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Finishing Our Retaining Walls

I’ve complained and complained all spring and summer about these vicious retaining walls I’ve been building around our property and I think we’re finally done (for this year at least). Any other walls will be minor, such as around our A/C unit as the hill it’s on is slowly washing away.

First Retaining Wall

Here was the first one I built back in April. I had to redo it once and we didn’t mulch the area for another 3 months, so this pic is just after I finished it the second time:

By the way, that’s a fake well pump, and I eventually got that gutter extension fitted properly. In the end, this wall was about 12 feet long and 4 rows high.

Second Retaining Wall…The Big One

The first wall was easy. It had just rained, so the dirt came up easily and in chunks. But the second wall I built (along with Stacie’s help) was 52 feet long and ran had numerous curves. In the end, it turned out to be 5 rows high, although you can only see at most 4 above ground. I still have a massive pile of dirt that I don’t know what to do with:

You can actually see the first wall in the back, right by the house.

Third Retaining Wall

The third was is partially ornamental and partially to keep the mulch and dirt around our little maple tree. I’m still considering whether I want to put cap stones on it:

And yes, that’s the work horse Ridgeline in the back. I think it’s pretty proud at hauling over 5 tons of bricks. Since it can only haul a half-ton at a time, that took me about 10 trips to Home Depot.

Fourth Retaining Wall…Another Big One

And finally today I put the last brick on our (hopefully) last retaining wall. This one is in the front of the house and was sorely needed to keep more of the dirt and mulch from washing away and exposing the bush roots. Here’s the before picture:

The elevation doesn’t look bad, but when you’re trying to mow that grass, you have to be careful the mower doesn’t tip over! Now here’s the after photo:

Again, I’m still considering putting cap stones on the walls in the front, but that’s another $100 and the wall seems to look fine without them. Eh, we’ll see.

Along with bricking up the side, I also leveled out the dirt, but not so much as to let it pool up along the foundation. Now we need to figure out what plants we want to put into all these spaces! I think we’ll wait for planting until next spring though.

The Final Cost

I mentioned this in the weekly roundup, but the final tally (roughly) was 470 bricks at $1.99 each for a grand total of about $1000 after tax. Tack on gravel, tools and tarps and the total bumps up to around $1,300. But that’s purely materials because we did all of the work ourselves. I don’t even want to guess at how much it would cost to lay about 115 feet of retaining wall!

In the end, I’ve increased the curb appeal of the home for a mere $1,000. I’m positive I’ve increased the value of the home by at least that thousand, so it’s not a wasted effort. Plus, I’ve added more planting and landscaping options because previously we had to be careful what and where we planted lest it wash away. Now everything will stay put.

While installing retaining walls is back-breaking labor, I highly recommend doing it if you need the retention. I found a lot of peace while working alone in the yard while digging, and I got massive Popeye forearms from lifting 5 tons of bricks (onto the cart, into the truck, off the truck and onto the wall. That’s 20 tons-worth of lifting!).

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Clever Dude

3 Comments

  • Nice job!

    From the photos, it looks like those are just stackable bricks and don’t require mortar, right? Do they hold in place very well? I’ve looked at this option for our house, but I’m afraid that frost heave would force me to re-do the bricks every spring. Frankly, my arms are Popeye-ish enough as it is.

  • @MGL, no mortar on these, but they do have a lip on the rear bottom edge to keep them together. Depending on the amount of pressure behind the wall, though, you may have to get one professionally installed. Since I don’t have a huge amount of soil and hopefully no underwater streams (since it’s so close to the pool and house), I shouldn’t have a problem with heave.

    There are rules about building retaining walls such as maximum height depending on the block you use, and proper footing and drainage. I used gravel beneath the wall as well as behind the first 3 rows so that soil doesn’t compact so tightly as to retain the water. Thus, the water won’t freeze and cause “frost heave”.

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