Asked on Jun 12, 2017

What's the best way to redo an old railroad tie retaining wall?

by Jeff
I just moved in to a house that is 40 years old. Though it has great bones, there are a ton of projects to do to get it to a place I'm proud to call home. I am pretty handy and can do just about any project, with the right tools and money. But this one has me stumped! The railroad ties are nearly 40 years old and crumbling away. I love the look as the house is on a wooded lot and is a traditional Tudor with dark brown wood and cream stucco. I want to find a solution to fix the erosion problem that now exists, but don't have the time or money to tear out the 100+ railroad ties and put in expensive stone or blocks. Any suggestions?
  9 answers
  • Nancy Turner Nancy Turner on Jun 12, 2017

    If you don't want to remove the existing ties you could put a new layer of ties in front of the existing ties. The templet is already there and just need to copy it. All it takes is some kind of saw to size them to match, rebar to secure them and a drill bit to predrill the holes for the rebar. I would suggest that when you drill the holes use one tie as a templet for where to drill for the ties below it. We just did that to my tiered veggie garden where the people who put in the ties used one instead of two and the soil was eroding from underneath the one at the front of the garden. You can do one section at a time to make assembling it easier and not mix up the ties that go in another section, or label the ends with letter and number system A1, A2, etc. That is what we did. The ties would be cheaper than the stones or blocks with the amount you would need. I think the ties go really well with the home and the trees surrounding the property.

  • John John on Jun 12, 2017

    railroad ties are subject to termite infestation....remove any that are rotten or infested with termites or be prepared for expensive house repairs....once yearly the ties should be sprayed with termite insecticide...then they need to be water proofed especially if you live in an area with harsh winters...freezing water in the tie cracks will split the ties.....i have had mine for years, but I regularly maintain and inspect mine....pine needles or leaves left on the ties is also a big no no as they retain water under the needles/leaves and promote rot

    • Nancy Turner Nancy Turner on Jun 12, 2017

      The ties that need help look like they are far enough away from the house that termites should not be a problem. My moms house had ties that were 30 years old when she moved and they still looked like they were brand new. The house is in SE Minnesota and lived through 30 winters of snow and ice.

  • Sharon Sharon on Jun 12, 2017

    I would do one of those stacking block walls with gravel behind it, or a french drain to divert the water....

  • Cori Widen Cori Widen on Jun 12, 2017

    Just wanted to say that your house is absolutely gorgeous! Good luck!

  • John John on Jun 12, 2017

    I live in a tropical area where termites abound....never been to Minnesota so I don't know the termite conditions there....just talking from my experience...but I would still water seal....winter rain gets in a crack--freezes and expands (think coke in the freezer long enough explodes)---the crack widens, more rain, more freeze, more widening, and so forth till the wood splits....I have a masters degree in Electro-mechanical engineering and thoroughly understand physics and thermodynamics.....just suggesting and explaining what could and will eventually happen

  • Cynthia H Cynthia H on Jun 12, 2017

    If they are treated with creosote, you may have a problem disposing of them. I would try to find someone with experience with retaining walls in your area, and find out if they are going to be a problem. You could also speak with someone from your local environmental office.

  • Gorgeous home. Those ties are a problem for the reason Cynthia stated. You could leave them to rot away in place and put something in front of them.

  • Mogie Mogie on Jun 02, 2023

    If you remove the rotting railroad ties consider replacing with a block retaining wall with interlocking pieces that naturally lock into place to prevent them moving.