How should this retaining wall job be bid?

Learning how to build retaining walls, takes time. Starting off with smaller walls and scaling up the size as you go is the pathway many new landscapers follow to find success. You might even want to experiment with some wall on your property first to see what kind of results you get and learn from your mistakes. When you do take that jump to the bigger walls, you may need some bidding assistance as we see here from this post on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I have to do an estimate to build a retaining wall that’s 650 feet in total length. The height is 2 ft. All of this using 70 lb blocks 6” by 18″.

About half of the ground is level because it goes around the house and the other half goes with the lay of the land. It slopes downward because it follows a long drive way on each side. The customer wants that one even with the driveway.

I have built retaining walls before, but I haven’t had to give an estimate for one this large. All the digging we’ve done before was just by hand. The longest wall I’ve had to build to date was 55 feet long and I have another one of those for next week. I charged the customer $960 for the labor and he took it. He also had other bids so I figured mine was the lowest.

Using my previous figures, I calculated it came out to $17.45 per foot. If I used this rate I would charge this guy $11,342 for 650 feet of wall. That seems like a lot. I’ve been figuring things out on how I could make a good profit and still be able to charge much lower than my normal hourly rate. So I came up with $7,300 for the price.

Th digging may be too much to do manually on this job and I’ll probably look into renting a mini excavator as I don’t own one so I can get this done quicker. I was thinking a crew of 4 doing mostly manual labor but using machines seem like a better idea in this case.

It will be my biggest job to date if he accepts it. Oh and my old boss let me know he is also putting a bid in. I bet he feels scared I’ll beat him on this one. He told me he wasn’t sure either on how to bid on such a big job.

How many labor hours do you think this would take and what equipment would you use?”

A second landscaper said “it is hard to just throw a number out there without seeing the project. It depends on your ability. If have not built a wall this big before or have become proficient in using machines to help you, it would probably take you longer to do. Some of the things you will need are landscape fabric, sand, stakes and mason line. Some of the tools are a chisel, drilling hammer, line level, spade, hand tamper, maybe a trench digger.

The key to a successful concrete block retaining wall is to start with a level foundation course of blocks. The foundation course must be below ground level so that the soil will hold it firmly in place. Starting at the lowest point begin digging a trench. The dimensions of the trench will vary depending on the size of your block. Tamp the trench with a hand tamper to compact the underlying soil.

If the property slopes, you may have to dig your foundation trench in a series of steps equal to the height of the blocks. Then, as you continue with construction, build up the lower sections with block until the stepped areas accept successive courses of blocks in a level wall. Once you have a sound foundation trench, you can begin laying block, checking regularly for level. First pour a one inch layer of sand underneath the foundation course to provide a more solid base. The sand will make leveling easier and improves drainage.”

A third landscaper shared “we do quite a few of these as no one seems to be able to touch our prices as 80 percent of our work is done with machines and that gives us a competitive advantage.

We use a mini excavator with a digging bucket, ditching bucket, and a boom mounted hydraulic compactor, the operators can read grades very well and with a narrow ditching bucket get as long a run as possible. In short the mini excavator does about 90 percent of the work. You will also need a compactor and the base should be 3/4″ clear stone.

Using our setup to perform the work, we only need two men onsite. A machine operator and a helper. The mini excavator has a thumb and simply places the stone in place.

Although I would have to see the property, I am estimating it would be about two days work for us. The cost to client would be $2,500 to $3,500 for our equipment and staff.

Something you may want to consider is hiring a company that has a mini excavator to perform the excavating for you. It will probably save you a lot of time. It’s not rocket science to operate them however an experienced operator will save you a lot of time in the long run, and you won’t have to pick it up or return it.”

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