Masonry Walls


By Tony Catanzaro


Traditional Masonry block walls still have a useful place in the landscape. They can be veneered with brick, stone, or plastered to accomplish a variety of colors and textures. Understanding the basics of this type of wall system will help you whether you plan on building your own or hire a professional to install one for you. The following is a basic guide and as always you should refer to your municipality for any permit or engineering issues with your particular project.


The first thing involved with properly installing a masonry wall is to excavate a footing. The footing should be forty two inches deep. This is below the frost line for here in New Jersey.  The footing should be twice as wide as the walls thickness. Always make sure the concrete is poured onto firm virgin ground. Use a laser level or transit to set your heights for the poor.


Many masonry walls will typically utilize eight inch concrete block. You can create a story pole out of a wooden stake to mark out all your courses and joint thickness to achieve the proper final wall height, but don’t forget any stone capping you may also be using.


At this point you will need to lay out your walls lines on the footing. For straight walls a chalk line works well. For serpentine walls you can lay out a garden hose and trace with marking chalk. Stage your block near the work area and start your first mix.


For best results I recommend using a Portland mortar with sand. Pre mixed batches are better suited for small jobs and repairs. Using a type N or M mortar is best. Type M has more Portland and is the strongest. A typical mix is 1 part mortar to 3 parts sand. Add water slowly as a wet mix will make it very difficult to set your block.


At this point you need to throw and furrow two mortar lines. Set your corner block and press it into the mortar so it creates a three eight inch joint. Make sure it is level and plumb. Continue this process at the other end of the wall. Now using line blocks and mason line you can stretch the line to give you a guide to complete the course. At this point you run the rest of the block on that level with the addition of buttering the corners with the mortar. Small PVC pipe should be cut into the wall as weep holes for water build up behind the wall. If you are going to stone or brick face the wall you will need to install wall ties, corrugated metal ties strips that connect the block the face material. You may also need to add wire reinforcing strips to the wall for added strength.


This process will continue as you build the wall. Every half hour or so you will need to tool the fresh mortar joints and remove access mortar. When the mortar has set (but not too hard) brush the excess mortar off the block. At this point you are ready to veneer or plaster your wall. For a veneer you can choose from natural stone, brick or cultured stone.  Limestone and bluestone can be used to cap the wall. Installing the veneer depends on material type but will always include setting the material in mortar tooling the joints and brushing and cleaning the material after it hardens.


Backfilling the masonry wall properly with clean stone and drain pipe is of up most importance. When done correctly you can eliminate the need for weep holes in many cases. Use a landscape filter fabric between the clean stone and soil. Ensure your exit pipe has a clear exit point so the collected water can readily flow from behind the wall.


Masonry walls veneered or plastered takes a lot of skill to install and usually is left to the professional. Typically costing more than segmental retaining walls they still serve an important function in the landscape. By understanding the basics of construction you can make better choices for what will work best for your landscape project.


Call or email Regency today for your masonry wall project!

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