September 22, 2017

Can I Build Stairs Out of Blocks?

Blocks, more specifically - retaining wall blocks, are a great solution for building stairs outdoors without compromising style: You can build stairs either curvy or straight, make them one continuous line or drop in a turn or a landing to break up the line and add character to the design.
Drop in a turn and a landing
 to break the stair line
Break up long sets of steps
with landings
Add switchback curves
to meander up the hill

If you are already building a retaining wall, you can easily integrate stairs into your design.
Curved steps with corners parallel
to the retaining wall
Curved steps parallel
to retaining wall
Curved steps into
retaining wall face

Take the time to build it right from the start. Follow a similar principle of “measure twice and cut once”

Spending time to plan and learn the techniques before you start your project will go along way. Read the detailed stair construction instructions on Allan Block website, and watch this video to get a visual on what this process entails. 

This will help avoid issues and errors that can potentially lead to your project failing. Not to mention the time and money you save, when you build your wall correctly.
Here are the steps to building stairs with Allan Block:

  1. Calculate the number of steps your stairs will have.
  2. Determine the Stair riser locations. Excavate according to the rise and run.
  3. Excavate the base trench and stair location
  4. Install base course
  5. Install first riser
  6. Backfill and compact
  7. Repeat these steps for each additional stair riser needed to finish your stairs.
Once all stair risers are in place, install the tread material you selected to finish your stairs.

If you are using AB Fieldstone, you can build the stairs using the long anchoring unit for quick and easy installation.

Always check the local building codes before starting construction. You can also get help from your local Allan Block Dealer.

September 15, 2017

Can I build with a patio wall on uneven ground?

AB Courtyard walls can be built on uneven ground but are more often built on top of a level surface like a concrete slab or paver patio. However, you may also choose to have an AB Courtyard wall that runs alongside a driveway or other landscaping feature and these most likely will not be level areas.  So how do you build on uneven ground?

Walls on uneven ground are installed using these simple rules.

  • Always install the blocks level from side to side and front to back.  Trying to install them following a slope is not recommended and will not result in a professional installation.

  • Start at the lowest point of the wall on the slope.  Dig a level trench 3 in. deep (75mm) and 7 in. wide (180mm).  As you move up the slope the level trench will become deeper.  Step the base up to the next course when the base row of blocks are completely buried. 

  • Adding extra base rock at a step will help in the adjustment to the next course.

September 8, 2017

How can I tell if reinforcement is needed in my retaining wall?

Written By: Rich Lovdal
 Allan Block retaining walls like all segmental retaining wall system can be stacked up to a certain  height and work fine without additional need for geogrid reinforcement.  But how do we determine what that certain height is?  Many municipalities around North America say a wall needs an engineer’s stamp if the height exceeds 4 ft.  This fact does not say that any wall under 4 ft can be a built as a gravity wall (a wall that has no additional geogrid reinforcement to increase its stability). From an engineering sense, the question of when geogrid is required is dependent on many things such as block weight, block depth, block setback, soil parameters, surcharges above the wall, slopes above the wall fences above the wall, local codes and others.  As you can see it is not just a matter of the municipality engineering height limit.

On Page 12 of the Allan Block Residential Walls Guide you will find a comprehensive Gravity Wall Height Chart for all of the Allan Block retaining wall products.

If your wall does not easily fit into these limits Allan Block would recommend using geogrid reinforcement in your wall.  On Page 24 of the Allan Block Residential Walls Guide you will find the start of the geogrid section and on page 25 you will find an estimating chart that will discuss how best to use geogrid in your wall.

For more information contact Allan Block at


September 1, 2017

Do I have to use the wall caps to finish my Courtyard project?

Bust a Cap
Written by: Nate VanBeek

One of the most common questions asked when it comes to building walls with AB Courtyard is “Do I have to use the wall caps to finish my Courtyard project?” The answer to that question is invariably “No.” There are a number of options for finishing your AB Courtyard project. The only limitation to what you can do for finishing an AB Courtyard wall is your budget and creativity.

One alternative to using AB Courtyard wall caps comes in at a lower cost, but often times a higher utility value. That alternative is the use of wood on top of your wall. This finishing option can be as simple as a straight plank of ¾” thick unfinished cedar or as complex as a varnished, slatted bench top. Adding a wooden benchtop to your AB Courtyard wall can be a great alternative to AB Courtyard caps because often homeowners have all the tools needed to add a wooden cap to their AB Courtyard wall. On top of that, adding a wider wooden bench top can increase an AB Courtyard wall’s usability.

Another alternative to using AB Courtyard Caps for finishing a wall is using AB Fence Caps. AB Fence Caps are can be wonderful on straight sections of wall because they have an attractive crowned top. They are also two inches wider allowing for a more spacious bench top. Since AB Fence Caps are eighteen inches long, you will need less block which can lower costs. AB Fence caps are also grooved underneath meaning there is no need to modify the top course of the AB Courtyard blocks or the bottoms of the AB Fence Caps. Curved section of wall will require miter cuts  to be done on AB Fence Caps.

A third alternative to using AB Courtyard Caps for finishing a wall is using a natural stone like granite or marble. This is far and away the most expensive and difficult option. However, using a granite remnant from a countertop installation can be a cheaper solution that adds a touch of refinement to your AB Courtyard wall project. However, natural stone does require special cutting and finishing tools and should be left in the hands of industry professionals due to the cost of materials and tools.

With many finishing options for an AB Courtyard wall it is desirable to have a flat surface to mate your capping material with. The simplest way to achieve that end is to flip the top course of your AB Courtyard wall upside down. Alternatively, you can knock the raised ring off of the top course as well. With many finishing options it is a good idea to secure your cap to the wall using a small amount of construction adhesive. This will add some strength to your AB Courtyard wall and it will protect it from damage.

For more information on building with AB Courtyard read Courtyard Walls by Allan Block.

August 25, 2017

Can I Build a Fence with AB Courtyard?

Written by Gerri Hansen
The AB Courtyard system works like any post and panel system.  Using this system a smaller height fence can be built.  If building on soil a proper foundation needs to be installed.  This system can also be installed directly on an existing surface like a patio or pavers.  If the fence is taller in height, there is installation information shown to build the posts and panels so they tie together for added stability or if needing more reinforcement, metal posts or concrete can be used to secure the panels and posts. 

To build the fence, start by building the first post or pillar, then build out the courtyard wall panel to the location where the next post will be located.  We do not recommend building all the posts first as then additional blocks will be needed to be cut to fit the exact space.  Building each section one at a time will ensure the spacing and the blocks line up properly.   AB Dublin blocks will need to be cut to create a straight side to the blocks when meeting up with the posts.  By cutting these blocks, a professional look to the project can be achieved.

For more information on building fences with AB Courtyard, visit our website.