Home Depot -- apparently "real" workers make it up from scratch from White Masonry Cement and white sand -- but there is white mortar -- made with white cement and white sand -- in another aisle, for glass blocks: Glass Block Mortar Mix (50 pounds).  We will use that.