DIY Adventures - How to Build a Small Retaining Wall

Small retaining walls can add a joyous architectural element to your landscape design. Furthermore, such installations maximize usable space in your yard by building up, not out. A perfect solution to a sloped yard or limited space.

Step #1: The first step in a DIY retaining wall is to decide on the type of wall to install. Perhaps the simplest approach is to use Interlocking Lip Retaining Wall Blocks, as these blocks lock together, creating a strong wall. To start, order as many blocks and additional material as you will need. Then, use stakes and string to mark your layout. Avoid downspouts, and ensure that the retaining wall does not result in water runoff coming back up against the house. (Note, you can also use a rope or garden hose to mark a curved retaining wall location).

Step #2: Once your layout is created, start building the retaining wall by digging a trench for your first layer of blocks. You'll want to partially bury the first row of blocks in the soil, so make sure your trench is four to six inches deep and about 12 inches wide. Once you've dug your trench, use a hand tamper to tamp the bottom of the trench, stabilizing/compacting the soil and leveling it out all in one. Next, fill the trench with about three inches of paver base (gravel). Spread the base layer with a rake, and use the hand tamper to compact the base and level it.

Step #3: For the first row of blocks, use a hammer and chisel to knock off the lip/flange so that the block will sit level in the trench. Begin setting blocks in the trench, leveling each with a torpedo level as you go. Use a carpenter's level to periodically check that the blocks are lined up and properly leveled, one to the next. (Note, you can always remove or add handfuls of gravel base if needed to raise or lower a block. Remember, ensuring that all of your blocks are level is key!)

Step #4: Once the first row has been installed, sweep any excess dirt or dust off the top of the block. Then cut a block in half, and install it at the end of your wall, on top of the existing row. This will create a staggered effect, staggering the blocks over the joints and adding strength and durability. Continue to lay the second row in the same fashion as the first; only this time, do not cut the lip/flange off the back of the blocks. Ensure the flange is tight against the first row, and double-check for level as you lay the second row of blocks.

Step #5: Once 2-4 rows are installed, lay down landscape fabric to ensure the retaining wall drains water properly. Fill in gravel directly behind the wall as you build it. Once you've built the last row, if you're adding block caps to the top of the wall, apply adhesive to your last row of blocks, then place the caps on top of that final row. And just like that, you've created a beautiful DIY retaining wall!

What’s Next?

That wraps up our DIY Pro Tips on how to build a retaining wall. We hope you found it useful!

While you’re DIY’ing if you happen to get stuck and all seems hopeless, feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to answer any questions you have.

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