August 16, 2019

Need your retaining wall to turn a tight radius? We have the solution!

Written by Ryan Miller


With Allan Block retaining wall products, a large sweeping curve or a quick tight one are easy to construct and will leave a great looking finished product.  A curve is the strongest, fastest and most aesthetically pleasing option when a change of direction is required within a retaining wall.  The minimum radius one can build with a full-length (roughly 18 in.) Allan Block unit such as a Classic, Lite or Dover is 4 ft. 


Learn more about installing curves by reviewing our installation recommendations.  If you need to make a tighter radius you may want to consider incorporating one of our units that are ~9 in. in length such as the Jumbo Jr, Bordeaux or Palermo.  These units will allow you to tighten that radius to 2.5 ft – (picture 2 below).  Using these products will allow for a quick installation and a finished product that will meet the aesthetic requirements necessary for your project.  Check out more on our retaining wall products here or give us a call to discuss your project in more detail.


August 9, 2019

How do I find a professional, certified Allan Block contractor?

Written by Souraya Farhat


Now that you have decided on realizing your outdoor living space and have come to the conclusion that building retaining walls, paver patios, patio walls and working with hardscapes in general is not your strongest skill. You will need to rely on a professional contractor with experience and a proven record on the field of hardscapes. 

Before you find a contractor to meet with, you will need to do some research and try to decide on the scope of your project. Online research, visits to local hardscape and landscape shows will help you make selections of products, features and elements that would fit into your project. This will help you classify these selections into needs, wants and would love to have in an effort to determine the scope of the project. Learn more how to prepare for your meeting with the contractors


Now that you have done your homework, you are prepared to meet with a contractor. However, where to find them and how to hire the right one is another important step to ensuring the success of your project. Here are some resources to find contractors:


The last thing you need is to deal with a failing wall, improper water drainage and many other issues that can result from a bad installation. Relying on professionals that are skilled, trained and have obtained manufacturer’s certification may beef up the price, but it is a small price to pay for a peace of mind.     




August 2, 2019

Where do I get Engineering Assistance for my Retaining Wall Project?

Written by Ryan Miller

You may be faced with the task of building a retaining wall at your house to alleviate a grade change in your yard.  The town you are living in may require engineering to construct the wall and/or you may be wondering how to get engineering assistance on your own even if your town doesn’t require a set of drawings from a licensed engineer.  Well, there are several people/companies and/or tools you could lean on to gather that information.  Below is a list of those resources:

  1. Local dealer and/or manufacturer of Allan Block retaining walls products.  Find a local resource here.
  2. Local Structural, Civil or Geotechnical Engineering firms – your local dealer or manufacturer can help you find these.
  3. Use Allan Block’s Engineering Manual along with our Installation guides (Commercial and Residential) to see how the engineering works within these structures and how it applies to the installation.
  4. Call or email Allan Block.  We have an internal group of engineers ready to answer your call and help you answer questions pertinent to your retaining wall project.  We can be reached at 1-800-599-8309 or engineering@allanblock.com.

When you find yourself in a situation which requires engineering assistance, we have all the tools and resources for your project.  Please don’t hesitate to call or email us if there is anything we may be able to help with.  

July 26, 2019

Is Allan Block safe for the environment?

Written by Kyle Huerd


The short answer is YES!  



Allan Block is made using natural, locally manufactured, raw materials.  There aren’t harmful chemicals used in the manufacturing of Allan Block products that can be found in treated timbers or railroad ties.  

Allan Block can also assist in receiving additional credits on commercial work for your LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects due to the locally sources materials and the ability to use recycled materials.  You can speak with your local Allan Block manufacturer for use with recycled materials in the making of Allan Block products.

Learn more at allanblock.com

July 19, 2019

Making the Cut: Modifying AB Courtyard Blocks for Your Project

Written by Nate VanBeek


Are you a homeowner who has recently purchased AB Courtyard? Or, perhaps you’re a contractor who has been asked to build a patio using AB Courtyard. In either event, you’re probably wondering where to start. Let’s say you’ve already designed your patio using one of Allan Block’s many Estimating Tools. You ordered your block. You’ve got your patio laid out. Now it’s time to start building your AB Courtyard patio. While AB Courtyard was designed keep cutting to a minimum, chances are you’ll need to cut block at some point. That brings us to the topic of this blog. How do I cut the AB Courtyard blocks? You’ve come to the right place!


Allan Block has a wealth of resources to help you understand how to properly cut block. Whenever you build a patio using AB Courtyard we recommend having our AB Courtyard Installation Guide handy. This will answer a number of questions that might arise throughout your design and build process. You may also want to reference Allan Block’s Splitting or Cutting Blocks How-To Sheet. Not a big reader? Not a problem. Watch our YouTube video: How to Build Split and Cut Blocks by clicking on the link or watching the embedded video to the right.


There are a couple of important considerations when modifying the AB Courtyard block. Always ensure you are wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. Whether you are splitting or cutting an AB York or an AB Dublin, we recommend that you always use the prefabricated split line manufactured into the block. Failure to do so will result in custom cuts for every course of block. The illustration to the left shows the two acceptable cuts to be made to the AB Dublin. Similarly, the AB York has a split line along its centerline.

For more information on making cuts to AB Courtyard blocks visit our website.

July 12, 2019

How strong is an Allan Block retaining wall?

Written by Kyle Huerd


A quick answer is VERY!  To give you an idea, all Allan Block products have to meet an industry standard which is governed by ASTM 1372.  This has a minimum compressive strength of 3000 psi.  Because AB is striving to be Always Better, we hold our manufacturers to a higher standard.  With that being said, the producing partners of Allan Block may be required to manufacture closer to 4000, 5000, or even higher in compressive strength.  This is because Allan Block wants to provide the best quality product on the market and find producing partners who have the same goals.

Building material products are much stronger as they are the backbone of the construction industry but to put it into perspective, a half ton pickup truck can carry a load that is 33% of the total weight of the vehicle, the human body can carry an estimated 135% of the person weight, and an Allan Block has the strength to carry 7500% of its self-weight.  Allan Blocks may not be structural blocks for a vertical load, but their strength is incredible which allows your Allan Block wall to last a lifetime!

Although this is a longer answer than the simplified, VERY, from the opening statement, now you know that Allan Block retaining walls are strong.

July 5, 2019

How Do I Care for my Retaining Wall?

Written by Kyle Huerd


Retaining Walls, like everything else on your property, require care and maintenance. With any newly built retaining wall, there are maintenance aspects that are important to watch for after the wall is completed. Allan Block walls will need far less care than other types of retaining wall products, but there are some key factors to watch for.
  • Site Grading
  • Surface Treatments
  • Wall Performance
  • Salt Spray

Site Grading

 Every newly built retaining wall has soils - backfills that are placed behind and sometimes below the wall and compacted during construction. It is quite common for some extra settling to take place after the wall is completed. If you inspect the wall each spring for any unusual or excessive settling, you can save your wall from a potentially large problem. All retaining walls should be designed and built to route water around the wall face. Once an area behind the wall begins to settle, water goes to work to make that area deeper and bigger. If a low spot is neglected behind a wall, each new rainfall will collect water at that spot and work its way down behind the wall. If the area behind the wall is flat, this can have the effect of creating a “swimming pool” above the wall. Preventing this problem is easy. Inspect your wall each spring. Look for low spots and areas that have settled. Pull back the landscape mulch or sod on the surface and add enough new fill to bring the drainage back to its proper level. By keeping these trouble spots filled, you can ensure a lifetime of performance from your Allan Block wall.



Surface Treatments

Another common maintenance problem with retaining walls is the lack of proper surface treatments. Once a new retaining wall is completed, the surface areas surrounding the wall that were disturbed during construction are typically finished with some type of landscape treatment. This might include paving, landscape plantings, mulch, sod or seed for turf, or some type of ground cover. Often overlooked as part of the total wall design, these surface treatments provide an important function for the wall. They capture, control and route the water from each rainfall. These surface treatments will need to be checked each spring until they are completely established. Walk the site carefully, and look for areas that aren’t in proper condition. Replace bad sod, re-seed bare areas, work with the ground covers to encourage growth and coverage. Look for areas of erosion, ruts and channels on the surface, and re-landscape as necessary. A little bit of work each spring with the areas surrounding your retaining wall will prevent major erosion from becoming a problem and will also enhance the landscape of your Allan Block wall.



Wall Performance

Allan Block walls are made to last a lifetime. The high strength concrete units are designed and produced to handle tough winter weather, and long hot summers. They won’t rot or decay. With tens of millions of square feet of Allan Block sold and installed, we can say they truly do last a lifetime. With all that, we still recommend a spring inspection of the actual wall itself. Take a few minutes to check out the wall, including the blocks and caps. Begin by looking for any movement in the wall from the previous season. Properly built Allan Block walls will remain in place forever. However, if a wall is not installed correctly, or if drainage or erosion problems are not corrected, some wall movement could occur.  Check your wall each spring for bulges or rotation. Again, this can only happen if the wall was not properly installed, but nonetheless, it is good to watch over the wall performance. If you see any significant forward movement or rotation in your Allan Block wall, get a professional contractor or engineer to evaluate the movement, and determine the cause.

Salt Spray

In northern climates, Allan Block products are produced with a concrete mix design that is resistant to the harsh effects of the freeze-thaw winter cycles. However, use of salts around an Allan Block wall could cause surface damage to the blocks or capstones. Look for pock marks or spalling on the blocks in areas where salts are used for winter ice control. Avoid using any salt deicers on or around your Allan Block wall. If you need to use deicers in areas around your wall, contact your local building materials outlet for a deicer that will not harm concrete. In cases where salt spray may exist, design the wall in such a manner that the snow melt and snow banks containing the salted snow are directed away from the Allan Block wall.


Maintenance Tips

Follow these simple maintenance steps to ensure a lifetime of performance from your Allan Block wall: 

  • Make a thorough annual inspection of the wall
  • Correct any settling or grading problems around the wall
  • Maintain the landscape surfaces around the wall
  • Take notice of any wall movement - settling, bulging or rotation, and then take proper corrective measures
  • Avoid use of salts as deicers around the wall
For more information on proper construction techniques, visit allanblock.com


June 28, 2019

What is Best Practices for SRW Design?

Written by Kyle Huerd



Think of a manual for an engineer, contractor, architect, or owner that provides the best scenario on retaining wall designs to navigate you from the beginning of your project to the end.  Not only will you find most of the answers for the questions that come up on your retaining wall questions, but the Best Practices really reduces the chance of wall failures as it is part of the Zero Wall Failures Initiative.  The document was written to provide that guidance to the designers around the world as we didn’t have much guidance on many key topics in the Segmental Retaining Wall Industry.  So not only does the document answer those questions, it is backed with over 30 years of field experience and testing to make your project a success! 


June 21, 2019

Are Heel or Toe Drains Necessary?

Toe Drain
Written by Jeremy Zeis

Retaining walls and water are almost always bitter enemies. If a retaining wall fails, there is a good chance that the reason for failure has something to do with water. That being said, routing water away from your retaining wall is a very important step in the design process.

A common question that we get is if the toe and heel drains are necessary on every design. The toe drain’s main purpose is to collect and expel incidental water that makes its way through the wall rock right behind the wall but shouldn’t be used as a main drainage system. The heel drain is used to route water that has migrated behind the wall away from the reinforced soil mass. 


Heel Drain
While we always recommend adding toe drains, heel drains are not always needed. For example, gravity walls don’t have a reinforced soil mass to route water away from, and a wall designed with no-fines-concrete doesn’t need a heel drain because the water will flow straight through the concrete mass.

The reason that Allan Block always recommends a drain is because there is always a chance that water will get behind the wall, and it’s very important for the water to have a safe exit path that avoids the wall. Here at Allan Block it’s our goal to see all retaining walls designed and built properly and now that you know the importance of toe and heel drains, you can help us reach that goal.

Learn more about water management and retaining walls at allanblock.com

June 14, 2019

Top Patio Designs using AB Courtyard by Allan Block

Written by Gerri Hansen


The AB Courtyard Patio Wall product uses concrete blocks to bring unique designs to your landscaping in many different applications.  This durable, versatile two-sided free standing wall system stacks simply together like kids building blocks.  Easily build panel and post type walls or applications like custom kitchens, BBQ surrounds, fire pits, bench seating and much, much more.

If you are looking for design ideas to upgrade your patio space, there are pre-designed patio packages and weekend projects ideas ready to fit needs.  All the packages offer complete instructions and video installation from start to finish.  These packages can fit right on your existing patio surface or built on a foundation and can be modified to fit any space with minor changes to the layout.  

The Allan Block line of retaining wall products also works well with the AB Courtyard products with matching colors and textures.  If you have an uneven backyard space, use the retaining wall products to level the space a raised patio and then top it off with a Courtyard wall above.  The two products blend together seamlessly.

There is a complete photo library available of backyard landscaping ideas using AB Courtyard that include patio enclosures, outdoor kitchens, ponds, planters, fire pits, seating and more.  With simple and detailed instructions, AB Courtyard should be the product of choice.