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Retaining Walls: building with mortarless blocks
or treated lumber

Building a retaining wall is practical and can add aesthetic value to your home

Need to build a retaining wall? Aahh, so many choices. Where do we begin? In this article, we will lead you through the maze of options, costs, and skill levels. Once you have established all your criteria and purchased the necessary materials you are ready for a weekend of do-it-yourself. No professionals required, thank you very much. As a matter of fact, once you have finished, you just may be the "professional."


Retaining walls are exactly as the name implies.

To hold in place or to retain position. In landscaping, a wall can be from four inches high to almost any height.

First, define the criteria of the proposed wall. Is it required for tiered landscaping only or is it to support a foundation; i.e., house, garage, or barn. Obviously, if it is to retain soil for your foundation, a more sophisticated design and a higher quality of material are required.

During the early planning stages, you will decide whether to use the following: poured concrete, treated lumber, mortarless concrete blocks, landscaping steel, or stone, brick, or concrete blocks using mortar.

For those requirements in excess of four feet in height, so much more is required in specialized forms that you should at least get outside quotes before you proceed. Walls higher than four feet are usually built with concrete. They are not an "in-a-weekend project" and, therefore, this article does not include the process.

For a wall more than 4 inches high, pre-made mortarless concrete blocks will make the job go quickly and are also one of the most enduring products. Prices per block range from $1.30 up to $8.00 depending on the size. An array of colors is available to complement the surrounding landscape. Detailed installation instructions with photographs are available wherever these blocks are sold (home improvement stores and landscaping resellers). With these instructions, skill level is minimal.

Just keep in mind your wall will only be as straight and level as your first layer or base of blocks. Also, be sure to install landscaping material behind your completed wall before back filling. This will stop soil wash through.

Treated lumber is also easy to use and is less expensive, especially for longer wall lengths. You will need boards that are 2 inches thick by 10 inches or 12 inches in width and in the length you require. Note: the 2" x 10" size seems to work very well, however, to obtain the exact height you may need to mix and match different widths. The skill level is more defined than with blocks but most weekenders will have few problems other than the manual labor involved.

Additionally, you will need posts - either 4 x 4s or 6 x 6s and one 80-pound bag of premixed concrete for each post. Place a post at least every four feet with a minimum depth of two feet. For a 4-foot or higher wall, 3 feet is recommended. To speed the concrete process: dig your holes, pour a bag of the dry mix around the post, and add water. Recheck distance between posts, then square and level. Use either galvanized nails or 3-inch deck screws to attach the boards to the post.

Writer's note: Use landscape timbers for posts if you are on a budget. Always install on the outside of the wall to help prevent rot. A wall section 8 feet in length and 3 feet high will cost between $60 and $70 all-inclusive. Give the concrete time to set up - at least 24 hours - before backfilling.

You can paint or stain a wood wall if desired for a uniform effect. If using wood, you will want to apply water repellent stain.

Retaining walls do require a bit of labor, but will be a great payoff in terms of appeal and usefulness.




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