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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I need to build a retaining wall in my backyard. The wall only needs to be 4' high, but needs to be about 50'-55' long. I also need to build some steps to access the upper yard. So I don't have the budget to pay someone to do the entire project. I'm thinking of having a contractor do the grading, deliver all the material, and lay out the first row of block. I would do the rest. Will contractors do that type of thing? Does that sound like a reasonable way to make the project affordable? Any other ideas?
 

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Depends upon your contractor--you'll want one who is licensed and insured, always. A 4' high retaining wall is probably going to need a poured concrete footing no matter what it's made of. Also drainage is important. Water pressure building up behind your wall will cause it to fail no matter what.

There are several ways to go--irregular, natural stone drains itself but is an expensive material and requires expertise to build a retaining wall out of. Interlocking stone blocks are very DIY-friendly, but again, expensive. Poured concrete is actually much cheaper than stone, but needs to be done by the pros, start to finish.

Wood might be an option. A lot of people make retaining walls made of treated railroad ties, reinforced by rebar, but these of course aren't as permanent as stone. At four feet high, it will require a bit of engineering to get it right, and again, drainage is very important.

"This Old House" magazine did an article on these not too long ago. It's available here:

http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20401277,00.html

Hope this helps!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Didn't really answer the question. It's not about how to build a retaining wall. My question was about bargaining with the contractor to do part of the work and whether people have experience with that.
 

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Most contractors have no problem doing partial jobs. I do my own finish work all the time.

(Aack, sorry for the double post. My computer's freaking out.)
 

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If you build a segmental block retaining wall, you should have no problem getting a contractor to do the grading. You simply hire a grading contractor, or man with a backhoe as they like to call themselves around here. They excavate to the bottom of the wall, and place the crushed stone you are going to need for the foundation.

At four feet tall, if that is the height of retained soil, you are almost certainly going to need reinforcing grid that will extend approximately 60 percent of retained earth height back from the wall, so the contractor can excavate that at the same time. You are also going to need the wall backfilled with clean, granular material, so the contractor can bring that in, and place it when you are ready for backfill.

As to design, most of the major manufacturers of segmental block wall (like Versalok) have extensive on-line resources that provide detailed installation manuals with pictures and specifications. I built a three foot high wall out of segmental block, about 25 linear feet total, went pretty smoothly. Just follow the directions.

Any major block company will probably have a local distributor who will bring you pallets of block, and will work with you on the material list. At least my distributor did, soup to nuts. If the initial grade is correct, installing the first row of block is not particularly difficult, just make sure the first row is level both ways, and work up from there.

If you decide to go with another type of wall, that may get beyond DIY. For example, a cast in place concrete wall requires formwork and reinforcing, which is too much for the average DIY person without experience. I don't care much for wooden retaining walls, some like them, but they require more excavation than a block wall, and the wood is subject to rot over time. A natural stone wall is great, but unless you have built them before, difficult to get right.
 

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I built my own SRW with my dad. I rented a mini excavator and that made things go quick and easy. I had everything delivered, even still if you build up the wall yourself, you are going to have a lot of stone to move in behind the wall as you stack up (I had a backhoe my dad brought and we used the front loader). The tough part for me is doing final grading (I am hiring that done).

I would get a quote for the entire job and ask them to itemize the wall foundation, first course, and the rest of the wall. You'll probably find you won't be saving too much by stacking the wall yourself and if you have to rent a dingo that is more cost and if you use a wheel barrow that will take a long time depending on how close the stone is to the wall site. Digging out the foundation and setting the first course isn't difficult. The trick is having good fine Dense Grade (3/4 minus) to set the block on.

 

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Nice job slippin. I think you did not give yourself enough credit, getting the curve right, especially up against the steps, is not as easy as you make out, and your job looks totally professional.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
sippin that looks great! and a lot like my situation. question about your steps: what's the riser height on your steps?
 

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The riser height is 6". I am currently redoing the steps, they will still be 6", but I am going to snug everything up. I had the blocks facing the same way which left a huge gap I just planned on filling with color mortar. That look horrible, so I have pried up the two outside stones and flipped them around and will add a cut piece to the ends. I really like the look of the geostone landscape block that I used, but the core fill walls take a lot of time since you have to fill and pack each block.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I've got a contractor telling me my steps have to be 8" high because that's the size of the block I'm using on the rest of the wall. It looks like in your picture you used the cap pieces to make your steps. Is that what you did?
 

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I did use capstone. My wall stone and my capstone are both 4" though. Because I set the next step behind the previous, I could make it whatever height I wanted. I have two little girls and 8" would have been to much. Now my issue will be when I tie in the sides. I am redoing to make the steps wider and end at the wall, so I will be cutting the step. I think in some instances, they place the step stone down and cut the wall stone to fit around the step, which would have forced me to have an 8" step. I am doing the opposite and cutting the step to fit between the walls. i am still trying to figure out how I am going to do the top, because I don't want any water flowing in behind the steps. I need to force the water off the hill around the steps.

No offense to good contractors out there, but I have yet to have a contractor do a professional job at my house. I have repaired and fixed EVERY single job I have hired done. Including the grading and sod work I just had done. I walked my sod and nearly broke my ankle a couple times as I pulled 6"+ rocks out from under my lumpy sod.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Thanks sippin. This guy does GREAT work...just hope he does great work in my yard.

I think I'll just make the treads longer or something to give me more of a gradual incline. I'm trying to avoid a steep incline with the steps. 8" steps spread out over 16' feet should feel about right.
 
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