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  1. #1
    Super Member N80's Avatar
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    Default Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    I recently moved into my grandmother's house in town. The back yard is long and narrow and has three terraces. The top terrace is the largest and is probably 4 feet higher than the top of the one below it, the next one is maybe 2-3 feet high. The bottom one is pretty much just a small slope. Each one slopes down to the next.

    I would like to build a retaining wall for the top two terraces. My plan would be to start at the bottom of the slope, build the wall up to the right height and fill it in. I would like to use pre-fab cement landscape blocks.

    The problems are: 1) I've never done this before and do not know what I'm doing and I don't want this thing to be falling over in a year. 2) I will have to do it by hand. There is no good access for my tractor into this back yard. Stone and fill dirt will have to be dumped in the driveway and taken back by hand/wheel barrow. A very small skid steer might fit back there. 3) I will need to build a set of stairs going down for both terrace....but I'll worry about that later.

    On the positive side, there is no time limit for this. It could be a long term project.

    Has anyone done such a thing themselves? Any tips or pointers? Any resources I need to look up?

    I'm very much in the planning/feasibility stage with this at this point. If it looks too daunting I'll just save money for a while and get a pro to do it.
    George
    South Carolina

    The size of government is inversely proprotional to the degree of freedom it affords.

    "What is truth?" Pontius Pilate

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    I don't want this thing to be falling over in a year
    Don't build it plumb, build it so it angles back into the slope. Start low enough to prevent undermining.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    Quote Originally Posted by N80 View Post
    I recently moved into my grandmother's house in town. The back yard is long and narrow and has three terraces. The top terrace is the largest and is probably 4 feet higher than the top of the one below it, the next one is maybe 2-3 feet high. The bottom one is pretty much just a small slope. Each one slopes down to the next.

    I would like to build a retaining wall for the top two terraces. My plan would be to start at the bottom of the slope, build the wall up to the right height and fill it in. I would like to use pre-fab cement landscape blocks.

    The problems are: 1) I've never done this before and do not know what I'm doing and I don't want this thing to be falling over in a year. 2) I will have to do it by hand. There is no good access for my tractor into this back yard. Stone and fill dirt will have to be dumped in the driveway and taken back by hand/wheel barrow. A very small skid steer might fit back there. 3) I will need to build a set of stairs going down for both terrace....but I'll worry about that later.

    On the positive side, there is no time limit for this. It could be a long term project.

    Has anyone done such a thing themselves? Any tips or pointers? Any resources I need to look up?

    I'm very much in the planning/feasibility stage with this at this point. If it looks too daunting I'll just save money for a while and get a pro to do it.
    Research the project before starting. Perhaps a stop at the dealers selling those blocks will yield a "how-to manual".

    Lots and lots of labor. I spent a couple years building 300' of retaining wall that varied from 5' down to 1' using RR ties.

    Harry K

  4. #4
    Veteran Member AchingBack's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    George here is the most important part of retaining wall building. Installing a deadman.
    Retaining wall - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/1118.html
    I thank God for these gifts: 2005 Mahindra 2615 HST w/loader, (485 hours), and 3710 backhoe. Markham tooth bar, Bush Hog SQ60 rotary cutter, Bush Hog 3507 angle blade, Bush Hog LLR84 landscape rake w/gauge wheels, Rankin loader mounted forks, Paumco Quick Spade, Agri-Ease 3 point log splitter.

  5. #5
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    John Deer Lt160

    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    Picture would help. I have done the prefab brick retaining wall thing.
    1. they are set up to set back, so you dont have to worry about doing it yourself. The pin system is just stacking your block and dropping a pin down, some are pinless.
    2. The base is your most important item, get that right your just stacking big heavy legos.
    (the base goes to your frost line, and then use compacted modified fill to create a level base). Put a drain tile behind your wall and slope to where you want it to drain to. back fill with as much gravel as you can to avoid the slope pushing on the wall.
    3. plan and do your walkway at the same time. The bricks being modular lend themselves to stairs.
    4. capstones can be cut with a diamond blade in an angle grider(so can the blocks). Then you just use block adhesive to hold them(the caps) in place.
    5. think low voltage lighting, you may want to run that when you do it so you can light up the stairs. Also will you flatten an area for planting, patio? etc.
    6. Take your measurements to the brick place and they will help you out they also have install guides. Take a walk and look at the colors too, lots of choices.

  6. #6
    Super Member N80's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    Thanks guys. Great advice. I'll try to get some pictures posted later today.

    I did a little reading and some of the stone companies make a mesh called geo-grid which you put down in layers under and behind the stone and then fill on top of it to help diffuse pressure on the wall. This sounds like a good idea to me.

    In looking at this project it probably would make sense for me to do the low wall first since this will be my first attempt at this sort of thing. It would also prevent me from having to hual material over the new top wall if it was done first.
    George
    South Carolina

    The size of government is inversely proprotional to the degree of freedom it affords.

    "What is truth?" Pontius Pilate

  7. #7
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    New Holland TC40D

    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    Here is one I did. Has step. Part of wall is built in to hill, part of it stands out from the wall. Spent a lot of time with a transit getting everything true and level. http://webs.directcon.net/renielsen/patio.html

    - Go to the Keystone website. They have all kinds of info on how to PROPERLY build walls. Here is Keystone Country Manor; Keystone has lots of other block styles on thier site though...
    http://www.keystonewalls.com/media/C...Reinforced.pdf
    http://www.keystonewalls.com/media/C..._CM.detail.pdf
    http://www.keystonewalls.com/media/L...Mtech.mktg.pdf

    - There should be a base of level compacted gravel or DG 6-12" deep under the the first course. The foundation is the most important part of the wall.

    - For a 3' tall wall, your first block course will be mostly below grade. No setting the blocks on top of the ground; they'll shift.

    - The wall should have a drain pipe near the base

    - There should be 12" of drain rock behind the wall. The dirt should only touch the top 4-6" of the wall.

    - I use a 2' and 6' level, a string line, and a transit if needed. Always double check level of the base, and then keep checking as you start your courses of block. If you get the base level, the rest is easy. If you don't, well, just do it right and make sure your base is really level...

    - Keystone Legacy, and similar products from other companies are nice blocks, but they look best in commercial applications. Look at some of the other blocks, like the Country Manor by Keystone(or other companies). They look SOOOOOO much better in a residential environment.

    - Bobcat has a skidsteer that is only 36" wide; I have rented those before because of very limited access...

    It cost more and takes more time to build a wall properly. But the results are worth it.


    Quote Originally Posted by N80 View Post
    Has anyone done such a thing themselves? Any tips or pointers? Any resources I need to look up?
    RobertN in Shingle Springs Calif

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    Geogrid is usually only used on tall walls. Walls less than 3 or 4 feet tall do not need it typically.

    Check local regs; if you have to go over 3-4' tall, it usually requires an engineered drawings ect. That is why most block companies make wall supplies for homeowners, to work up to 3' tall...

    There are setbacks between wall too. Typical 2:1. If you have a 3' wall, your next wall should be 6' back. I think that is shown in some of the Keystone links I posted.

    Quote Originally Posted by N80 View Post
    I did a little reading and some of the stone companies make a mesh called geo-grid which you put down in layers under and behind the stone and then fill on top of it to help diffuse pressure on the wall. This sounds like a good idea to me.

    In looking at this project it probably would make sense for me to do the low wall first since this will be my first attempt at this sort of thing. It would also prevent me from having to hual material over the new top wall if it was done first.
    RobertN in Shingle Springs Calif

  9. #9
    Super Member N80's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    Thanks for those links Robert, those are excellent.
    George
    South Carolina

    The size of government is inversely proprotional to the degree of freedom it affords.

    "What is truth?" Pontius Pilate

  10. #10
    Super Member
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    Default Re: Building a retaining wall...by hand.

    If you poke around the Keystone site, you'll find lots more info too.

    There are a lot of companies that make block; a lot of them are regional; shipping gets expensive...

    Quote Originally Posted by N80 View Post
    Thanks for those links Robert, those are excellent.
    RobertN in Shingle Springs Calif

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