Estimating and bidding timber walls.

Bidding retaining walls, when you are new to landscaping, can be quite an undertaking. It’s always better to work with smaller walls first and scale up your projects as your experience grows. As we will see in this discussion from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, estimating and building timber walls can be a little bit different from other types of retaining wall construction. Let’s see why and what you should do about it.

One landscaper wrote “I got a job for a two tier timber wall today. I’ll be using the 6×6x8 timbers. The wall is going to be about 50′ long and about 4 timbers high times two levels. This is my first retaining wall project like this and I want to make sure I’m bidding it correctly. I have come up with an estimate price of $3,500 installed. I figure about $1,700 in materials, timbers, nails, rebar, gravel, fill dirt, and misc tools or parts. When I came up with this price, my first thought was it seems like $3,500 is a lot but, I guess landscape upgrades are expensive. I want to do a professional job with drainage and everything. Am I in the right neighborhood price wise?”

A second lawn care business owner said “did you remember the cribbing and rebar/cement for the cribs? We did one late in the season last year that was 50 6 X 6’s. I used 16′ pieces and mitered the ends. I just checked and we charged the client $7,800 but that included 3 hours with the excavator removing what was there and prep work, it was 64 feet long.

Cribs are critical if there is any moisture issue or any frost to contend with. Even the weight of the soil against the wall can move it in time. I see so many walls that are not built with a crib and we get called in to fix it. We have 6 retaining walls that were all built within the last five years to rebuild. If it’s wood, there is no way to salvage so it can get expensive.

Knowing this, I use my experience to win more bids. When I am on-site for a bid, I ask the homeowner, did the other contractors you are asking for quotes, explain (in this case) the importance of cribbing, drainage, landscape fabric and is it 20 year or the cheap big box store products?

You have to get the people thinking and when you present the proper way to do something, cost is not so much of an issue. I have a saying that I use when bidding larger jobs, ‘the only time I want you to call me is for a beer or additional work you want done, NOT because you have a problem.’ Is it corny? Perhaps but man it works.

Homeowners want work done that lasts as I would and do also. I will pay the extra dollar figure in almost every area of my life for the right product. Be it tools in the woodworking shop, machinery for landscaping, vehicles etc. If I can’t afford what I think I should be buying, I don’t accept second best. I wait until I can buy it.

Another tip I suggest you utilize is, to always break  a proposal down into parts with each one priced. This way if the client does not have the cash to do everything now, they can select some of the work now and some later on. I find this to work very well.

From time to time I see people taking out a line of credit to have us finish a job as they get excited or caught up in the process. I don’t like them to do this. I generally try to talk them out of it. Going head over heals into debt to have landscaping or excavation done is not a good idea. I tell the customer, do what you can afford now and do more later. Clients appreciate this and we have around 40 jobs to go back to that we started last year.

Landscaping/excavation/wood chipping can be expensive. We did a few jobs last year where we had two excavators, four loaders and 10 staff on site, you are pushing $600 an hour. A lot is getting done quickly but that is serious money. I think we had three or four jobs like that and on two of them we are still not finished as the clients added more work for this year.”

A third lawn care business owner said “from my experience, I’ve found the hardest part of building a retaining wall is the first layer, just to get it level and placed right.

On retaining walls using 4″ thick by 12″ wide landscape block, I charge $10 per foot up to 2 feet high when the ground is in descent working condition. So for the installation of a 50′ wall I would charge $500 labor.

If the ground is hilly or has trees and roots and hard to work with I charge up to $15 per foot up to 2 feet high. So from $500 to $750 for the installation. Plus the time it would take me to haul all the material to the work area.

I would charge about $1,000 for this project for labor taking into consideration the area is not too crappy to work with. But this is just my opinion at about $40 per labor hour.”

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