How to Build a Waterfront Stone Wall

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As with all real estate, it's all about location, but waterfront property is a special case. These homeowners must consider the area’s weather history, increased insurance costs and maintaining any aesthetic improvements made to the property. Most homeowners are surprised to learn that physics trumps mortar when a stone waterfront wall is built, especially if you build it plumb or engineer it to tilt backward slightly so the wall hugs the shoreline while protecting your land against Mother Nature.

Things You'll Need

  • Permits/licenses
  • Design/blueprint
  • Rocks
  • Soil erosion barrier
  • Backhoe
  • Plywood
  • Sandblast equipment
  • Gravel
  • Garden tools
  • Plants
  • Visit your municipal government offices to apply for permits and/or licenses that may be mandatory to build a stone waterfront wall on your property. Ask for property line verification -- someone will come out to walk the property -- so there’s no dispute about who controls easements that border the body of water on which your home is located. Ask about watershed, water reclamation or water company issues that could require you to get help with locating drainage pipes and other utilities. Expect visits from planning department engineers throughout the construction process.

  • Design your stone waterfront wall after measuring the distance you plan to cover. Sketch out ideas after applying due diligence to researching and photographing other walls in your geographic area to determine the style, look and design that works best with your home’s exterior and landscaping. Match up exterior brick, rock and stone colors, shapes and types so your finished wall complements your residence and looks natural. Use your computer-assisted design skills, if you’ve got them, by rendering the wall design on your computer.

  • Erect a soil erosion barrier to prevent the shoreline from eroding once you bring heavy construction equipment to the site. Combine commercial plastic sheeting, tall ground spikes and wire to build a barrier from scratch or buy a prefabricated soil erosion kit. Sink the spikes along the waterline and wire the plastic sheeting to the poles so the barrier extends slightly past your property line. Cut back vegetation if it’s thick or problematic. Place 4-by-8 sheets of plywood on the property that leads to the stonewall construction point so trucks, bobcats and heavy equipment don’t damage your lawn.

  • Prepare the embankment for the stone wall by sandblasting rock to smooth the bank and create a gentle backward slope along the shoreline. Install steel or vinyl seawall barriers or a product called “rip rap” along your property line if you’re worried about serious erosion problems in your area or just build the wall. Use a bobcat to pick up pre-selected, uniformly shaped segments of 1-foot-tall rock that measures between 1 and 3 feet in length. Lower each rock into place beneath the waterline and along the bank.

  • Add a second tier of rocks on top of the first one. Add a third tier of rocks with the bobcat to lift and transfer them into place. Load gravel into the chasm between the shoreline and the stone wall so that the body of water applies pressure to the rocks and gravel to create a natural seal. Use guidelines provided by your local agricultural extension to replant the area that borders your new stone wall with indigenous plants and flowers dense enough to root deeply so they also help protect the shoreline against erosion.

Tips & Warnings

  • Research “segmental retaining wall systems” to save time, labor and effort. These precast units replace the aforementioned rock seating system. You’ll still need a bobcat to hoist sections into place, but you’ll get a tighter fit since components are designed to fit snugly together.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers retains jurisdiction over the nation's waters per Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. If your municipal government didn’t mention this agency and you’re building your stone wall along a “navigable” body of water in the U.S., give the Corps a call just in case you need its blessing.

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