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DIY Retaining Wall Tips


Retaining walls are an effective way to not only fight erosion and water drainage but also to design attractive and usable garden space. And courtesy of stackable interlocking blocks, you can execute the project all by yourself during a weekend. So if you’re ready to get dirty and you possess the ability to do some heavy lifting, here’s what you should know to build your stackable DIY retaining.

WALL Building Tip

Stackable stones are usually recommended for walls that are less than 4 feet tall. Taller walls typically require more structural reinforcement and may need a building permit.

Materials needed
  • Interlocking stackable stones
  • Soil tamper
  • Wooden stakes
  • Level 
  • A small sledgehammer and chisel for bricks
  • Shovel
  • Work gloves
  • Rock dust or sharp gravel
  • A line level and string


Assessing the number of blocks you’ll need may be a bit difficult. However, counting on at least one block per linear foot and counting on making more blocks than your estimate suggests should help you get enough blocks for the job.



Planning and Layout
  • Before you begin, it is important that you make inquiries with your city utility office to ensure that there are no buried cables or pipes running through your digging area.
  • Utilize a garden hose to lay out a nice looking line for the retaining wall then mark out the area with landscape marking point.
  • Along the line you’ve marked, carefully dig a trench that’s a bit wider than the blocks and deep enough so the first course of blocks is below ground level. Cut straight down with the shovel keep from disturbing the surrounding soil.
  • Make the trench as level as you can, to save time later.
  • If your wall goes across a slope, you can dig a series of stepped trenches so that only one course of blocks is below ground.
  • Tamp down the bottom of the trench using a soil tamper.
  • Add several inches of sharp gravel or rock dust to the bottom of the trench, and use this layer to do your final leveling and tamping.


Note that the pressure that your wall will have to deal with will be immense so putting the first set of stones below ground level will provide the wall with some solid support.

  • Start at the edge of the wall that’s most visible, or the edge that butts up against another structure. If your wall goes across a slope, start at the lowest end.
  • Position the first stone in your trench. Make sure the stone is level from front to back and side to side. Adjust by lifting the stone and adding more gravel or digging deeper as necessary.
  • Hammer wooden stakes in the ground at each end of the trench, and stretch a string between them even with the top of the first stone. Level the string with a line level, and use the string as a guide for laying the rest of the first course.
  • Continue laying stones side-by-side along your trench, making sure they are level. Getting the first course right is the key to a successful wall.


How to Lay Additional Courses

  • Each row of blocks is offset from the one below it. If your wall has straight edges on the ends, start your next course with a block that has been cut in half.
  • If you’ve worked hard to make sure everything is level, then this is the fun part. Continue laying courses of stones, making sure the lip of the stone is tight against the stone below it, and also making sure the seams are offset. The front edge will have a slightly “stepped-back” look due to the lips on the stones.
  • Periodically check to make sure the stones are level and wobble free.
  • Build up the wall to the desired height, and top with topper stones if desired.


Note again that the best way to cut a block in two, score a line at the middle with a chisel and position the brick chisel on your scored line, then strike with the small sledgehammer.

Backfilling

  • Spread landscape fabric against your wall before backfilling in order to keep it clean.
  • It is recommended that you backfill the area behind the wall in layers with gravel against the wall and fill dirt behind it, firmly tamping down each layer.
  • Finish with a layer of topsoil.


On a final note, if your wall is meant to divert water runoff, put a perforated drain pipe against the back of the wall prior to backfilling. 




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Pricing!

You can build a wall yourself for under $3,000 while others can cost as much as $12,000. Keep in mind, however, that the average national cost for building a retaining wall is around $6,000. 


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Chris R. Jul 29, 2016
Outdoor Landscaping
 Verified Review


"Frank contacted me quickly with a quote. He followed up without badgering me and came to visit to review the work needed. After agreeing on a price, he started work quickly at a time that worked for me. Not only did he start when it worked for me, but he was done quicker than he estimated."

Pittsburgh Landscape Construction