Retaining Walls

Tips for Building a Retaining Wall

 Tips for Building a Retaining Wall

So today we have been called into the backyard of a prior customer. We worked on his project a few years ago. What he wants to do is he wants to take the upper yard and lower it down to create more usable flat space. Right now we have an upper and a lower terrace, and this retaining wall divides everything in half. A few years ago we built a Versa Lok modular retaining wall.  What we are going to be doing is we are going to be pulling that retaining wall apart and actually stitch it together. So this is going to be a great example of how to add on to an existing retaining and make it strong.

One of the things I want to point out is that we have these built currently, and we are going to redo it to make it better. Now, we have a Versa wall and a Chilton wall and you can see that we have to have a flat seam line. That’s not the best situation to have, but we’re unable to stitch these 2 different types of material together. So the plan is to remove this Chilton vault and then to add on with more Versa Lok.

What we’re actually going to do is pull this apart and seam them together in a stitch fashion. You’ll never know it happened. It is going to be strong as just as if the retaining wall had never been modified in the first place.  We’re going to bump this wall out, and then we are going to haul out the majority of this hill creating the flat space that the customer is looking for.

On Site

So we’re back at the site. There are a couple of things I want to point out on this project. One is we’ve taken the time to enlarge the lower area. We call it the courtyard effect. What we’ve done is we’ve given this customer more space directly off from their back door. They have more room to entertain, to barbecue, just to have guests and company over. Giving it a much bigger feeling. One of the other things I want to point out in this is job is how we are going to add on to an existing retaining wall and make it blend. If you look at this wall that we have here, we have stair-stepped it back or beat it down.

This is the bottom course.This is the buried course we’ve taken all of the rest of the retaining wall so that we can match directly into an add-on into this wall making a cohesive seam that’s going to be strong. We really can’t do it any other way and know that we are not going to have an interruption in the strength of this retaining wall. The other thing that I want to point out on this project is the base. Since we are at this point I want to point out what we use for base material. We use 3/4 clear angular stone. The reason we use 3/4 clear angular stone over a pyrrhic or a class-five is for one simple fact: strength.

When we put these stones in their angular nature locks in place. We then do a light pack over it and then this rock can’t go anywhere. If we use the p rock or we use a different type of rock for the base material. If we have a lot of water going through it. What can happen is those pea rocks, or those circular stones, can tend to roll and shift. When those stones are moving they are loosening up all the soil around it. That can differential settlement and the retaining wall and that is something we want to avoid.

A simple trick to avoid that is to use the same material behind the wall for the drainage zone as we do for the base zone. So that’s what we do for the base. We have this all setup we’re going to give it a light compaction. Then we’re going and we are going to be ready to start basing the old wall.


We’re back at the site. the thing that I want to show you is how we stitched the wall together and this has been a couple year project. The first part of the wall was built a few years ago, and the last part of the wall we just recently completed. The thing to notice is although we’re able to stitch these walls together seamlessly we are not able to match colors. The reason we can never make the colors exactly is simply that the aggregate from different types of season changes the color of blocks themselves. Weathering is also another factor and if the wall has been sealed or unsealed. The existing wall has been sealed for salt and graffiti. The color is a factor and something to consider when you’re going to be doing a multi-year project.

This job is complete. Everything is wrapped up and we can move on to the next phase which is restoration.

1 Comment on Tips for Building a Retaining Wall

  1. Michael Gallagher

    Hey Stanley, just bought a house in Fort Worth, Texas. Got lucky, my foundation is in great shape!… but I have one section on the side, facing my neighbor that is exposed. I want to build a small retaining wall to keep the soil from washing away. Should be no more than 24″ high, 24″ deep (i.e. away from the house), and 8′ long.

    Any specific tips or anything to watch out for? I will be building this myself.



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