How to Build a Retaining Wall

The standard shape for American backyards is a beautiful long and sloping expanse of green. It looks pretty and leads to an efficient and fun yard, but active yards required level ground to really be enjoyed. If you want to put in a pool, patio, shed, playground equipment or just about anything, you’ll need level ground.

A simple way to fix a sloping yard is to put in a retaining wall. In this guide we’ll explain  how to build a retaining wall step by step.

Building a Retaining Wall

Building a retaining wall can be accomplished by using just about any materials you have around — railway ties, natural stone, wood, concrete, etc.

Your average DIY backyard enthusiast will want to buy preformed “stones” (usually made of concrete) to build their retaining wall. These types of “stones” are built for easy installation, usually featuring a “lip” on the rear of the stones so that they lock together with other stones blocks placed on top of them. The main result of this? No need for mortar or cement to hold them together.

These interlocking cement stones build a solid and attractive wall that stands up to the pressure from sloping ground and gives the wall that beautiful “stepped back” look that everyone wants. Also, these “stones” are built tapered from front to back, so building a more visually interesting curved walls is easier than when working with straight materials like leftover ties or natural wood.

1. Lay your fist stone in a trench prepared for your retaining wall and make sure the trench is level by levelling out the stone, both side to side and front and back.

How to Build a Retaining Wall

How to Build a Retaining Wall

2. Cut one of your concrete blocks for use later as the first block for the “starter course”. Go ahead and interlock that stone with the stone at one end of the foundation course.

3. Go all the way to the other end of your wall and lay a foundation stone to start that end. Run a long string between these two stones and check their levelness using a string level. Constantly check levels while building your retaining wall.

4. Begin laying down your second layer of wall, “interlocking” your stones with the first later, continuing to use the string as your guide for level.

5. Start to fill in your foundation trench with dirt (maybe the dirt you pulled up earlier for the trench) and start to tamp it down to make sure the foundation of the wall will hold.

6. Keep laying rows of stones, interlocking them and using a half stone to begin each second layer.

7. Once you’ve built up to your planned height, be sure to lay down some fabric or landscaping material behind the retaining wall and up the hill a few feet.

If your yard slopes less than 3 feet, you can use a simple pre-cast retaining wall like the one mentioned above. However, even if your yard has deeper slopes (more than 4 feet), you will still benefit from building a retaining wall from mortar less stones. You may need a series of retaining walls — test it yourself to see how much you need to build.

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