How to do Retaining Wall Bids, Estimates and Proposals

How to do Retaining Wall Bids, Estimates and Proposals

Okay, it's time to build a retaining wall. What you're going to see behind me is a wall that we built a few years ago for a customer in a site in Minneapolis.  We used the Versa-lok standard unit. The customer did their own secondary retaining wall and they used a different block. I wouldn't recommend doing that, but they did this after the fact and out of our control. When you look at this garage you can see where we actually had to dig back the soil to sneak a wall in behind this garage and keep the pressure off from the garage from the yard today. I'm going to teach you how to bid doing a job like that, because the customer right next door wants the exact same thing done. So what we're going to do, we're going to break this proposal down into removal, excavation, and then retaining wall installation. A couple of the details that we need to take into consideration is the joint space from one wall to the next. Now we're going to be using the same block in this case, but we're going to have to stitch this wall together. You've maybe seen my other video where I talked about retaining wall installation.  On this project what we're going to be doing is going to go from the base and removing this wall up at an angle. Then when we build this new wall we join them together and then eliminate this seam. So how do we go ahead and start calculating this thing down?


Well, the first thing we're going to look at is the removal. In this case, there is no magic mystery formula that's going to solve this problem for you. You have to look at this and you're going to use a time and materials basis. If it's going to be a lump sum, you're going to have to be careful. You're going to have to base it off from experience. On this very particular project, our cost is going to run about $2000 to remove this retaining wall. To remove these steps and to get this dug back far enough that we can get our drainage material and our base course in.


Then we're going to measure the retaining wall and I'm going to take you through the measuring process.  We're going to break the wall down into its simplest components, and that's on a per square foot basis.  I'm going to cover that with you back in the office. When we put all these numbers together, we want to know exactly how many square feet we've got in this wall. We're going to format our proposals to take that into consideration. Another component of this project is excavation. I want you to look at this garage wall right here.  It's is actually acting as a retaining wall.  It might be a little difficult to see from the video, but this garage wall is in a state of failure.  You've already had a crack here that they've tried to repair with plaster which is nothing more than an aesthetic fix.

Failing Garage Wall

At that point, structurally that patch does absolutely nothing. The only way to save this weak garage wall is to take the pressure off. I have to go up and dig the soil off from the garage wall.  So all of this dirt that you see here it has to be excavated off.  Then I have to build the retaining wall about three to four feet off from this garage wall and then tie it in on the end. To dig this out is a separate component. That's the excavation number.  It's not a very big excavation job, but it's not an easy one. It's a matter of getting a mini excavator up here. So what we'll be doing is we'll be removing that retaining wall and not building a new wall but building a ramp up in this backyard. Then we come through the backyard and we use a miniature excavator and we carefully pull the soil off. You got to be real cautious how you do this, because you have to realize every time you dig down, you're putting pressure on a failed garage wall. So you do little scoops and you scoop backward instead of going "bmmmmf" back. What you do is you try to gently scrape away to pull pressure off and that's how you're going to solve that problem.

Iteminzing Bids

Get this off and it gives you enough space to come in to build your retaining wall. In this case that's why we're going to itemize just this component of it, because it's going to be expensive and the customer needs to understand. Where that money is coming from, where their money is actually going to, and so when you itemize it you protect yourself, you clarify it for the customer. They have a better understanding that it's not that magic mystery lump sum number that I'm telling you guys to avoid, You build profits into every component of the job so you don't have to fear any one section of the job. Next, is measuring, so let me get the measuring tools out and take you through the simple way that we measure these retaining walls and how we go about getting those numbers so we can put it into the proposal back at the office. Alright, so let's get into the measuring. I'm going to show you how easy it is. I'm just going to use this standard tape measure, I have a 50 and 100-foot tape behind you that sometimes I use as well. But in this case, we're just going to use a standard tape measure. One of the things that I want to focus on in this example, is to make sure that you understand you've got to bury a course.


Now, this is a pretty flat grade. In this case, this is just a parking lot so we're going to bury one course, we're going to go six inches deep. Now you can't by any means show that to the customer after the fact, so the customer needs to understand beforehand that your measurement includes all embedment. So I literally just measure the length of the retaining wall. It's 25 feet from the end of the wall to the return on the step and we know they're going to put new steps in. We've got to bust these steps out, we know they got to pour new steps, so we've got to measure the returns as well, but we've got 25 linear feet and the average wall height.

Wall Height

Here's something important that I want to show you, this wall actually is not perfectly the same height all the way through. It's taller here, it's shorter there. The easiest way to measure this retaining wall is at dead center. It's going to give you an average from the tallest point to the shortest point for your quantity. Now, remember we're going to charge the customer for a price per square foot, we're going to use a spreadsheet, the same formula that we use with a paver patio. We're going to get a spreadsheet from the supplier, we're going to have every block accounted for including the cuts, including all the blocks you got to throw away that you got to remove, small portions that you can't go back after the job and measure, we're going to use the spreadsheet, okay. But beforehand, this is the proposal, this is our initial offer to the customer. We've got to get that quantity figured out to do that. We're going to go dead center of this wall. You know it's 25 feet, dead center is here. This wall is 4.5 feet tall of exposed wall and I always add one foot. Now we know we're going to add 6 inches for sure, one foot is always a better footing, you can always back a little bit out but so it's going to be 25 by 5.5. That's going to give me my complete square footage of the face of this wall.

Measure the Returns

Now we're going to measure the returns next, and then we're going to go in and I'm going to show you how we're going to measure the retaining wall that is immeasurable. What I mean is, there's no retaining wall there now. I can't get a tape up in there. I'm going to show you how we do that. It's easy, so here we are looking at this return right here and this is what I call the returning, this is the wall that runs up alongside the steps. We re-measure the return the same way we measure the average heights of the wall.

Length of the Return

we just go, what's the length of the return, in this case, it's 6 feet. Then we go to the halfway point, which is 3, plus we measure the height of the wall at that point, which is 2 feet. We're going to add one foot for embedment. This return is going to be 18 square feet, which is six times three, okay.  We got one, two returns so we know we've got 18. Removing 18, we've got 36 square feet just in these returns. Don't forget to measure those they're going to be a little bit more of a pain in the butt to install, so make sure your quantities are strong on these things, because it's the worst thing you can do is to put a lot of labor and time in it and then short yourself on materials as well. So you want to protect yourself. Make sure you get a good strong estimate on something like this, that's the way I do all my returns. An average return is usually between 15 and 20 square feet. I don't even measure them anymore but for this video, I wanted to show you how we come up with those, I may actually technically put this proposal in at a little above 18 square feet because it is such a steep run and the narrow opening doesn't give my installers much room to work.

Failed Garage Wall

Next, let's go ahead and look at Mr. failed garage wall and show you how we're going to measure that. So we're inside this garage right now and one of the things I want to point out to you, we are actually building the retaining wall on the outside of this structure. It’s really not feasible to measure it out there, so what I'm going to simply do is I'm going to take my tape measure and I'll measure the length of this garage and then I’m going to measure the estimated height of the retaining wall outside. Now this garage is your typical garage, which is about 22 feet long but we're going to compensate a little bit. We always want our estimated numbers to be just a titch higher, it’s a safety factor for you and the customer. This was 22 feet long, this garage wall is four feet four and a half feet, pretty much the same as what we have over there.

Recheck Measurements

We're going to go back 5 feet in this case so that's how we're going to come up with the quantity for this to make sure that when we do the install, we know we've got the main wall measured. We've got the two returns measured and then we use this for our template for a retaining wall which gets installed outside of it, and we have our excavation knowing that we're going to go back over and do the calculations for that in the office. So this is how we start any retaining wall project, is by field measurements. Alright, it's time to go over some actual numbers on this project and teach you how to bid this retaining wall for your own. First off before we get started, I want to apologize for being a little dusty, I'm a little dirty. If you watch my video day at work with Genetic you'll see in that video I had met with a customer and gave them a proposal to regrade his yard for two thousand dollars. Well I started that job this morning at 8 o'clock and it's now a little bit after 12:00, 12:30 and  I got it all wrapped up. So I figure it's now time to phase two to get this retaining wall bed so I can show you guys how to do this on your own.

Past Bid Sheets

Now I want you to pause the video right here. I want you to look at this job; this is the actual bid sheet from 2012. It's right now 2015; originally I bid this job May 4, 2012 so look at the numbers that you see there on that sheet. What you're going to find is the job has grown. Okay, I haven't done anything to the job but the homeowners had a couple years to chew on it and they finally figured out what they really wanted to do. and they came back and said hey we want to add on and you’ve seen what we did, we were removing the dirt, excavating behind the garage wall and so I'm going to go over, I'm going to compare and contrast the two numbers. Now, they said something that was key in this proposal. They said they understood the rate of inflation would probably have increased some of the components of the job, besides the fact, now that's the key, besides the fact, that they had added on to the job anyway. So I want you to look at the 2015 proposal, I want you to take a moment to pause this video.

Work Backward

This is the actual proposal that was turned into them and what you will see is it is line item per line item, per line item, per line item and we're going to go over that and this is the way you're going to format your proposals. This is going to work for you, it's going to protect you, okay. The first line item on this thing is the actual retaining wall itself. Now in this case we have approximately, that's the key term approximately, 298 square feet. That means then I think there are 298 square feet on the job and that's what I'm going to put in for that price per square foot.

Commercial Pricing

Now the original quote was $28 per square foot back in 2012 because of inflation. We're now at $32 per square foot and you are going to be asking me, well how did you come up with that number? That's my market price, okay, for residential you will be dictated by your market price and nothing more. Commercial is a different beast, these numbers will not apply towards a commercial site. You need to understand that and I will give you a video on commercial sites. Literally commercial sites, the smallest commercial site you'd ever want to even touch would probably be 6, 7, 800 square feet. But you're going to get about half of the price per square foot. I'm getting $32 a square foot because the market says, I can get that. My reputation says I can get that, which means people know me; they're calling me after 3 years.

Keep Old Bids

The original proposal, modified proposal, up-to-date proposal, and so that allows me to make sure that my prices are the same and it tells me automatically that three years ago they were good with $28 a square foot. I'm not going to go backward on it, so I want you to look at removing the wall. Now you've seen we had a wall to remove and that was the first portion of the wall. I divided the wall into two sections. From the garage to behind the garage was one section and that was excavating. But everything in front of the garage, was a different section and in this proposal, I've actually line-itemed the removal of that area at $1760, okay. And then right below that I have actually line-itemed the excavation to haul away the soil behind that garage wall. So we have to, what they want us to do is they want us to pull that soil off from the garage wall because it's caving in. They want us to haul that away and get rid of it and create that gap that you'd seen. We showed it according to, that you’d seen on the next-door neighbor's site, okay. And to do that portion of the work, I want to be very specific how I did this. Now excavate and haul away to create a four to the six-foot gap, okay.

Hauling Material Away

Haul out 46 tons or 3 loads of soil between the building and the retaining wall. Now I'm not creating a 10-foot gap and I'm not hauling up 80 tons of soil. I clearly said I'm going to haul out 46 tons or three loads and I'm going to create a 4 to 6-foot gap. Now how do I come up with a four to the six-foot gap? Well it's simple math; the length of that wall was about 22 linear feet, the height of that bank is five foot and we're going to create a five foot cut between the two, so it's 22 times five times five, then you divide that. That gives you cubic feet then you divide that by 27 to convert to cubic yards, okay. And that's compacted cubic yards, then you multiply by one point two five to go from compacted cubic yards to expanded cubic yards because it automatically fluffs up as soon as you dig it out; the dirt fluffs up, becomes bigger, okay. And then I don't haul in cubic yards, I haul in cubic tons so then we're going to multiply by another factor of 1.3536 or maybe even 1.5, somewhere in that neck of the woods. Depends on the type of soil, to go from cubic yards fluffed cubic yards to metric tons, okay.

Math Problems

Seems like a lot of math – boom. I'm going to try to put it in as I'm talking about it right over on the side of me here so that you have it, you have a greater understanding. The key component to that is I have clearly identified for $4,000, what work I'm going to do on this very specific line item, okay. I'm safe if anything goes wrong, it's not on my back it's that way I'm protected and I've outlined it before we start with the customer, so they have an understanding of what we're going to be doing now as part of that program. Part of this job proposal is that we have to actually disassemble part of the neighbor’s wall. We have to stitch it back together, so the neighbor’s wall comes flush. Here's the wall we're removing, here's the neighbor and wall that we had built. I've got to peel this part back and then stitch it into the existing wall so they all flow together; that doesn't happen for anything, okay. There's a lot of work that has to go into that and I'm line-

Line Iteming Nightmare

There's a lot of work that has to go into that and I'm line-iteming that. I’m line-iteming that for $725. It can take me about a day to pull it apart and probably another day or so, half a day to reassemble and put it all together. It's not a huge amount of work on its own, but it's just part of the overall scope of work and something that's easy to overlook, so I want to make sure that you guys are on the same page as me now, because in the original proposal. I had options in here: optional removing stairs, reassembling, saving the fence, exporting extra fill soil, and the customer was okay with this format. I'm kind of sticking with that for the rest of this one, okay, and so I have the same thing. Remove the stairs and dispose of. Now, in this case it’s $490. In the original proposal from 2012 it was three hundred and ninety dollars, so the extra $100? Inflation, everything costs me more now. It’s been three years, so that's how I justify it. Hand-disassembled fence and save it, is as a line item. It's $350; behind that retaining wall was a fence. I really hope they don't want me to hand it to someone, save that thing, because it's not going to look any better and I'll probably end up talking a customer out of it, but in case they're adamant about it.

Protect Yourself

I'm protected, I have $350 in there and then here's an important one, here's an important line item. That last line item is export extra fill soil at $350, okay. Make sure you go back and pause this video in the beginning and make sure you get a good understanding that last line item protects me if our math is off. If the calculation of the soil that we're going to remove between the garage and the bank and the retaining wall that we're going to build, doesn't quite work out and I end up hauling one more extra load out. I am protected. Here's what I'm going to get, I'm going to get $325 for that extra load of dirt it says so right in the contract right on the very bottom, okay. Now, a lot of you're asking how much is the overall job value here. Well look at it there, it's right there, that's what this project is and in fact, I want you to notice a few things. Not only did I line-item everything that's in this job. But then I go back and I repeat myself and say, hey, this proposal includes certain things and then I go on and say this proposal does not include. I actually go through and exclude things, a lot of them don't even apply towards this job but it's boilerplate.


Boilerplate means it's on every single project that I do I cover myself because it's too hard to try to think of every detail on every job. So you create a generic list and you rubber stamp it onto every job. What else is rubber-stamped in my proposals on every one of them an excuse for bumping. You see this box right here? See this box? Boom. Look at, even specifically outline that box. You note that box is a notice of pre-lien? You have to do that in my state. I don't know about your state but if I don't give them a pre-lien notice, if this gal and this guy decides they don't want to pay me, I can't lien their house, but because it's right on the original proposal and they will have to sign this and give me $100 and send it back to me. Here's how my proposals look, okay, here's actually a few of our, here's our job list, here's how we reformat it, okay. Their $100 deposit gets stapled right to their check and this is how busy we stay because of how we operate. There's no way I can get through a quarter of these jobs this year I'm already booking for next year because every proposal is the same, guys and gals out there. It's clear, it's easy for the customer to understand. I break it down line item for line item. It's tougher for me to do that you know what I'd rather be doing right now than putting proposals together?

Book Ahead

I'd like to be in the shower because I'm itching from head to toe but when you take the time to do it like this, you are going to be so busy that work is going to be non-stop. It's July, there's August 4th and we're booking into next spring because of the way we format it and we want you guys to be as busy as that. I believe you guys can be as busy, that I know you guys can be as busy as that. Reach out to me if you need help with estimating. If you need help with proposals, if you need help with a lot of things I'm here to help you. I'll do the best I can for you with whatever information I have. So I hope this has helped you. I know it's been a ton, I know I'm speaking kind of fast and I apologize for that but I get so amped up when I'm going over stuff like this. There's so much information to cover and do it in a format like this, it is easy once you wrap your head around it, but it's difficult before you get into it. It’s like a learning curve, everything in this business, everything we do is this learning curve. You amp up, it's the unknown, it's difficult at first but once you do it, boom, cruise control.

Keep Practicing

You can just fly, you can rock it, you can get through these things. A lot of these never change on my proposals. A boilerplate, the pre-lien notice on the proposal, the does not include, includes, that all stays the same. Sometimes I modify details here or there but the important part of these proposals is my protection, is your protection, how do you keep yourself safe instead of having lump sum, magic mystery numbers that people can argue, fuss and fight over that doesn't leave customers comfortable? It doesn't make them feel warm and fuzzy about hiring you because they don't know what they're getting. Break this thing down and put profit into every component of your job for yourself. And you're going to love it, you're going to have, you're going to be more successful. I think I'm going to go hop in the shower. Have a good one, guys and gals.  


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