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emcelvaney 09-22-2012 03:56 PM

Retaining wall work-- what approach?
Hi all,

I have had a steadily deteriorating retaining wall along the front of my property for some time now. I'm looking for suggestions on what approach I should take to repair or replace both sides of this. I am looking for approximate costs as well.

The front yard facing is on a decline (the road runs slightly down hill) and the wall goes from a few inches tall up to about 3' tall at the corner. This was a cement wall, and it is crumbling. I don't think drainage along this side is too big of an issue, as the water runs down the street mostly. The other wall has a larger drainage issue. The front wall is about 25' long, and the side wall is about 30' long.

The side wall is approximately 4' tall (by 30' long). Water drains across my front yard so this side I presume needs drainage help. The side wall was done with railroad ties and has several tiebacks.

Here are my questions:
1. Are either of these suitable for repair, or do they need replacing? My guess is the latter-- the wood ties on top seem to be falling off... but underneath the top tie it may be in OK condition.

2. What kind of materials or type of retaining wall would you recommend for replacement here?

3. Any rough estimates on cost to have this professionally done without breaking the bank? As in-- best estimate on cost to have it done right, but without getting fancy and spending a ton of dough?

Thanks so much for your help.

I have some pictures here:

(side wall)
tie backs/condition of side wall
Full view of side wall
Front wall
Full view front wall

Thanks in advance! Also-- if there is any work a layman could do with limited tools to get this project started, I'm interested in knowing. I don't have a jackhammer ...

Daniel Holzman 09-22-2012 05:49 PM

Concrete masonry unit (CMU) block specifically designed for retaining walls is a good option. There are numerous manufacturers, including some large companies like Allan Block, Versalok, and Ideal, and many smaller companies. It is possible to install concrete block wall yourself, although it is pretty hard work doing the excavating for the base, and replacing the unsuitable backfill with appropriate material (sand and gravel). And you typically need drainage at the base of the wall.

Of course you can get a contractor to install the wall, but this is not an estimating forum, so if you do not want to do the work yourself you are best off getting three or more fixed price bids from reputable, insured contractors who do this sort of work professionally. The price will depend to some extent on the type of block you select, and to a lesser extent on the amount of drainage for the wall the contractor will need.

I do not like wood retaining walls, they rot eventually. For homeowner work, it is hard to beat CMU walls. I put about 40 feet of wall approximately 3 feet tall in my backyard, did most of the digging by hand, used textured block (Ideal was my local manufacturer). It worked out well, but the block alone came out to about $50 per running foot of wall, so this is not a particularly low cost solution but it should last 100 years or more.

emcelvaney 09-24-2012 07:49 PM

Hey Daniel thanks for your tips. I was looking at the Allan block constructed walls. not sure how hard it would be to replace the taller wall, but I'm wondering if I couldn't tackle some of the shorter one on my own.

It's just hard to justify the high cost of a retaining wall, esp if you aren't sure how long you'll be staying in your house. I know I need to repair mine to some extent before I could probably even sell. That's partly why I'm trying to fix it up a bit.

Thanks for the input, I'll work on getting some estimates and go from there. It is always helpful to know what homeowners would do for themselves approach-wise before getting a contractor to come out, since it gives me more of a basis on what to ask and what to request, versus what they want to upsell me to.

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