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Old 03-23-2012, 07:27 AM   #1
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Retaining wall help/question


I am new to this forum and have a question.

I have a retaining wall 96'long x 3'tall it is railroad ties but the base is not...pretty shoddy construction and is now starting to collapse.

I wanted to know from the DIY'ers if its possible to do myself,. Is it as easy as removing the old ties and any footing that was there..which there is prob none...and digging for a new footing and putting the wall up and backfilling and adding drainage as I go along?

I received quotes of 10k 5500 and 4500 to re do it, but I could save a ton if I do it myself, I just wanted to know if I was overthinking the process or not

Thanks for the help


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Old 03-23-2012, 08:20 AM   #2
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The simple answer is that yes some DIY'ers can successfully build a 3' high wall. But a lot of homeowners around here think they know what they're doing and build walls that fail.

Success is often a matter of selecting a wall type that is appropriate for the situation and matches the resources of the homeowner.


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Old 03-23-2012, 09:31 AM   #3
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That is a big job for one person since it is 3' high and 96' long. That is a lot of removal, disposal and excavation. Then you have to get in the retaining wall timbers and good back-fill, because a 3' high wall that fails must poor backfill AND poor moisture control. Then it just a matter of a better base of compacted gravel, a bunch of ties and spikes and labor. You certainly can't build it the way it was.

Do you have equipment for moving aggregate and a disposal method?

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Old 03-23-2012, 11:31 AM   #4
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The simplest, most reliable DIY wall is a concrete segmental block retaining wall. This type of wall requires no special footing, typically compacted mineral soil (sand and gravel) works fine. There are half a dozen major block manufacturers out there, for example Versalok, Allen Block, Keystone just to name 3. A 3 foot tall wall typically does not require reinforcing fabric. The manufacturers have extensive information on their websites discussing design and installation matters.

I built a 3 foot high, 40 foot long retaining wall from segmental block last year, many on this forum have built larger walls. Block size varies with the manufacturer. I built my wall using split face units with a face 4 inches high x 8 inches wide, so each block covers 32 square inches (1/4 square foot). You have 96x3 = 288 square feet, which would require about 1150 blocks this size, plus capstone. You also need to add in the cost of granular backfill, drainage line, and of course there is the excavation and disposal of unwanted soil. At $20 per square foot, which is at the low end of normal cost, you are looking at more than $5000 to build the wall, but you already knew that from getting bids.

The question is, can your really save a ton of money by doing it yourself? I doubt it, and here is the reason why. You have to remove the old wall, excavate the unwanted soil, bring in select backfill, install a drain, and place the block. You are going to spend at least twice as long on this project as a competent contractor, especially if you lack the appropriate excavating equipment. I dug my soil out by hand, very hard work, but it was so rocky that using a small bobcat was not going to work. Maybe your soil is easy digging. Unless you value your time at zero, you are not likely to save money. And the block is going to cost you several thousand dollars, check with local suppliers for actual cost.

I do not recommend installing a railroad tie type of wall. First off, railroad ties rot after a while, unlike a concrete block wall. Second, they need to be tied back, so you do more digging than with a block wall. And real railroad ties (at least the older ones) are treated with creosote, which is pretty toxic. But if you can get a cheap source of railroad ties, maybe you can save a few bucks. Good luck with the project.
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