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Building a Retaining Wall

Mar 12, 2010 | Techniques, Tips

Retaining walls have rapidly gained popularity in the past few years as the variety and availability of building materials to build them has grown.  Retaining walls are the ideal solution for problematic areas that limit landscape usage, such as sloped backyards, uneven terrain, and unstable or unattractive hillsides. In many cases, retaining walls are the foundation and key to creating more complex projects, such as patios, walkways, and terraces.

Block systems are by far the most popular way to quickly and efficiently create a wide range of retaining walls for residential and commercial applications. Typically manufactured from concrete, retaining wall block systems come in a dazzling array of shapes, sizes, colors, and textures.

Retaining Wall Construction Tips

Whether you’re a landscaping professional building a retaining wall for the first time or a do-it-yourself homeowner, today’s interlocking, precast concrete building blocks enable you to create a beautiful, professional retaining wall with just a few tools and the right know-how:

  • Prepare the site in which you’ll be constructing your retaining wall by marking off the area with stakes and string (you can even use a garden hose). You’ll also need a shovel and other digging tools, a level, a soil tamper, a wheelbarrow, landscape fabric and some sand in addition to any soil you excavate from the site.
  • Pick out the type of block system that best matches your need and your landscape. This will enable you to calculate the number of blocks you’ll need for your project.
  • Dig a starter trench about six inches deep for your first layer of blocks. Using a soil tamper, tamp it down evenly and add a layer of sand to ensure a level and even fit for your blocks. This is very important because the levelness of your first row will affect every other row on top of it. This first row is called the starter course.
  • Use a level to check your starter course from side to side and front to back.
  • Cut in half the first block of your next course (and every course thereafter) – this will offset each block’s seams between each course for a more attractive and stable wall.
  • Keystone retaining walls are a pinned system which give you the flexibility of having a near vertical look or if you use the rear set of holes, a “stepped back” look. This enables a solid, durable wall to be built without using mortar.
  • Add dirt behind every course and tamp down to help stabilize the wall and ensure solid construction.
  • To prevent soil from seeping down through the wall, add landscaping fabric a few feet back from the wall after the last course (use geo-grid fabric if your wall is higher than four feet).
  • Finish backfilling and tamping, then add a layer of topsoil (if planting the area), or grade and prep for the next phase of construction, such as adding patio paving stones.

For more information and helpful tips on preparing and using concrete and concrete products, email us or call 978-669-0088.