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How to Install an Interlocking Concrete Paver Driveway

                In St. Louis, MO, where Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. ( is located, I am always amazed as I drive through subdivisions every day and see cracked and broken driveways originally built using concrete or asphalt.  It does not amaze me that 10-20 years ago someone had a driveway in St. Louis installed using concrete or asphalt; it amazes me to see them using those inherently flawed hardscape products today when they have an alternative product to install on their driveway or sidewalks such as interlocking concrete pavers, that when installed correctly have no competition in terms of performance, design flexibility, looks and longevity!  To say that interlocking concrete pavers have no real competition is no exaggeration.  It is a fact!  When the rules of proper concrete paver installation laid out by the ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute on the web at: are followed you can be confident that your driveway will not sink, crack, or encounter any other problems that plague concrete and asphalt driveways in areas of the country like St. Louis, MO, where the freeze thaw cycle is a real consideration, because interlocking concrete pavers have flexibility. Interlocking pavers have the ability to flex with the freeze thaw cycles unlike other rigid driveway products, like concrete, that when subjected to freeze thaw will crack and break. Interlocking concrete pavers are not damaged by the freeze thaw cycle! Interlocking concrete pavers have been used for decades all over the world including countries such as Germany and Canada where the winters tend to be much colder than in St. Louis, and the pavers have shown amazing durability.

 1.  Getting Started on your Do It Yourself (DIY) Interlocking Concrete Paver Driveway      

                The very first thing that you will need to do to get the ball rolling on this interlocking paver driveway project is to check with your local municipality to see if they require a permit for the type of work you will be doing. At this time in St. Louis County, you do not need a permit to install interlocking concrete pavers. Always make sure to check just to make sure before you go tearing out that old concrete driveway. Another important thing to check into is your subdivision rules. If your subdivision has old obsolete rules requiring concrete or asphalt for your driveway replacement do not take no for an answer!  Work to get the rules changed to permit interlocking concrete pavers for your driveway hardscape.  You and your neighbors will be very glad you did.  One last thing to make sure you get done before any excavation of your  old driveway begins is to call in the locates for your utilities! In Missouri we call 1-800-DIG-RITE for our utilities to be marked.

                After the local rules, subdivision rules, and utility locates have been checked and  taken care of, you are now ready to start your interlocking concrete paver driveway project. The first thing you will need to consider is that you will need help! Make sure you have at least 2-3 people lined up who you can count on to help you out during the installation of your driveway paver project. This would be a good time to check into the different equipment rental companies in your  area to compare rates and to make sure the equipment you will need  to install your interlocking concrete driveway will be available when you need it.  Equipment that you will need to check on are a mini excavator, skid loader, laser level, plate compactor and a  vibratory roller. Also, take your time and do your homework on the type of paver you wish to install on your driveway paver project. Pick out a paver pattern to install that you like and are confident you can install yourself. Become a student of each type of paver;  make sure you read the recommended installation procedures  for the type of paver you have chosen to install.

2. How to Choose Your Interlocking Paver Brand, Type, Color, and Pattern

                The choice of what brand, style, color, or pattern to use for your interlocking concrete paver driveway has never been more difficult! Your options in paver products are nearly endless. That is a good thing if you are willing to do some research and study these options There are so many different brands of interlocking pavers you may wish to use. Three of the best of these are Belgard, Romanstone,  and Pavestone. My preference in brand selection here in St. Louis most of the time comes down to Belgard Pavers vs. Romanstone Pavers. They both have very high quality paver products with large selections and styles.  My advice would be to do some shopping around and find out where you can find a Belgard or Romanstone supplier where you live and go look at the products, colors, pricing, and warranty of  the product along with who will give you the most assistance in the form of technical support if you run into a problem in the field. I must note that Pavestone and Bella Stone both seem to have some great products. However, at this point I have not installed with them. Styles of pavers vary widely and you will want to confirm that whatever style of interlocking paver you choose  is approved for use on a driveway. The simplest style of paver to use for you the homeowner wishing to install this driveway yourself is the Holland Paver. The Holland Paver is a great paver for many reasons. It is very common, so all suppliers should have plenty in stock. The Holland paver comes in a wider variety of colors than most any other style of paver. The Holland Paver can be installed with more color blends, more patterns and with very well defined borders; you can mix several color blends of pavers together, or use solid colors to define the edges of your  driveway with a border. The Holland Paver is the most versatile and easiest to use.

                In deciding your color you will need to decide if you want to match or contrast the color of your home. You will need to take into account the optical effects of darker colors that tend to absorb light and make an area seem smaller vs. lighter colors that reflect light and help make an area seem more open. Also, the pattern you choose for your pavers can make an area look larger or smaller. It can also be used in conjunction with paver borders to define an area or lead the eye to a desired place in the hardscape project. The whole process of paver colors, patterns, and even textures can be very complex depending on what you wish to focus on in your design so make sure you do an in depth study of the effects of all your options and custom design the option that will best fit what you want in your new paver driveway.

3. How to Lay Out Your Driveway Paver Project

                To lay out your driveway paver project you will need to ask yourself several questions. What do I need to center off of?  What elevation will I need to maintain? Renting a laser level for this would be a good idea. How much slope do I have figured into this paver  driveway?  My recommendation is to keep the driveway paver layout as simple as possible. On most driveways you will be centered off the garage and you will be maintaining the same slope from the garage to the street as the original driveway. The ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute)  minimum recommended slope for a driveway paver project is 1.5%  or 1/8” per foot drop to allow for proper water runoff.  Make sure to set your driveway slope where the water is flowing away from your home. If you have a driveway where the existing driveway runs down into the garage you will need to make sure to have a proper drain running across the garage entrance to prevent water from flowing into your garage. When laying out the dimensions of your paver driveway make sure to plan on your excavation going beyond the borders of your driveway by a minimum of one foot. This will give you room to compact your  rock base all the way out beyond the edge of the pavers and also provide a strong sub-grade to hammer your paver edging into. Lay out the borders of your paver driveway with metal or wood stakes.  Make sure you offset the stakes at least 1-2’ past your driveway excavation marks so that the stakes do not get dug out during the excavation of the driveway.

4. How to Excavate Your Driveway Paver Project

                Before any driveway excavation begins make sure that all utilities have been marked and that where there are marked utilities in the driveway area make sure you dig these area by hand and be very careful! Now that you are ready for your driveway excavation you will need the right equipment to excavate your driveway. The most important piece of equipment in the excavation of your driveway is a mini excavator. Make sure to get one big enough to do all you need it to. I would suggest two buckets; one with teeth to excavate anything hard or rocky and a 3’ wide smooth bucket for bulk excavation and crumbing out or removing all the loose dirt and unwanted materials from the sub-grade. There are other pieces of equipment that you can use but the mini excavator is very efficient and much easier to operate than almost any other equipment you may choose to use in the excavation of your driveway project. When figuring out how deep to dig for your driveway base, take the depth of your paver, (minimum paver thickness for a driveway is 2 3/8”) add  ½”-1” for your sand and the 1’-2’ for your base rock depending on the type of soil you have for the sub grades, the climate, and the maximum weight and frequency of traffic.  It is crucial to make sure that the soil below the base is solid! Unless you have a good understanding of different soil types and characteristics of the soil you are working with it is my advice to get a soils tech to look at your soils! Get the opinion of a professional! If you have it set up ahead of time they should be able to get out the same day to test your sub soils.  It does not cost much for this service and it will comfort you in the long run to know that your sub soils are good and able to bear the load of your driveway. The soils tech or your engineer will be able to better guide you on your rock base depth after the soil has been tested, so you will need to know the depth of your rock + paver depth + sand to know how deep to dig for your driveway paver project. When it comes to where to dig you will need to lay out the borders of your interlocking concrete paver driveway and dig out at least 1’ beyond the borders. This will provide a solid area to put edge restraint spikes into a solid compacted rock and will also make sure that the edges of your driveway all are supported by a strong, well compacted rock base. One last thing before you start the excavation of your old driveway – you will need to have a hauling company lined up to haul away all the extra dirt and materials you will produce in the excavation of the existing driveway. Make sure to call around, compare haul rates and make sure that you and the hauling contractor have an agreement, preferably in writing, on the amount you will pay per load hauled out and the method of your payment. Have this arranged before your driveway excavation begins and make sure that you have a way to get rid of all the extra material you will have on site during your driveway excavation.. The amount of excavated material will shock you. As a rule of thumb take your length x width x depth for your Square Yard number + 25-30% expansion for clay soils as they get dug up! Another important point to make sure of with the hauling contractor that you chose to hire is that they have a smaller dump truck that will be easier and faster for you to load up.

5. How to Install and Compact Your Base Rock

                If  you have not already brought in a skid loader to speed up the extra dirt being loaded in dump trucks you will need a skid loader now to move the rock in for your driveway base and smooth it out. You will want to make sure that your rock base is a 1-2” minus rock and that it is installed in lifts 4-6” maximum depth. You will also need to make sure that you have several heavy compaction pieces of equipment on site to guarantee that your rock is compacted well enough. Also, before the rock base is installed is the time you would put in a geotextile material if you wish to use one. This material can be either woven or non woven  fabric and is to be placed under the base rock material. The use of a geotextile fabric is optional but has shown to be very effective at preserving the load bearing capacity of the base over a longer period of time than base placed without geotextile fabric. If you use the geotextile material you will need to make sure that it is installed wrinkle free and that as you drive in and out of the driveway area bringing the base rock  in one bucket at a time that you do not turn or drive in a manner to produce wrinkles in the geotextile material. As you are placing your minus rock in for your rock base under your paver driveway you will need to take care not to use any frozen material and that the ground under the rock is not frozen. As you rock in your base rock lifts it would be a good time to have the soil tech come out and test the density and moisture of your base rock compaction. It is very important to get the right compaction in your rock base. There are several types of compaction equipment that you can use for your  driveway paver project such as forward plate, reversible plate, vibratory rollers and maybe even a jumping jack for compacting up close in an area where other compaction equipment cannot work effectively. You should be able to rent these different types of  compactors from the same place where you rent the mini excavator, skid loader ,and laser level.  Making sure that the sub soils are solid and the rock base is placed and compacted correctly is the most vital component to the long term success of your driveway paver project.

6. How to Set Your Bedding Sand For Your Paver Driveway

                It is important to get your base rock exactly where it is supposed to be! When your base rock is perfect it will keep the bedding sand uniform across your driveway.  It is very important that you do not use the sand to fill in low spots on your rock base. The sand should in no case be deeper than 1” maximum depth. We like to get it ½” to ¾”  for our paver bedding sand. You will need to purchase some ¾” PVC pipe to use as rails for your paver driveway bedding sand. The outside diameter of a ¾” PVC pipe is 1”.  If your rock is right on you should be able to just set your rails down on the rock base and place bedding sand around them to hold them in place while you use a straight 2×4 board to drag the bedding sand across the two rails. So, space your rails 7-8 feet apart laying them down on rock base.  Now have sand dumped between the rails with a wheel barrel keeping the piles of sand smaller and easier to move and use as needed.  You will need to knock down any sand piles that will be to hard to drag. You can knock these sand piles down using a rake or shovel. Now you are ready to drag off your sand by placing  the 2×4 across the rails and pulling the sand toward you leaving behind a perfect bedding area to place the pavers onto. You will need a trawl to help fill in the areas where your PVC rails are slid down for the next section of sand to be placed or taken up at the end. To fill in these areas left by the PVC, place some sand with a shovel in the areas to be filled in then use your trawl to smooth it out being very careful to keep this area level with the sand around it. Use this method to place all the sand you think you will be able to cover with pavers that day.

7. How to Start Laying Your Paver Driveway

                Begin to install your interlocking concrete paver driveway one hand set paver at a time. Whenever it is possible you will want to install your pavers moving from the low elevation to the higher elevation. You will also want to make sure you have staged your materials as close as possible and set up the project so that you will be moving needed pavers across the paver driveway as you lay the pavers. You will need to make sure your paver pattern is squared off of whatever object you are placing as your point of reference when installing a straight driveway. Most of the time on a driveway you will square your pattern off the garage or the home. You can use a metal triangle to square your pattern off the house or the 3-4-5- method also works well.  When you have your paver pattern squared off the reference point you will want to set up string lines now to guide your paver installation as you move across the driveway to make sure you are keeping your paver pattern square to the garage or home. Many times you will want to start your paver pattern at the corner of the garage or home and begin to work across the drive and then away from the garage or home. In this case make sure that the first row of pavers coming off the garage or house is straight. Many times people will begin their driveway paver installation by placing the pavers up to the garage concrete just assuming that it is straight and they get messed up in their driveway paver pattern because the garage, house foundation or even a curb or sidewalk may have inconsistencies! These inconsistencies are very slight as a rule and if there are some small ones we need to set the pavers away enough from the foundation to guarantee that they are straight in their pattern. The pavers that are just a little away from the garage or home will be filled in with polymeric sand later and will not be a problem. However, if the paver pattern gets off track it will cause a big problem and a not so nice looking paver driveway. Now as you start to install your driveway  by hand placing paver by paver in the pattern  you have chosen squared off the garage or home you will hear a click sound as you put each paver down. You will use the click and drop method as you install each concrete paver. Use your strings as a guide and gauge to make sure your paver pattern is staying straight. When all your pavers are laid you can use a straight edge or plastic PVC pipe for curves to mark where the end of the boundaries are. Use a mason crayon to mark the edges for your cuts. Now you will need to fire up the concrete saw and begin making the cuts as needed to complete the edges of your paver driveway.  Before you fire up the saw make sure that you have proper safety glasses to protect your eyes, ear protection, and a proper respirator to help protect your lungs. You will need a diamond saw blade on the two cycle saw or wet saw that you are using. If you are cutting in a radius on your driveway install your plastic edge restraints in the curved area and place all your pieces in. Make sure to nail every hole on the edge restraints.  Now all your cuts are complete and in place and it is time to install your remaining edge restraints.

8. How to Install Your Driveway Paver Edge Restraints

                 When installing paver edge restraints it is very important to make sure your plastic edge restraints are strong enough to hold over time. Make sure that you talk with your supplier and read the specs on the edge restraints you use before you install them. One common mistake many people make when installing edge restraints is not clearing off the sand on the rock. Put the flat edge of the edge restraint up to the side of the paver. Make sure that the edge restraint is flat and tight up against the side of the paver and firmly flat on the base rock below. Hold it with your foot and make sure to put a nail in every hole using at least a 2 lb sledgehammer to hammer down the 12” nails. Now that all your edge restraints are installed to hold your driveway pavers in place we can move on to the first plate compactor run over the pavers.

9. First Plate Compactor Run Over New Paver Driveway

                Now you need to use a plate compactor to whack down all the pavers level going from the outside and moving toward the center. You will need ear protection and eye protection to do this so make sure that you have headphones and safety glasses before you start. After you have this done  make sure you look over the driveway for  any pavers that may have been cracked by the plate compactor. In the rare case that you find any cracked pavers replace them before moving on to the next step in your interlocking driveway paver project. Most of the time there will be no cracked pavers but if there are, now is the time to replace them. The process of taking out a cracked paver before the polymeric sand has been applied is easy. Most of the time a flat head screw driver will do the trick. After the paver has been replaced, place a new paver in and make sure it is level with the surface around it by adding a little sand as needed and tapping the paver down gently with a rubber mallet . Now it is time for the final step in  the completion of your interlocking concrete paver driveway.

10. How to Install and Activate Polymeric Sand on Your Paver Driveway Project

                Talk with your supplier about the most effective polymeric sand to use and make sure that you read all of the manufacturer recommended  installation procedures. After the driveway pavers have been compacted without sand on the top now it is time to start putting down the dry polymeric sand and sweeping it in. As you sweep in the polymeric sand make sure that you have a mask to help protect your lungs from the polymeric dust. As you sweep in the polymeric sand into the paver joints in the driveway, first sweep in one direction, let’s say north-south, then sweep in another direction let’s say east-west.  Different directions make sure all the edges are filled in. After you sweep all your polymeric sand in all the joints very well making sure they are all filled to the top, sweep all the extra sand off the pavers. After this take a leaf blower and blow any extra remaining sand off your paver driveway making sure not to blow all the polymeric sand out of the paver joints. Look the driveway over very well one last time making sure all your paver joints are filled. Now it is time to activate the  polymeric sand. It is really important for you to read the directions for the specific product that you are using. Every type of polymeric sand has different ways the manufacturer recommends for the proper activation of their product. It is also very important to have all loose sand off the pavers before you activate them with water. You do not want the polymeric sand to activate on the surface of the pavers. Now that you have activated the polymeric sand and followed the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines for how long to stay off the newly  activated  polymeric sand only one more thing needs to be said.  Congratulations on completing your new interlocking concrete paver driveway!  Be prepared for the jealous neighbors; jealous that you now have the best driveway in the neighborhood!

                One thing that is not needed for your interlocking concrete paver driveway but many people like to use to help protect their interlocking concrete paver driveways, sidewalks, and patios is an interlocking concrete paver sealer. This product will help your pavers stay new looking longer and works very well as long as it is installed correctly. As with every other step in your driveway project I would suggest that you talk with several suppliers, do your research on the different types of sealers and make a choice as to which driveway sealer will work best for you. It is very important that if you do use a driveway sealer that you follow the instructions to the letter. 

                Thank you so much for your time! I hope this hardscape blog has helped you in your decision to install a new interlocking concrete paver driveway. If you have any questions do not hesitate to call us at 314-846-2777 or email us at

How to Build a Structural Retaining Wall

               How to build a structural retaining wall is a question you are interested in or you would not be reading this. You have come to the right place. I am the president of Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. and I have more experience in the design and construction of modular block retaining walls than 99.9 % of the people on the planet. I love what I get to do for a living and it is my pleasure to share my knowledge of retaining wall construction with you.


            If you are going to construct a retaining wall the first thing you will need to find out is what the local municipality building regulations are for the construction of retaining walls in your area. This knowledge will let you know if you need a retaining wall building permit and if so what you will need to do to get that retaining wall building permit. After finding out what the building codes are in your local area make sure to follow those codes in the planning and the building process. In St. Louis County, MO the local retaining wall building code calls for a retaining wall permit on any retaining wall 3’ or taller exposed height and any retaining wall over 6’ exposed height needing to be engineered by a qualified retaining wall engineer. If you are planning to build a structural retaining wall you will need to have that retaining wall engineered to insure that your new retaining wall will be built strong enough to last for as long as it is needed. The engineering for your project will take into account your soil types and the type of pressures that will bear upon the structural retaining wall. It is very important to follow the engineering in the construction of your retaining wall. When you deviate from the retaining wall engineering in the construction of your retaining wall, you make yourself the engineer and therefore make yourself responsible for any problems the retaining wall may encounter. For the engineer to design your retaining wall he or she will need to have some key information. The engineer will need to know the type of retaining wall system you are using, how tall the retaining wall is, what it is retaining, and the location of the retaining wall.


            Now that you have all the boring stuff out of the way, you will need to take inventory of the equipment, tools, and products you will need to make your retaining wall construction project go as easy as possible. It is my recommendation that you get at least one or two other people to help you; most 8” tall retaining wall blocks weigh about 85 lbs each, so it is always nice to have another set of hands to help. Also, having a second person can be a matter of safety if there is another person on site and something unexpected happens, having someone there to help you in an emergency will be priceless. Another thing that I would recommend in your retaining wall construction is a mini excavator to excavate your retaining wall footing and the retaining wall dig out as needed for your geo-grid. Mini excavators can be rented as needed for your retaining wall construction. It is my advice to call around to several equipment rental places to make sure you are getting the best price. Also, it is my advice that you do some research on the piece of equipment you wish to rent to make sure that it will be able to do what you need it to in your retaining wall construction. I also would recommend that you test drive the mini excavator and all equipment you plan to operate around the retaining wall to make sure you know how to operate it well before you begin your excavation.  Another piece of equipment that I recommend is a skid loader. Make sure to rent a skid loader large enough to pick up the weight of a full pallet for the type of stone you are planning to use for your retaining wall. A skid loader will come in very handy for moving large quantities of rock and stone into place as needed. This will speed up your retaining wall installation. When operating equipment like a skid loader and mini excavator it is my recommendation that you make sure to wear proper ear protection. It is not a bad idea to wear safety glasses and when hauling large quantities of minus rock to wear a mask or air filter to prevent breathing in fine rock particles that may blow out of the skid loader bucket into your face. Another crucial piece of equipment that you will need to set up a large structural retaining wall is a laser level, tripod, and pole that will be used to make sure all your retaining wall elevations are on the mark. There are many other smaller tools that will be needed during wall construction:

  • a very good level– I prefer the 3 l.f. long Crick level.
  • a heavy rubber mallet to do your footing and straighten the retaining wall
  • a measuring tape 
  • a hammer
  • 3lb sledge hammer
  • a string line
  • a concrete saw with a diamond blade
  • retaining wall adhesive
  • wooden or metal stakes to hold your string
  • marking paint for layout
  • filter fabric to keep the backfill clean and allow water penetration
  • geo-grid
  • retaining wall blocks
  • lots of rock


            Now that you know what you are going to need to start your retaining wall project, let’s get things started. Pick up your retaining wall permits and keep them displayed on site so that the retaining wall inspectors from your local government will know that your retaining wall plans have been approved and that you are doing things by the book. Beginning your retaining wall project without your permits displayed could lead to a stop work order that could be a long delay to your retaining wall project, as well as a fine.


            Next, study the retaining wall engineering to make sure you have a very good working knowledge of what the engineer wants you to do in the retaining wall construction. Keep referring back to the retaining wall engineering to make sure you are doing everything to plan. Then measure out the exact location of the retaining wall. You can hire a company to mark your property lines or even the exact location where your  retaining wall will be located. If you choose to figure out the location of the retaining wall yourself make sure that you use the scale on the engineering. Take note of the depth of your retaining wall block along with the rate of step back per row installed. Include these measurements in your retaining wall lay out to make sure you have the proper location marked at the bottom of your wall adjusted as needed to make sure the top of wall ends up where you want it. After you have the location of your wall marked out you will need to shoot the elevation from the place where you want the top of your retaining wall to end up when the retaining wall is complete. Take your laser level (You can rent a laser level from most places that rent equipment) and shoot the elevation for the top of your retaining wall. Make sure the place where you shoot this elevation is a landmark that will not change. You will always have this landmark to go back to as a reference point. When you have that number on the bean pole transfer the height of the new retaining wall onto the bean pole. So, when you are going down in elevation you will go up on the bean pole and when you are going up in your elevation you will move the receiver down on the bean pole. So if the retaining wall you are building starts 10’ lower than the top elevation from your landmark elevation and you are toning for final top of wall grade you will go up 10’ in elevation on the bean pole with the receiver to get a tone for the bottom of your retaining wall. In this case however, you will also bury at least 10” of retaining wall below the finish grade and you will need at least 6” for footing rock. So in the case of this 10’ retaining wall you are building you would tone the top of wall elevation, raise the receiver 10’ on the bean pole for the height of the retaining wall, then raise the receiver another 10”  on the bean pole for the buried stone, then raise it another 6” for the footing rock. This will give you the depth that you need to be on your dig out. Now have your helper hold the beanpole and receiver while you follow the paint marks you have made for the wall dig out. When you are at the proper depth the receiver will tone. After you get the footing dug out and everything tones across your footing rock trench you will need to take a smooth shovel and go through the trench for the footing and remove any loose dirt. If you have a soils tech to check the soils type now would be a good time to have them come out to make sure the soil you are building on will be able to bear the load of your new wall. Sometimes the retaining wall engineer will want to see the soils at this point. 


            Now you are ready for the footing rock. In the past we would always use 1” minus compacted in 3”-4” lifts with a plate compactor or a 6” lift if we were using a Sheep’s Foot compactor. There is nothing wrong with still installing your footing rock with that method, but over the last 3-5 years we have abandoned the minus rock and have switched our footing rock to 1” clean. It is my recommendation that your footing rock be 1” clean rock inside a trench with filter fabric used on the walls of the trench to keep dirt out of the clean rock. The clean rock is more expensive but has several clear advantages over minus rock. One advantage when you use clean rock is that compaction is not the same issue. You can use 6” clean rock in your footing and tighten it up with a plate compactor and you will not get settlement.  Secondly, along those same lines, minus rock has to have a certain amount of moisture for optimum compaction.  If you have to much moisture it will pump and be unstable and  if you do not have enough moisture it will not compact correctly. 1” clean rock removes these potential problem and has another advantage in that it is not susceptible to erosion in the same way as minus rock is. Clean rock will allow for water to  flow through it and will not allow for hydrostatic pressure to build up. 

Now that you have decided on 1” clean rock for your footing, and the footing trench is dug out, you need to set the beanpole for top of your footing rock so that your footing rock will be right on allowing your retaining wall base course or footers to be installed more easily and with more speed. To set your footing rock right on just lower the receiver 6” on the beanpole. You should also pay close attention to the beanpole to make sure all your measurements are correct since some beanpoles are in feet and inches and others are in tenths. After you have your top of rock right on you will need to hop in that skid loader and start bringing in rock for the retaining wall base. Your helper can hold the beanpole and guide you as to how the rock looks in the trench. Some people prefer to have the person holding the beanpole to keep toning the trench as you fill in the rock and after rake it all out perfect then run over it several times with a plate compactor to make sure all the rock is nice and tight. If for some reason you do not have a helper to tone the rock as you move down the trench you can tone the sides of the trench yourself and mark the exact elevation with paint. This will give you a bench mark to guide you on the amount of rock you need as you install your footing rock. After all your footing rock is installed go back through and rake it to the exact elevation and tighten it up with the plate compactor. Now you are ready to start the base course of retaining wall blocks .


            If you are using a standard 8” building block for your wall, move the receiver on the beanpole down 8” and this will give you the top of block elevation you need for your footing stone. It is very important to laser tone the first footing stone to make sure you are setting it just right. If you do not laser tone the first base stone you install it could be a little too high in which case you will catch yourself needing to add rock all the way across your  base course or if it is to low you will be digging rock out all the way across your base course. Both of these options are not good and will cost you a lot of time and work. It is much better to make sure that the top of that first base stone is toned perfect on every side. Once you have that tone you will not need to laser tone the other base stones since you will level each stone as you go across. However, since you have the laser level and it is set for the right elevation and you do not do this every day it may not be a bad idea to check every 4-5 stones just to make sure you are putting the stones in level. The base row will take the most time to install and it is so important to get everything just perfect. As you are placing the base stones in place it is a very good idea to have someone placing the stones in place for you while you set them. Before you begin setting the base stone, set up your string line across the straightaway to guide your stone placement to make sure you are installing the base course straight. The best way to set up your string line is to put a stake in on both sides of the straight of way then tie the string to one side and pull the string across to the other stake. Adjust this line to be about a half inch above the top face of the stone. Now you have a straight line to guide you as you install the base course to your retaining wall. To set a base stone you will need to take your level and place it across the top face of the stone making sure it is in the middle of the bubble on your level. Next check the stone face to tail on the top and make sure it is level that way. The best way to level the stone most of the time is to have the stone just a tiny bit too high and tap it down into place using your rubber mallet . After you have your first stone in place and you have toned it to make sure the elevation is correct you will use this stone as a reference point to level the next stone. Take your level and place it across the stone that you just set and the stone you are setting. Make sure the new base stone you are setting is level both side to side and face to front with the stone that has already been leveled. You will continue this process.  As you are doing your base retaining wall course you will have the person or people helping you begin to stack stone across the base stones.


            The first stone stacked on each new course of stone needs to be measured to make sure it is in the center over the two base stones below it. For example, with a retaining wall block that has a face 18” wide you will measure to make sure the stone stacked on the top of the base stones is exactly 9” on each stone. When this measurement is correct on a wall that is running straight you will keep your bonds lined up. My advice at this point is to stack 3-4 rows of stone behind the person doing the footing but always making sure to stay at least two stones back so they do not lose the ability to go back and check for level. After the footing on the straight-away is completed and the wall is stacked across 1-2 rows depending on where the retaining wall engineering calls for you place your first geo-grid. now it is time to use your string to straighten each row of retaining wall block making sure that your wall is straight. The best way I have found to straighten a row of retaining wall blocks is to have one person on one side holding the string with a level or piece of wood wrapped around it to keep the string from touching the retaining wall block in any way. Have another person on the other side doing the same thing. If you only have two people tie the one side of the string to the grade stake and wrap the other side around the level or wood to keep the string from touching while the person on the other side pulls the string tight. Now that the string is set up you take your rubber mallet and go to the end of the row of retaining wall blocks you are straightening and knock out the block on the end as far as it will go. Make sure it is straight but has been pushed as far forward as it will go. After this go down to the other end of that row and do the same thing with that end block. Now your two end retaining wall blocks are out as far as they will go you look down the string and block by block knock all the stone out till the face of the retaining wall stone is in line with the string. Repeat this for every row of stone that has been stacked. Next, after the base stone is installed the rows are stacked and straightened, you will need to start backfilling behind the retaining wall blocks you have already stacked.


            It is my advice to backfill all the way up to the top of the row of stone right below where the geo-grid is to be placed. So if the geo-grid is called for on the top of the third row in the retaining wall engineering then you will fill behind the retaining wall with 1” clean rock all the way back to the end of the geo-grid. So on a retaining wall that is 10’ exposed height of wall more than likely the geo-grid will be 7 l.f. The rock must be backfilled to the end of the geo-grid zone. On the dirt bank or behind the clean rock you will need to put filter fabric to separate the dirt backfill from the 1” clean rock.

 As you are building the retaining wall up you will keep repeating these steps over and over. You will need to install footing stepping up into the hillside as your new retaining wall returns into the hillside on each end.  If you are able to backfill from the top of wall without driving directly behind it or backfill from the front of the wall it is my recommendation to use 1” clean rock all the way up to 1’-2’ from the top of retaining wall. After the rock backfill is complete, put filter fabric over the rock to separate the clean rock in your retaining wall from the dirt that will be installed on the top of wall to top off the wall. Before we get to that however, make sure to install all your retaining wall cap on the retaining wall.


We like to glue our retaining wall cap and then straighten the cap using a string line. Get your cap on the wall close to being straight. Make sure you put your cap on so that they straddle the block evenly. Make sure that the first cap you put on the wall is half over one block and half over the other block. I hate it when I see retaining walls where the contractor or the homeowner installs the cap lined up with the row of retaining wall blocks below it. That does not look as nice and it is not as strong. Make sure the glue you use is a retaining wall glue. Also, if you decide to put your glue down under the cap it works best to put the glue on the back of the stone in case the retaining wall cap ever needs to be taken off for some reason at a later date. If you put the glue on the back of the retaining wall block it allows the cap to be removed more easily in an emergency but does not allow the cap to move or come off. Also, it is my recommendation that if you put the glue under the cap and then straighten the cap with a string line that you move fast before the glue sets up. In the summer time when things are hot and dry the glue will be starting to set up inside of 10-15 minutes tops. In some places you will need to saw cut the retaining wall cap with a diamond blade saw. There are many different ways to approach this so I would say to look at the recommended installation instructions from the manufacturer of the specific retaining wall system you are installing. All closed face retaining wall systems will need to at least cut some cap on the end or on the corners of your retaining wall. It is pretty simple but gets much more complicated when you are cutting in a radius around a curved wall. After the cap is glued and straightened and the needed saw cuts are made lay some filter fabric behind the retaining wall block on the top of your wall.


             If you have used 1”clean rock you will need to put filter fabric down over the clean rock to keep the dirt out of the rock. If you used 1” minus rock to backfill your retaining wall you will only have to put the filter fabric behind the top rows of retaining wall blocks that will have dirt backfill. You should have plenty of dirt still on site. As a matter of fact, one of the unforeseen problems many times is there is so much dirt generated during dig out that you may not have enough room to stockpile it. Many times we will need to haul dirt away during the excavation of the retaining wall.  There are trucking companies you can hire to take dirt away although you will need to load them with your skid loader and at times that can be kind of tricky. It is my recommendation if you are bring in a trucking company to haul dirt away, check them out with the BBB and ask for some references. Also, establish the way you will pay and the rate you will be charged. Will they charge you a set fee by the load or will they charge by the hour? One last thing about the hauling company; make sure that the truck they send out to you will not be so tall that your skid has a hard time loading it. Back to the dirt backfill.  To top off your retaining wall you will start digging into the pile of dirt that you have on site. If you have no dirt you will need to have dirt brought in.  Make sure to use fill dirt for the low parts since it is much cheaper than top soil. Anyway, you will almost definitely have more dirt than you know what to do with and start digging into that mound of dirt with your skid loader and start dumping it bucket by bucket into the area to be filled. Be sure to put your bucket down to smooth it out as you go, tracking in the dirt and compacting it with your skid-loader. Be very careful working behind the wall; do not let your wheels or tracks get too close to the wall because there is a real danger of pushing the top of your retaining wall out with the skid loader if you get too close. After the bulk of the dirt has been tracked in and smoothed out you are very close to being finished. A good clean up, some sod or seed and it will not be too long until you will be enjoying your new yard and the great accomplishment of finishing such a large retaining wall project yourself.

How to Choose a Great Contractor

Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. has the highest quality hardscape designs and installations to be found by any hardscape contractor in the St. Louis Metropolitan Region. We have installed hundreds of thousands of square foot of hardscape masterpieces. Our photo galleries are loaded with over 1400 pictures of retaining walls and interlocking paver installations; every one designed and installed by Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is over 1400 pictures worth for proving our quality hardscape design installation and expertise? This blog is dedicated to putting this hardscape experience and expertise to work for you as a source of knowledge for ideas, topics, and news. The topics will be relevant to anyone looking to install or choose a retaining wall or interlocking paver contractor. The main purpose of this blog is to educate the public on retaining wall systems, interlocking paver designs, installations, contractors, new ideas, and new products related to hardscapes.

One thing truly bothers me consistently throughout the years; when a homeowner picks a bad contractor and I can’t do anything about it because if I try to warn them they will not believe me anyway, just thinking that I am trying to get the job at any cost. Of course, I always want to sell the job because I know if Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. does the job the homeowner will be treated right and the result is going to be great for them. I truly believe no other hardscape contractor in the St. Louis Metro Area has better hardscape designs or craftsmanship than we do. I truly believe for good reason that Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. is “Simply the Best”! Having said that, there are some good retaining wall and interlocking paver contractors out there and when I find out that a good retaining wall or interlocking paver contractor got the job, that is not so bad! After all, you cannot win them all– I understand. When a good contractor gets the job it is a good thing for the hardscape industry that I love so much and therefore, it is good for everyone! On the other hand, when a bad contractor gets the job (and there are many) and treats the homeowner poorly and does bad work this hurts the hardscape industry and can be devastating to the homeowners. You would not believe some of the stories I have heard from homeowners and their nightmarish experiences with bad contractors. Depending on the size and complexity of your hardscape project it could cost you at the very least thousands and perhaps tens of the thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars; so make your choice in hardscape contractors wisely. Do not just make a decision based on how nice the salesperson is! I tell people all the time I personally know many great salespeople who could sell anything, but I only know of a handful of good retaining wall and interlocking paver contractors who do great work! Over the next several blog entries I will give some very simple but solid ways to weed out the bad contractors.

1. What is in a name?

One of the simplest ways to ensure that you do not get a bad hardscape contractor is to look at the name! It just makes sense when you go to a doctor’s office you do not order a Big Mac! When you go to fast food place you do not get your teeth fixed. When you have a retaining wall holding up your backyard, swimming pool, driveway, or even home– why would you even consider a company whose name tells you that its main business is mowing lawns, putting in a sprinkler systems, landscaping (by the way, landscapers are not retaining wall or interlocking paver contactors – they may install them but this is not the main focus of their business ), general contractors or one of my all time least favorite, “outdoor specialists” (could they be more vague?)! There are a couple exceptions to this first rule but nine times out of ten you can save yourself a lot of time, money, and heartache by finding contractors whose names reflect hardscapes as the main focus of their business. My advice is that if you wish to hire a company to do any structural retaining walls or interlocking pavers make sure you hire a real hardscape contractor who focuses every working day on one thing– hardscapes. It use to be that all our retaining walls were just tie wall tear outs or new construction but these days more and more Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. is hired to replace a retaining wall disaster installed by part time, unqualified contactors who honestly did not know what they were doing and never should have been hired to do the job in the first place! Tip #1 on how to choose a great hardscape contractor will help start turning the odds of picking a great hardscape contractor your way, but you still are not out of the woods yet.

2. Google Search– Company Names and Phone Numbers

When you Google the contractor’s name you can see much about them on the internet. By spending some time online (Google is the best for this) you can weed out some shady contractors whose story maybe does or does not match up to what you find. By doing a Google search of the contractor’s name you can see where they advertise and who they are affiliated with. Many times you can find some very valuable reviews that help you to make a more informed decision. A great trick I have learned over the years is to Google search a contractor’s phone numbers! Here again some contractors will stand up to scrutiny and others will not. The point of looking up numbers is important because many times when a contractor changes company names often for whatever reason they may have kept the same phone number or numbers. This can be valuable information either way. On the one hand with a good contractor all the numbers come back to the same person and the same company. This puts them over another hurdle to be considered for your hardscape project. On the other hand, with a not so good contractor the numbers may come back to multiple companies, multiple occupations , bad reports and reviews that may help you to eliminate them as an option. For the best results don’t just stop at one phone number. When you get to the contractor’s web page or retaining wall and paver advertisement take note of all the phone numbers and Google search them and make sure to include the area code. Remember, knowledge is power! So take some time and research all potential hardscape contractors thoroughly to help protect your investment. A good contractor has nothing to hide and will appreciate your diligence.

3. An Oldie but Goodie– Check out the BBB Rating of all Contractors
A very simple yet often forgotten or neglected step is to check out all your potential hardscape contractors with the BBB! This is not fool proof since many times unsatisfied or even ripped off customers do not report bad contractors to the BBB! I always encourage people to report bad contractors it is not about getting the bad hardscape contractor back as much as it is about warning future potential customers to steer clear of that company. In combination with reverse tracing contractor phone numbers and names on Google as mentioned in point #2 this can be handy to let you know all the aka (also known as) you should be searching for at the BBB. For example, if you find three different companies coming back to one number make sure to check out all the companies records with the BBB. One thing to realize here is that the BBB only reports on contractors going back 3 years. So, if a shady contractor who had to go out of business 4 years ago and had a horrible BBB report then changed their company name and so have not been doing work in their old name at the end of 3 years their report will say no complaints. Checking out contractors with the BBB is just one more step toward protecting your home and family by choosing a good hardscape contractor for your home improvement project.

#4 Protect Yourself with Knowledge

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it could save you from a bad hardscape contractor. Educate yourself on the best hardscape product options. Study the products yourself and ask good tough questions about design installation. Ask contractors questions about the products that you already know the answers to, this way you can get a gauge on their knowledge, experience, and confidence. Question them on why they believe what they believe about different products, and the best way to install them. The timeless axiom, “Knowledge is power” is just as true today as ever. Products like Rockwood Retaining Walls, Versa-Lok Retaining Walls, Romanstone, Belgard, Silvercreek and Pavestone pavers all have recommended installation procedures for their products. Read the manufacturers recommendations for product use, care for and installation. Most local manufacturers such as Lemay Concrete Block for Rockwood Retaining Walls and Kirchner Block and Brick for Versa Loc, Alpenstein, and Hercules retaining wall systems along with the Romanstone Pavers, have qualified friendly staff to answer your hardscape questions. They will be more than happy to answer your questions. So when you meet the contractor you will already be more knowledgeable about hardscapes than some of the salespeople you will come across. For more in depth technical information web sites like the NCMA (National Concrete Masonry Association?) for concrete and ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Paver Institute) for interlocking pavers will give you more information about hardscapes than you will ever use but that information may help you weed out some contractors who do not understand the fundamental engineering principles that make the modular block and the interlocking paver the best products for your outdoor project. It never hurts to educate yourself about local government regulations on retaining walls and pavers. Things like how tall a retaining wall can be built before you need a permit, regulations on step treads and railing on steps. If you take the time to educate yourself you will be able to get a better since of the knowledge a contractor does or does not have. Knowledge gives you yet one advantage to picking a great hardscape contractor.

#5 Always “Really” Check the Reference List!

Another very often discussed but not often enough checked out item is the reference list! Agape Retaining Walls has so many great references that I always want customers to take a couple pages of our references and check everyone of them out. However, what I find is that customers talk about checking references, but all too often that is where it stops! Do yourself a favor and REALLY check out references and look in person at as many jobs as you have time for. If you don’t see the jobs for yourself you are trusting the other persons opinion if the job looks good or does not look good. You may have higher standards and expect a higher quality of work than whoever you are talking to does. Get on the ground and look at the work in person get up close and examine the quality of the hardscape contractor you are considering for the job. Many hardscape and even landscape contractors will say that they have been in business for 10,15,20+ years and when you go to get a reference they hand you a list of 2,3,4,or 5 past customers and that is it. If a contactor claims to have been in business 20 years they should be able to produce so many references you could never get to them all. Once again this is just another safeguard on your quest to pick a great retaining wall and interlocking paver contractor. Once again a good contractor will appreciate your hard work and diligence and a bad contractor will fall by the wayside.

#6 Reviews– Has the Company Impressed Anyone?

Reviews can be priceless, so seek them out online. If you have a contractor once again claiming to be in business for a long time doing great work certainly someone in all those years has been impressed enough to write at least one review somewhere! When you find a hardscape contractor who has a lot of great hardscape customer reviews look for patterns in what the customers are saying. This will give you more knowledge about the character and culture of the hardscape company and how that will fit or not with your criteria for a contractor. Reviews can also give you insight into a contractors main business focus. If you are looking for a hardscape contractor and the reviews you find are telling you this company mows lawns and plants flowers better than anyone they have found but there no reviews about them doing great retaining wall and paver work than you now know where to go to get your lawn mowed, but you should rule this company out for your hardscape project. 

#7 Always Check on Active Jobs– Who will be Working at Your House?

Go see the crew or crews who could be coming to your home. Make sure you are comfortable with the people coming out who actually do the hardscape work AT YOUR HOME! Homeowners many times make their decisions about what contractor to go with because they like the salesperson. While I certainly understand this– I have done it myself, it is not the best way to pick your hardscape contractor. If you think about it, depending on the nature of the company, this could be the last time you even see the salesperson and when the crew shows up to do the work you soon discover they are not anything like the company salesperson whom you liked so much. One of my favorite suggestions to homeowners over the years is to find out where the hardscape company has a job or two going on where you can just drop by at your convenience and see who is coming to your home to work for 2-3 wks! As far as the workers know you are just a nosy neighbor. This can be a real eye opener to most homeowners. How professional are the employees, in their language (picture yourself trying to explain the meaning of all the new words your children may learn if these guys are at your home.) their dress, do their cars and trucks leak oil all over the street (the neighbors love that), how about music, do they clean up at the end of each day, do they block up the streets, or do they work in a way that considers the homeowner and their neighbors. Knowing who is coming to your house, making sure you are comfortable with them, and the environment they bring can make all the difference in the world on how your hardscape project goes. Once again, knowledge is power– know who is coming to your home. All contractors are not equal, so do not settle hire a hardscape contactor who has employees that are professional, courteous and highly skilled.

#8 Pictures– A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words 

When people take pride in something they have created they want to show it off to as many people as they can! They take pictures of it. In the age of digital cameras who does not take many pictures of the things that are important to them? I have thousands of pictures of my wife and children; I have thousands of pictures of Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. hardscape projects; and for that matter, I also have hundreds of pictures (before I went digital) of projects I worked on as a ride boss, foreman and laborer in one of the biggest commercial retaining wall companies in the St. Louis metro area .If a hardscape contractor has been in business for years and they do not have hundreds or even thousands of pictures of their work their most likely is a good reason for that. Most likely either they have no pride in their work or their work is not worthy of scrutiny! Why would you want to even think about hiring a contractor who has nothing to show you of what they have done or a very small amount to show for a stated long time in business. When I decided to put the first 500 pictures on the Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. web site back in 2004 I had to look through over 18,000 pictures! Okay, in full disclosure about 9,000 were family and about 9,000 where Agape hardscape projects! I was motivated by many things but one was all the contractors who would claim to have been in business for 10 or 20 years and they would not have any pictures of the work they had done. I had no doubt if I could show people our work that they would be very impressed by our hardscape designs and craftsmanship! I believe ARW does the best hardscape work in the business and I love showing people why I believe that. Our website today has over 1,400 pictures and we are getting ready to add 200 to 300 more anytime! So the question becomes if one contractor has thousands of pictures to show you of his or her work and another contractor has none or even a few dozen in some old photo album who is more proud of their work, who takes it personal, who will do the highest quality work as if they were doing it at their own home. If a picture is worth a thousand words what is a thousand pictures worth. This point in conjunction with the other points listed on this retaining wall blog will help you pick a good or great hardscape contractor for your unique outdoor hardscape needs.

#9 Affiliations– Is the Contractor Educated?

Are there any organizations that this hardscape company has a membership in that shows a professionalism and knowledge in the craft that you are looking to hire them for. For example, in the field of retaining wall contracting design and installation, Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. has membership and certified training in the NCMA (National Concrete Masonry Association)– is a national trade association representing the concrete masonry industry, and is very widely established as an industry leader in all aspects of concrete application and education–including segmental retaining walls. Also, Agape Retaining Walls has membership and certified training in the ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Paver Institute) a recognized industry leader in all aspects of interlocking paver installation and contractor education. So, if a contractor that you are considering to design and install your hardscape does not have any proof of education or professionalism, then why would you consider them for such an important investment?

#10 Is the Hardscape Contractor Insured?

I know it is hard to believe, but most people when they hire Agape Retaining Walls, Inc. to do their hardscape project do not even ask if we are insured. Even fewer actually have us show them written proof that we have insurance in case something happens on their project to pay for any damages to his or her property. Just think of all the things that could go wrong! If a hardscape contractor does not have insurance you cannot let them do the project– you could lose everything and have no way to get reimbursed for the losses of you and your family. It is my advice that even before a contractor of any kind shows up to give you a bid, have them show you current proof of insurance.

In conclusion, none of these suggestions on how to pick a great hardscape contractor in themselves is enough to ensure that you are getting a great hardscape contractor and not a bad contractor but taken as a whole these suggestions will weed out the bad contractors and leave you with more than likely only a couple great hardscape contractors to choose from for your unique hardscape project. These 10 points on how to pick a great hardscape contractor will save you time, money and headache and put the odds very much on your side that the contractor you pick will do a great job for you and your family. Protecting your property and ROI (Return on Investment) for many decades and perhaps even generations to come.