Stone wall installed-not happy-need advice

WMA89November 22, 2012

Hello, new poster here, looking a for a little advice please. We are undergoing a remodel of our (new to us) 1960s ranch. Part of the remodel was to extend the front landing step under the large roof overhang to create a covered space--it's about 35 feet long (architect designed this). We decided to use blue stone to cover the surface area. The riser is Old Moss (Thin) stone. The contractor had his mason do the work. He is supposed to have lots of experience doing this type of project.

When I got home at the end of the day I saw that the wall was mostly finished other than an area that appeared to be missing the stone. As I walked closer I realized there was, in fact, stone there but they chose to use a course of the very darkest stone together. It doesn't look right to me--looks like a black hole. Unfortunately, they placed this directly in front of the front door, which will be the focal point of the house. My eye is drawn right to it.

Should this be corrected? Can it be corrected? I thought we could place a step in front of it but the general contractor said there is not enough height, they were just planning to backfill and grade. DH suggested grading it high enough to cover the dark area, but that covers over a third of a fairly expensive stone wall. Any suggestions? Do we just need to live with this? Thanks for any advice, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Often times the first ( bottom ) course gets covered.
If your first course is going to be covered then I would not be concerned.

If this bottom course is going to be seen, even partially , I would demand that the rocks be replaced so there is harmony in the stone blending.

We often use the crappiest looking but strongest stone at the base if the first course is going to be covered. There is no sense in wasting structurally stable ugly stone if it can provide beneficial stability , yet is not going to be visually seen.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 2:10PM
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Could you provide another another photo taken from about 15' farther back that shows a wider view? (Hoping to get a little information that indicates how grading might work.)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 8:25PM
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Thanks for the responses. I will take a photo from further back today and post it. Deviant, thanks for your input--one of the things I am looking for is the terminology to describe what I see as wrong with this. "Harmony in blending" is exactly what I want!

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 5:33AM
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Here's a shot from a bit further back as you requested, Yardvaark. Thanks again for your thoughts.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 10:07AM
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Seeing it in context, I would want it fixed and not need to rely on a grade change (which would always be settled just enough to show the black line.) An experienced stone mason should have known better. It looks like dental work in a mouth that needs fixing.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 5:14PM
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Thanks for your response, Yardvaark. This is what I suspected. How big of a deal is it for them to replace those stones? They have been mortared to the concrete ledge. We're calling the GC for a meeting about this (and other issues, unfortunately), and we're expecting to get a lot of resistance from him, so the more informed we are about what needs to happen will help. Thanks

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 7:17PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd also suggest you think about what any plantings or lawn will do to change the appearance of the stone work. It looks to me, without even knowing what the proposed planting adjacent this wall will br, that it won't even be noticeable later. In fact, it looks like that new wall faced with stone is probably too low in general to really be seen at all with future planting in front of it.

Removing a bit of stone over such a small surface area to achieve a better mix of colors shouldn't be any big deal to change, and a more aesthetic blending is normally standard practice. Again, leading me to believe the installing contractor assumes it won't be seen when all landscaping is completed.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 11:03PM
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I wish we could cover it with plantings, but the area I'm concerned about is right in front of the entry door. There will be a walkway there. If this had been anywhere else, I would definitely hide it with plants.

Unfortunately, this project started off badly. The mason arrived one day while we were at work with material we hadn't even picked out (brick rather than stone for the riser and blue stone that looked like it was left over from another job). I told the crew to stop the work and called my GC. They were not happy. When we told the mason and GC that we wanted input into the stone selection and asked where he got his materials, the mason wouldn't respond. After really pushing him, he gave us the name of a couple stone yards. After visiting the stone yard and selecting our products, it was clear to us that he was using left over materials So it doesn't really surprise us that he didn't put more thought in how he placed the stones in the wall. The person ultimately responsible, however, is our GC. There seems to be a pattern of poor craftsmanship from many of his subs, unfortunately. We're meeting with him tomorrow to discuss all these issues.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 6:00AM
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Hopefully, the creator of the thread "Hiring a landscape contractor/pool company is perusing other threads and will see this one. It is the kind of situation that crops up when specifics are not called out clearly in the plan and specs. That's what design is ... thinking all these things through and resolving them in the contract so that they don't become problems. A professional designer can anticipate many potential issues and "head them off at the pass." How successful you are in getting the contractor to fix issues will depend on what's in the contract and how assertive you are. If he has incentive for additional business and you're very firm, he'll be more likely to bend. Ideally, the end result should be specified in the contract.

This forum doesn't have any mechanism for developing a consensus of what makes good design. Opinions are all over the map on various things. There are exceptions to every rule, but as a general rule one treatment I dislike more than its alternatives is engulfing a paved area (a floor) on its front side with tall-ish plantings. I think it gives a hemmed-in feeling when one usually wants a feeling of open-ness and invitation. Taller plantings would be better at a distance surrounding a passageway than be in or abutting it. Their height could increase with their distance from the pass. In general, doing it this way helps in directing vision to the focal point to which the pass/path leads.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 10:48AM
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I agree Yardvaark. We would have selected a much less expensive alternative if we planned to cover it with plantings. That's whats so frustrating about this. In retrospect, we should have hired a landscape architect at the same time we were having the renovation plans drawn up. We are planning to have a landscape architect to design the front of the property (new driveway/walk/plantings) once the remodel was nearing completion. We've just been trying to pace the time/money output--which has been quite substantial!

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 12:49PM
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It is hard to tell in the picture, but it looks like it would be an excessively high step if those stones were at all exposed.

Is that dry stacked other than the bottom course?

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 5:46PM
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Right now, it's 11" from the ground to the surface. In order to cover the problematic stones, we will need to backfill/grade it 5.5" higher. That would
create a 5.5" high step.

There appears to be mortar behind stone against the concrete ledge. Other than the first layer, there is no mortar between the stones.

We've read that steps should be between 6-8" in height. Is this accurate?

Thanks again for everyone's input.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 6:15PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

International Building Code maximum for residential step riser is 7.75

Chances are high that this bottom course of stone is not going to be seen.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 7:09PM
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Thank you, Deviant. This is helpful information. We're going to ask that these stones be replaced. If this is not possible, we'll hope for the best with the grading. Our calculations and eyeball estimates don't suggest that the stone will be hidden without grading higher than would otherwise have been necessary, but we could be mistaken.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 7:36PM
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Why don't you use a board to mock up exactly where/how the walk will interface with the step and see how much black stone will show and what it will look like? If you make a 6" riser, that will shrink what shows to a fraction of what is currently exposed. A nice, wide walk could be the problem solver.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 11:28PM
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Thanks, Yardvaark. We will try to hide this when we get a walk installed. Fooled around with some boards this morning, and see that we should be able to hide a good part of those stones. We'll be hiring someone else to do the walk/landscaping, so if it turns out the stones remain a problem we'll ask them to correct it. I'm even wondering if a little "faux" finishing with tinted mortar wash could be applied to tone down the glaring contrast.

We've decided to pick our battles with the GC. Unfortunately, after some things we discovered this weekend, this issue has become a lower priority.

Thanks again for everyone's input.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 11:20AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Two risers at 5.5" height would require a step tread of approx 15" to 17" width. If you set the walk level slightly higher than existing grade, you could have two 5" risers with an 18" wide step. It sounds like you can easily hide this bit of stone work without needing to redo it. I hadn't understood the walk was to project out to the street from the front door, so my comments about plants hiding it were based on not understanding the plan layout. The formula for determining riser to tread ratios is usually given as 2xriser height plus tread width equals 26" to 28", and a series of at least two risers can work with any module between 4" risers to 7.75" and be within code. The only precaution is that a single riser of less than 6" height is generally considered less desirable/a potential tripping hazard if not well lighted at night.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 12:02PM
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It sure does not look like the top of the dark stones are half the distance to the top of the bluestone. Are you measuring from the bottom of the bluestone to the top of the brown stones to get 5.5"? The step height will be from the top of your walk to the top of the tread.

If that is inch and a half treadstock, it looks to be an easy 6".

Being that it is a single riser, a 5.5" step would not be a disaster.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 9:24PM
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