Retaining walls are expensive, yo.

It’s Halloween, dear readers, and we’re signing on the dotted line for the replacement of our retaining wall. Let’s back up a second. It’s been a while, and I think we need to ease into a re-introduction to your favourite homeowners.

When you last had an update from us, we gave you the final run-down of our bathroom reno. It’s been a solid 6 months with our new bathroom, and it’s holding up well. We’ve received a few comments from readers asking about how the bathtub in particular is doing, and we’re seeing no signs of wear or damage. The tub looks as good today as she did the day she went in. Our cleaning routine is pretty simple, and involves a quick scrubbadub with Comet and a sponge.

The shiny new factor is starting to wear off on the bathroom, and it just seems like the place I go to do my dirty sinful business everyday. The magic has faded, but I guess that’s true of any new thing you bring into your life.

In sad news, about a month after our last post, our dear sweet Oscar (the dog) died. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and within a few weeks his health had deteriorated greatly and he was euthanized on March 21. I think about him every single day, and we were deeply sad for a long time.

Our summer was spent not doing a whole heck of a lot on the house, and I will be the first to admit we were pretty lax on the general maintenance of the yard this summer. We bought a free-standing hammock and planted a tree in the backyard though, so we’re taking steps to make this space more appealing to us. The yard is still kind of blah, but we’re about to make a dramatic change to that…

Enter: the retaining wall. I can’t even recall if I’ve ever mentioned the retaining wall in a previous post. It’s been a looming thing since we bought the house in 2013, when we saw that the wall was already in need of some TLC. We knew what we were getting into (kind of), and the time has finally run out in the sand-timer of our retaining wall.

Here’s the wall in question:

My pride and joy

This picture is from Christmas time (duh), but you can see some of the issues I’m about to describe.

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You might think it’s just the rotting wooden fence on top of the wall that’s the problem. Oh no, sir. It’s the whole thing.

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Look at the lean on that wall! The wall is failing. It’s made of wood. There’s zero drainage in the wall, so years (decades?) of water run-off have been pushing on the wood from the driveway side, and the whole shebang is slowly falling into the neighbour’s yard.

dsc05235

The concrete driveway is pulling apart and coming with it too. That crack in the middle of the driveway should be quite thin, and it’s been widening and shifting in the last three years.

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Every time I pull into the driveway, I look at that fence sitting on top of the wall, and I wonder how much longer it has before the whole thing topples over. Is it one squirrel saunter away from collapse? Maybe?

The retaining wall continues beyond the concrete driveway, along the backyard. During the summer months, there are lovely ferns that completely hide that fact that there’s a 1.5 foot drop between our yard and the neighbour’s wooden fence.

It makes me uneasy, it’s unsightly, and I worry about the bigger hassle that will come if it one day falls away from the driveway (or takes the driveway with it…).

OK, so what’s a responsible homeowner to do? Why, replace the whole thing, of course!

One day off I had in September, I struck up the urge to start researching what we could actually do to replace the wall. I spent an afternoon researching all the companies that popped up when I googled “driveway retaining wall Cambridge”. I knew that the job might be more substantial than your typical retaining wall project because it would need to support a driveway and cars parked on top of it.It’s also obscenely long. The retaining wall runs the length of our property. I don’t own a measuring tape that can give me an accurate length of the wall, but my one-foot-in-front-of-the-other measuring method revealed that the driveway is about 70 feet long. Plus the length of the backyard. Yikes.

My general research on the topic of retaining walls told me that they are priced by the foot (double yikes), and depend very much on the depth and height of the wall, and the chosen material. So, how long is a piece of string? I learned nothing helpful in my general searching.

I made a short list of construction/landscaping companies that specifically mentioned retaining walls on their websites. Also, as a tech-savvy millenial, if a company didn’t have a website, I didn’t even consider them. #sorrynotsorry

I narrowed things down to five companies to contact, based on google reviews, general website information, and the “About Us” blurb on their websites. Here are the folks I contacted one afternoon in September, when I struck up the nerve to talk about a great big expensive home renovation:

  • On The Mark Building
  • Concrete Landscapes
  • Helmutz
  • Romar Construction
  • Kerr and Kerr Landscaping

I’m picky about lots of things in life, readers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I feel like it’s my gut feeling rearing its head and keeping me from making dumb choices. The first company I called, On The Mark Building, gave me a weird feeling from their voicemail message. It was clearly someone’s personal cell phone, and it didn’t strike me as professional. I chose not to leave a message.

Romar and Concrete Landscapes had much more professional sounding voicemail messages, and I happily left a general message asking for someone to call me back to discuss an estimate for a retaining wall. I never heard back from either of them.

Kerr and Kerr answered the phone, and I spoke to a lovely receptionist who took down all my information and made arrangements right then and there for an estimator to come out and take a look at our wall the next day. Point for you, sir.

Helmutz also answered the phone, and the receptionist was equally helpful. He took down my information, and let me know that it would be a week or two before someone could come out to see the wall. Sure. Sounds fine, and I appreciate that you’re not over-promising.

We met with Dave from Kerr and Kerr the next day after work, and he spent a good solid half hour at our house answering questions and discussing our needs. On the topic of needs, one of our concerns with this project is working with the neighbours. Our neighbours on the other side of the wall are….particular. They like things a certain way, and they aren’t shy about telling us so. I pulled up my big girl pants while Dave was taking measurements of the existing wall, and I went next door to chat with them. I invited them out to meet with the estimator and voice their concerns. Dave was great with them, and reassured them that they would move their garden plants aside while the work was being done, and then put them back afterward. The construction would take place entirely on our side, and only cross onto their property about 1.5 feet. Phew!

Kerr and Kerr took a few weeks to get back to us with a formal estimate, but they were in contact with us to let us know it would be a few more days. Point again, I appreciate being kept in the loop.

Another name entered the ring after my initial calls, Country Boy Services, on recommendation of Simon. Simon has high standards, so they must be good! A gentleman from Country Boy came out one night while I was stuck in the worst traffic on my way home from work, so Dan was the one who met with him. He said he would send an estimate to Dan. It’s been a month and we haven’t heard anything back.

Meanwhile, Helmutz called back and made an appointment to view the wall. Frank stopped by one afternoon and chatted with me about his recommendations, took his measurements, and sent me an estimate the next business day. Considering it took Kerr three weeks to send an estimate, it made me suspicious about why it was so quick, and why Kerr took so long. Was Kerr overwhelmingly busy and didn’t spend a lot of time on estimates? Was Helmutz NOT busy, or did they have someone dedicated to churning out estimates? The numbers from Kerr and Helmutz were similar, but the estimate from Kerr was much more detailed. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!

We had originally asked for an estimate to replace the entire retaining wall, curb to back of property. The driveway portion is about 70 feet long, and the backyard portion is another 30 feet, but it only holds back grass and it isn’t as high. The estimate from Kerr and Kerr was a little terrifying for all 100 feet of retaining wall. Ready to wet yourself from money shock?

$24,000.

Plus tax.

Barf.

BUT, another point in Kerr’s favour here, Dave came out to our house to present the estimate, so we had the chance to talk to him and ask questions about how we could bring the cost down. We asked if we could hold off on the backyard section, and he said this part of the wall looked fine, and wasn’t failing like the driveway part. He was happy to revise the estimate to reflect only the driveway portion of the wall, and reassured us that the demolition and general construction costs outlined on his estimate would be reduced by about half.

The revised estimate from Kerr was $15,085 + HST. Much better.

The estimate from Helmutz was $14,004, taxes in.

Dan hates me for this, but I rarely go for the cheapest price for anything. I want quality work. I want a company I’m happy working with. I want Good and Fast, and I don’t need it to be Cheap.

I’m also not a sucker. I called Kerr back and asked how we can shave a bit off of the estimate to keep us on budget. I was not pushy or aggressive, because the last thing I want is to aggravate the contractor and have him peg me as a bothersome client who is always whining about the price. I respect that quality work costs money, so I asked if there were things we could remove from the estimate. His response was that removing anything from the estimate would compromise what they do, and I was totally satisfied with that answer. I will pay for quality. BUT, because I asked, he said he would honour their discount coupon that comes out in January towards our project. Wa-bam!

I was heavily leaning towards Kerr and Kerr because of the great service they had provided up to this point, and taking even a little bit off the price tipped the scales in their favour. I signed the paperwork today and sent it them, and we’ll be putting down a 20% deposit soon to secure the work for the spring.

We’d like to get this done as soon as the ground thaws, which should be mid- to late-April. This gives us the next 6 months to save every penny towards this project. Imagination Christmas at our house this year.

An on a final happy note, we welcomed a new pooch into our home at the beginning of September. Her name is Leeloo Dallas, and she’s a sweet little mutt.

leeloo-hammock-2016

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About joeyandjanice

Two crazy kids trying to make sense of the jumble surrounding making the jump from renting to owning our first home. Join us here as we stumble towards the biggest purchase of our lives.
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2 Responses to Retaining walls are expensive, yo.

  1. Frank Damico says:

    The avg cost is like $6k. At least on this side of town.

    • Thanks for the insight. We received more than one estimate clocking in at close to $15,000 – our wall is 70 feet long and 3 feet high, and it supports the weight of two cars parked on top of it. I believe the price we are paying is fair.

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