Spring missed us in Northern California. In some areas, temperatures have already hit the 90’s and our grass won’t stay green for long. But the lack of spring weather or reasonable temperatures doesn’t mean we can bypass our spring projects. Many of us will still be building our concrete patios or pouring new concrete walkways.
Working with concrete in high summer temperatures can be a real challenge. Excessive heat coupled with low humidity, direct sunlight and wind is the perfect storm for concrete surface cracking. Shrinkage cracks can occur when the surface moisture evaporates too quickly. Hot weather will also cause concrete to lose slump (consistency of the mix) and overall workability, causing the concrete to set too fast. On average, concrete sets up in approximately 4 hours at 80F. An increase of 10 degrees will reduce the set time almost in half. An increase of 20 degrees will reduce set time over 60%! While it may seem logical to add more water when temperatures climb, adding water can have a negative effect on the ultimate strength of your concrete, and can increase the risk of cracking.
Taking the following steps when pouring concrete in hot weather can greatly reduce shrinkage cracking, and improve workability in hot windy and dry conditions.
Always use cool water
Dampen Substrate with cool water prior to concrete placement
Always store bags of concrete in a shady area
If possible, put up wind breaks and sun shades in work area
Start early in the day when ambient temperatures are cooler
Use a product such as Cure and Seal, to prevent moisture loss
Mix only the amount of concrete that allows for the reduced working time in high temperatures
Need more information on pouring concrete? Check out our friends at Concrete Network.
The weather has been unpredictable lately, cold and foggy in the morning to raining and still snowing in some areas at night. It is during these times that Engineers and Contractors drive around to check the retaining walls they designed and/or built, to make sure they are performing as designed. When designing and installing retaining walls, professionals take into consideration potential hazards. The list of potential hazards is extensive but for now we are going to concentrate on TREES.
So, you moved into your new house and want some shade in your backyard, or you want to add some value and luxury to your existing backyard. A beautiful Maple or fast-growing Fruitless Mulberry are just two of the many trees that do well in Northern California. But how close to the retaining wall can you plant this tree? Take into consideration a trees root system when planning out where to plant your tree. A tree will send down a "tap root", which is a root that extends down as far as it can obtain oxygen. Once it has reached that point, it sends out shooter roots that grow horizontally. The myth out there is that the shooter roots will only grow out as far as the canopy extends. While this may be true for some trees, it is not true for most trees. Your best bet is to contact the tree professional at the nursery you are purchasing your tree from, or contact an arborist and consult with them. This is important because over time- if you plant a tree too close to a retaining wall- the potential for the roots to push the wall over is in direct proportion to the height your tree will grow to.
Now don’t get me wrong- there are trees planted close to retaining walls that have been there for years and will probably be there for years to come. But you should have that tree periodically inspected to make sure it is healthy and not pushing on the retaining wall, potentially turning into a problem.
When planting a new tree near a retaining wall, the tree should be a minimum of 2 feet away from the face of the wall plus the diameter of the root ball, i.e. a tree with a 5 five-foot root ball should be planted a minimum of 7 feet away from the face of the retaining wall. While a tree can bring comfort from its shade and beauty from its structure you need to remember to consult with a tree expert or an engineer before planting your tree.
Mike Blumenstein, Basalite Product Manager
After checking out all of the retaining wall block options, you’ve chosen the product that’s right for you. You’ve measured, calculated…and measured and calculated again. You’ve ordered product and planned for the delivery. You’ve purchased all of your tools, glues, aspirin and Bandaids. It’s time to get building!
But there’s still one more step you need to take to ensure your retaining wall project is safe and successful. You must call 811 before you dig!
Whether you are planning to do it yourself or hire a professional, smart digging means calling 811 before each job. Homeowners often make risky assumptions about whether or not they should get their utility lines marked, but every digging job requires a call. Knowing where underground utility lines are buried before each digging project begins helps to prevent injury, expense and penalties. The depth of utility lines may vary, and multiple utility lines may exist in one area. Simple digging jobs can damage utility lines and can disrupt vital services to an entire neighborhood, harm those who dig, and result in expensive fines and repair costs. Marked lines show those who dig the approximate location of underground lines and help prevent undesired consequences.
Call 811 from anywhere in the country a few days prior to digging, and your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Tell the operator where you're planning to dig, what type of work you will be doing and your affected local utilities companies will be notified about your intent to dig. In a few days, they'll send a locator to mark the approximate location of your underground lines, pipes and cables, so you'll know what's below - and be able to dig safely. This is FREE service that could save you a lot of money and headache!
What happens if I don’t call?
Digging without calling can lead to severe consequences including injury to those who dig, costly damages to underground infrastructure (a cut fiber optic cable can cost thousands to repair), utility service disruptions, and embarrassing explanations to your neighbors when they lose their power because you cut a power line!
Remember- always call 811 before you start any digging project. You'll avoid injury, expense, embarrassment - and a very inconvenient day in the dark.
Area specific info regarding FREE 811 service can be found at: http://www.call811.com/state-specific.aspx. If you'd like more information regarding the safety of your retaining wall project, call Basalite at 800-776-6690 or email Basalite.
How many of us have heard the story about the Dad that stayed up until 2:30 in the morning on Christmas Eve putting together all those new toys for his kids? Frustrated and tired, he slowly sulks off to bed only to be woken up 3 hours later by screaming kids excited to play with their NEW Toys. Can you imagine if he tried to build those toys without directions?
It’s similar with building a retaining wall. Would you attempt to build a wall without some direction? Where would you start, what block would you use, do you need geogrid or not, is this going to be a terraced wall? First, take the time to evaluate whether or not you need an Engineer to help you. Let’s look at some pointers to help:
How tall is your wall?
Most municipalities require a building permit and
a design from a Licensed Engineer if your wall is taller than 4 feet high (measured from the bottom of the first block to the top of the last block).
Will your retaining wall be terraced?
A terraced wall can be tricky to build. There are a set of rules to follow. A general rule of thumb- if your two walls when constructed are taller than 4 feet, you should contact a Licensed Engineer for his advice and a design.
Will you be parking cars, motor homes, trailers or other vehicles on the top?
If the chance exist that you might be parking a heavy object on top of the wall, it is a good idea that you consult with a Licensed Engineer and get his recommendations, vehicle-parking, slabs-snow loads place a large strain on a retaining wall. Wall problems may not show up until the wet season starts, so consulting with a Licensed Engineer will help put a plan together to reduce your chance of problems.
Will there be a slope at the top of the retaining wall?
If there is a slope at the top of the wall (California’s maximum is 2:1), then you will need the assistance of a Licensed Engineer. They will evaluate the surcharge that will be placed on the retaining wall, and verify if a design is necessary.
While this list is not 100% complete it is meant to help you in deciding whether or not you need to consult with a Licensed Engineer. When designed and constructed according to the plans, your retaining wall will be a thing of beauty, increase your useable property, and become the envy of the neighborhood.
There is nothing more romantic or relaxing than sitting in your private backyard oasis in front of a crackling fire. The latest trend in backyard retreats now includes a fireplace or fire pit
to enhance your outdoor experience. These fireplaces can be ostentatious or simple; they can range from a small stone or concrete circle, to a grand tower with glass doors and a place to stack fire wood. The type and style you choose depends on your backyard size, you’re budget and your personal preferences.
While there are numerous backyard fireplaces and fire pits available for you to choose from, the most common is a fire pit built on level ground. These are normally constructed from stones, metal or from pre-manufactured retaining wall block. There are other styles of free-standing fireplaces that incorporate the use of a firebox insert and metal flues, however, these are more difficult to construct and require a level of skill that the average homeowner typically does not have.
The type of fuel used in your outdoor fireplace will depend on your preference, availability, and local ordinances. Most people prefer a crackling wood fire. The heat that the wood gives off and the moving flames can make for a magical evening. However, you may not want to deal with purchasing wood, stacking it on the side of the house and dealing with the insects or creatures that can take up residence in wood piles. I know my wife and kids won’t pull wood out of a wood pile. If that’s your situation, then a natural gas or propane fireplace might be a better choice. These fireplaces are easy to maintain, easy to light, and best of all, extinguishing them is as simple as turning an on/off knob. One area you need to check prior to selecting your fuel type is your local ordinance. Some municipalities do not allow wood to be burned in an outdoor fireplace. Wood may be allowed, however you might want to check the number of “No Burn Nights” that were in your community last year. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to have an outdoor night with the family, only to discover that a no burn ban is in effect.
Most local ordinances have building codes that address backyard fireplaces, the location and proximity to your house, and other important structural regulations. The proximity to your neighbor or placement to you well or septic tank may become an issue. Prior to starting any major construction project at your home, you should always call the local building official and consult with him. In the United States, fireplaces are a major cause of house fires. When dreaming, designing and building your fireplace or fire pit, make sure that you have taken all safety precautions and consider checking with your local fire department for additional safety tips.
There are other things to consider outside of these regulations. For example, ensure that your new fireplace won’t end up blocking a view. If you build it too close to a pool, it could get drenched when the kids are swimming. Looking at your location from multiple spots in your backyard is easier than tearing it down and moving it later.
Still not sure what fireplace or fire pit would be best? Click here to get our e-booklet "How to Choose an Outdoor Fire Feature for Your Backyard". Includes a chart on the pros and cons of different fire features, and helpful tips on making the right choice for you. Happy Building!
Pavers and “The Sand”
I comfortably sit and watch as the sun sets on the land. It casts a shadow over my newly installed paver patio, set in sand. The colors of the pavers look so beautiful when reflected on the horizon.
Oh how I love my pavers set in sand, oh how I love my pavers set in sand. The sand that holds the project together forever and ever and….
So you’re probably laughing right now thinking, “what
is going on? Why is Sand so important that I'm writing
a poem about it?”
Well, what most people don’t realize is that sand is the glue that holds pavers tightly together. Whether constructing a patio with pavers or a driveway, it is important to construct a paver base. This paver base should be a minimum of 4 inches of a class 2 road base (available at a landscape yard), compacted to 95% Standard Proctor Density (or compacted until you are not able to make a dent in the road base with the back of your foot).
After you have compacted your road base sufficiently, you will place a one inch layer of sand on top of the road base, then place the pavers on top of the sand layer. Once the entire project is completed, you will compact the pavers into the sand. This will force the sand up into the grooves between the pavers and “lock” the pavers into place from the bottom side. Once you have completed that step, it is important to finish off the project by sweeping sand into the top grooves of the pavers, completely locking them into place from the top side. Properly constructing your pavers and placing the correct sand into the groves will give you a paver patio, walkway or driveway that will last a lifetime.
Basalite recommends a product called “Seal n Lock”. This material, when applied correctly, will seal the pavers with a natural or high gloss sheen, and will also seal the paver sand into the joints, preventing the sand from migrating out when it rains or when you wash down the patio. You can also use a polymeric sand, however, it is highly recommended that you follow the manufacturer’s recommended installation procedures. Failure to do so could result in a haze over the top of your pavers.
Mike Blumenstein, Basalite Product Manager
Click the image to see Basalite on Yard Crashers!
The addition of a planter box or raised bed container in your garden can add beauty, definition and additional planting opportunities to your landscape, especially in those areas where you'd like to do some gardening but are faced with soil or landscape challenges. Adding a concrete block planter box can be an easy DIY garden project, but there are a few things to consider before forging ahead. Here is a Q&A which will help you with your container gardening project:
Where should I place my planter box?
This is by far the most important item to consider. Determining what will be planted in your raised bed planter box. Will the plants need full sun, partial sun or shade? Choose a location that can meet the needs of your plants. Also consider a spot close to water or, if available, place an existing drip irrigation line through the bottom of the box for automatic watering.
How should I construct the planter box?
Constructing the planter box will start with your location and size. Most planter boxes that are built on flat, level ground are easier to build. If your site is on a hill, then you’re going to have to consider building a terraced planter box from multiple small boxes. A terraced planter box, when done correctly, can be attractive and spacious (check your local building department for maximum wall heights).
What type of material should I backfill my Planter Box with?
Start by placing clean pebbles/rocks or broken planter pots on the bottom of your planter to promote drainage. A good quality organic top soil, purchased from you local landscape yard will help grow large vegetables or beautiful flowers. Fill the planter box almost to the top rim with the top soil, keeping it about 1-2 inches below the rim of the planter box. This will prevent soil from spilling over the top when watering.
What if I have a pest problem, how can I prevent the pests from destroying my work?
If you have gophers or moles, install a wire mesh screen such as chicken wire, on the bottom of the box. this will help keep those pesky critters out. But if your problem is more on the flying side, use a piece of PVC piping and stretch it in a semi circle from one side to the other, to create a frame for bird netting.
What retaining wall block should I use?
Raised bed planter boxes can be constructed using concrete retaining wall blocks, which come in a variety of colors and faces. First, establish the height of your planter box, then look at the maximum heights of the block you've selected. This should be the same height or lower. Basalite offers StoneWall II, Bayfield Series or Artisan Series retaining wall blocks, any of which will accommodate a 2 -3 ft. tall planter box.
Basalite planter boxes are featured on HGTV "Yard Crashers"! Are you ready to build your own planter box? Click here to check out the Yard Crashers video and get step-by-step instructions!
How do I select a qualified contractor?
So, you want to install a concrete retaining wall or paver walkway-patio in your backyard, but you don’t have the knowledge or expertise to be able to do it yourself. It’s easier to hire a contractor than go through the stress and hassle of doing the installation incorrectly and having to look at your mistake every time you go outside to BBQ!
It’s important to interview contractors to find the right person for your paver or retaining wall job. We’ve put together a ten-point check list to help you in the interview process.
1. Check to see if the contractor has a license. It needs to be on the contractor’s website, business card or vehicle placard. In California, the California License Board requires contractors to place their contractor’s number in all advertisements. You should also call 800-321-CSLB (2752). Hire only a State Licensed Contractor.
2. Make sure you get bids from 3 or more contractors. Bids can vary greatly from one contractor to another. Never sign the paperwork until you have researched your options.
3. Ask the contractors to bring with them their portfolio of completed jobs, especially those that are similar to your retaining wall or paver project. Ask the contractor if you can contact any of the owners to see if the job went smoothly and on-time.
4. Make sure all of your expectations are in writing, and only sign when you feel comfortable and understand the contract. Remember if it’s not in writing, your chance of getting it done later may be difficult.
5. Ask for a detailed drawing of the project. Accepting a hand-scratched rough of your patio or retaining wall on a cocktail napkin is way too vague and subject to too many variations. What you want and what the contractor is hearing can often be two different things.
6. Ask the contractor for his proof of Workers Compensation Insurance and a copy of his liability insurance. You don’t want to experience the nightmare that can happen if an employee (independent contractor) gets hurt on your property.
7. You are only required to put down a deposit of 10% or $1000.00. If you are asked for more, it’s a first sign of trouble- don’t do it!
8. Don’t let you payments get ahead of the work. You don’t pay your car mechanic for an oil change before it’s been done- the same applies here. Arrange to make payments after certain project goals have been reached. Do this before work begins.
9. Put together a job file with all of the paperwork. Keep this handy at all times, so that you can refer to it if a question arises.
10. Do not make your final payment until you’re SATISFIED with the job. You can always call the State’s Contractors license board for help.
Have more questions about hiring a contractor for your concrete project? Basalite experts are here to help! click here to access our "contact us" form. Or, use the button below to find available contractors.
To glue or not to glue- that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the wrath of a broken arm….
Ok, so that wasn’t part of the famous Shakespearean quote by Hamlet. But think about this: You just spent countless hours working on a new retaining wall, making sure that the retaining wall blocks are level and stacked correctly, the backfill dirt has been compacted properly, and you’re finally ready to finish it off with caps. You decide that you want a shadow effect, meaning you want the caps to overhang by one inch from the top of the wall. But, you make one big mistake- you don’t glue the caps down. So you’re probably thinking, “these caps are heavy- they’re not going anywhere”. Then, your child-or neighbor’s child- starts to “tightrope” walk across the caps. Precariously, the caps dangle, waiting for the incorrect step and “pow!” the cap slips out from under the child’s footing and he falls four feet to the ground.
So the answer is yes- you definitely want to glue your retaining wall caps. Take the extra minute or so and properly adhere the caps with a good masonry adhesive, to the retaining wall block. You’ll save yourself some heartache, medical bills and time in the emergency room!
Got more questions about your next concrete or retaining wall project? Use the button below and contact Basalite today. We're glad to help make your project a success!
We're asked this question about permitting frequently! The answer depends on where you live and the height of your wall.
If you are installing a new retaining wall or replacing an existing wall, you may need to apply for a building permit. Some local municipalities, like those in California, follow State building codes. These codes require you to obtain engineering and a building permit for retaining walls that are taller than a specified minimum height. You need to check with your local building department for their permit requirements. Call the local code enforcement or building permit division for the correct answer.
You can also call your local authorized Basalite dealer for more information on permitting in your area. Should you need to obtain a permit and are in need of engineering work for your retaining wall, we can help! We’ll provide you with local engineers and/or we can discuss Standardized Engineering, to ensure that your site specific needs are met. For retaining wall, concrete wall, or paver project advice, give our customer service department a call at 800-776-6690.