Asked on Jun 16, 2013

Cheapest way to make a large retaining wall

Chantel Tupper
by Chantel Tupper
I have almost 1/3 of an acre backyard that I will be re-establishing soon, and one of the projects will be a 2-3 ft tall retaining wall that will be approx. 25 feet in length - it will be very visible! What are some attractive and less costly ideas? (I'm putting tiers into a sloped yard hoping to correct the drainage problems.) the concrete is gone and the sand will be mixed in with new top soil and mulch. The wall will follow the far curve and extend out 10-15 ft.
  34 answers
  • Namaws Namaws on Jun 16, 2013
    Have you seen my terrace on my page? We used railroad ties, it has worked out so well
  • Chantel Tupper Chantel Tupper on Jun 16, 2013
    I'm only 5'5" RR ties are a bit too much work for me!
  • Lori J Lori J on Jun 16, 2013
    We used the large decorative cement blocks and it was pricey. However, we were able to save a lot by purchasing them on sale. Menard's is pretty good about telling you when the sales are coming and the deals were worth waiting for. We faced a double challenge as we slant from side to side and front to back!
  • Lori J Lori J on Jun 16, 2013
    Here is a picture of our finished walls.
  • I got to agree with Namaws on this. Any retaining wall material will be heavy, RR ties are about the lightest you can get and the easiest to work with. As far as cost, probably the lowest cost as well. Cement retaining blocks cost several dollars each and a wall that size would cost you many hundreds of dollars to purchase not to mention all the work putting in a foundation in which to support them. They do make plastic ties that are lighter, but your back into the expensive category with them. You will also need a small skid steer loader at least to be able to cut into the hillside in order to move the soil and and around. You and a friend can use that as well to move the lumber around as well.
  • Elaine Simmons Elaine Simmons on Jun 17, 2013
    Railroad ties would definitely be the cheapest but don't last as long as the decorative cement blocks. I have the blocks, my neighbor has the rr ties and they are looking to replace them now. I am not sure how long they have been in but I suppose it has been 10 years or more. I got lucky and have sons who did all my work, saving me a bundle. Mine is terraced with two levels and they did all the work in 98 degree weather with high humidity. I am leaving it now to go move to AZ but I really did enjoy it while I had it.
  • Lori J Lori J on Jun 17, 2013
    We had a combination of garden ties and railroad ties--all in serious decay AND our building inspector was adamant about the fact that they attract termites. We had to have a huge treatment as part of purchase agreement and when we ripped them out, it was obvious that they had been a healthy habitat for them. Saving money can cost you money.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Jun 17, 2013
    I used some 6" landscape timbers in my driveway retaining wall project last year. They run about $25 ea. a bit cheaper than the individual cement blocks. Some are lighter than other and most are a bit lighter than RR ties. I have seen some walls made with "recycled" sidewalk bits, but these were short "flower bed" type of projects. Keep in mind that a retaining wall need to be super sturdy to hold back tons and tons of soil...that requires some mass in its own rite. If timber are used the use of dead men will help keep the wall true. Here is a link to the smaller wall project I did a couple years ago for my trailer parking spot
    • Starr Starr on Aug 09, 2018

      termits will have a party on those ties. I say this because it happened to me when I used them to make garden beds.

  • Su Su on Jun 17, 2013
    wood rots and you will be redoing it get the blocks stack them put rods though the holes fill with concrete will never have to redo them again ever
  • Nancie Nancie on Jun 17, 2013
    Gabion baskets work well and last forever!
  • Lisa Lisa on Jun 17, 2013
    The rr ties also leach yucky stuff into your soil that is not good for your health or plants. We have been putting in blocks, slowly over time and pick them up from craigs list when possible. We have a large 3/4 acre lot with steep slopes.
  • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) on Jun 17, 2013
    I join the chorus in urging you not to use the RR ties. They do rot fast and become dangerous in your landscape. 6x6 treated timbers can be less expensive, but not as homeowner friendly as a DIY project unless you have the tools on hand to make the cuts. If you go over the two feet you will need to install deadmen going into the embankment, as well as drainage pipe to carry the water away from the wall. Concrete blocks are more expensive but also add more value to the home if you are thinking of selling. They can range in weight from 65 to 120 lbs each, depending on the size. If you go over 3ft on any wall I do recommend that you get a certified retaining wall professional to put it in for you. This is a recent wall we did using wall block. It was a pretty long wall as you can see, to correct drainage coming from the neighbor's back yard.
    • See 1 previous
    • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) on Nov 29, 2017

      The product brand is Versa-loc as I recall, but I can't remember which one. I no longer have access to the project records as I no longer work for that company. Jacob Trite with Solidscapes is a very excellent wall installer{706-691-9861} And also Chris Shupe with AmazingScapes

  • Treated landscape ties do last a very long time. Ideally spraying them or coating the back side with asphalt makes them last even longer. Many as myself call them RR ties however. Most real RR ties are no longer available to the public because of toxins used when making them. And now most are made of a high strength plastic and no longer wood.
  • Phyllis Henry Phyllis Henry on Jun 17, 2013
    Has anyone ever tried making cement stones and pavers using molds? We were thinking these might make interesting "faux" stackstones and the photos look impressive. We've been told they can be applied to almost any surface, so since we have a huge amount of wall to cover (all decorative) that appeals to us. We don't like the look of the popular wall stones that all look alike; we'd like to create something that looks like natural rock and not the faux rocks we have seen for sale in home improvement stores. So, has anyone ever made or used these molds? Thanks.
  • Elaine Simmons Elaine Simmons on Jun 18, 2013
    Phyllis, You must be young and have LOTS of energy to do that!
  • Lori J Lori J on Jun 18, 2013
    What about using cement rubble in stacked walls? You could do terraces instead of one big wall.
  • Mary Mary on Jun 18, 2013
    I've seen articles about buying quick setting concrete in bags. Prepare your base foundation. Line up the bags. Poke holes in them. water. let set over a few or more days, depending upon weather. Rip off the bags. now you have a solid first layer to your wall. Then do the same for next layer but place the bags over the spot where the first row bags met each other. Repeat the process until you reach the desired height. I have made walls with stone (very expensive.) Also made a retaining wall with busted up concrete from a patio that was removed. Wish I had head about this method about ten years ago.
    • See 1 previous
    • Jen23939807 Jen23939807 on Aug 20, 2017

      Did u try the concrete bag method?

  • Linda Hinchey Linda Hinchey on Jun 18, 2013
    I know you have ruled out RR ties but I wanted to mention and correct me if I'm wrong but the real RR ties are coated with toxic creosote.
  • Namaws Namaws on Jun 18, 2013
    yes mine have creasote and have no show of wear after 6 years, will be on the lookout, my plants all do well each landing is 4 feet deep. yes Phyllis to the paver molds, my daughter just put down a great walkway.She loves them and finds them so easy to do
  • Cynthia Cynthia on Jun 20, 2013
    HOw about just some berms of soil. You can always build up base with fill dirt and blend in the top 8 inches or so with good soil. Cheaper and gives you varying heights for more interest.
  • Chantel Tupper Chantel Tupper on Jun 20, 2013
    Cynthia-that was one of my original ideas. But the slope is approx 20° and I couldn't find enough info to help me plan on the drainage.
  • Chantel Tupper Chantel Tupper on Jun 20, 2013
    I'm leaning towards large concrete blocks-3ft long and 2 ft high (give or take). Their own weight shouldhelp anchor them and the rest of the wall...I think
  • Chantel, you were concerned about price and the fact you could not handle RR ties. Concrete blocks that size weigh tons, not pounds. You would need a very large excavator to move them around. Are you sure this is what you want? Personally, a good quality landscape timber some metal rebar a drill and a chain saw you can build a very attractive wall that will last for many years.
    • Stillyoung Stillyoung on Mar 05, 2017

      My landscape timber retaining wall that I built about 13 years ago maybe longer, is now falling apart, crumbling and letting all the stones and rocks behind it to gradually fall out. I had made it about 5 rows high and drilled holes about 1 1/2 ft down and pounded in rebar, at several places, with vertical timber nailed on each end of the 20 ft wall. Behind the bottom timber wall is a flat path about 4 ft wide, into the hill, made up of clay and about 8 inches or more of rocks, pebbles and stones from all over the property, when I dug up gardens, or planted . The upper wall holding more dirt and plants above it, is made up of 3 to 4 rows of concrete blocks with mortar; the bottom row is about half way below the surface of the mixed rock path. It held up but looking like it may not last too long either as in some areas the mortar is breaking apart and some blocks pushed out. I did not put in drainage or pebbles, not knowing this back then. We have no codes here in this rural mountainous area. On top of deciding how I should rebuild that timber wall, or not, or use blocks part way this time, I now also have a large tree to go past, along the crumbling timber, that has grown so wide it is touching what is left of the timber wall. I am retired and not as strong or limber but might be able to do this taking my time, when it gets drier and warmer. There is no reliable help out here or even some professional company close. I would appreciate any ideas, or easier methods, other durable materials, even it it's buying, the smallest bags of concrete mix, and pouring short sections at a time for a wall and about 3 ft high and 7 inches wide or whatever width it needs to be to hold up the weight of the path. I don't know if each section would adhere to the previous mix doing it that way. Would it also need metal rods down in the concrete and horizontal ones too like for house foundations . How about if later on I concrete the top too or is that too much weight on a hill? Anything to make it easier to rebuilt/ salvage the walls/ path as I don't relish the thought of unloading, dragging or carrying at least 50 concrete blocks across the yard and down hill a t my age.

  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Jun 21, 2013
    And the chain saw is optional if you have a circular saw and a hand saw...circumference cuts can be made with the power tool and the last "core" part cut out with the hand saw.
  • Becky Greenwald Becky Greenwald on Feb 17, 2015
    If you've got the energy and time, when my husband and I were in our 20's we did retaining walls out of torn out concrete from sidewalks that were dumped. Broke it into manageable pieces and put the rough side out mortared like bricks. 35 years later it still looks great. People don't know that it was headed to the landfill. A lot of work, but only cost was the mortar and our backs.
  • Mary Mary on Aug 07, 2015
    you really need to consider the longevity of your project and safety. RR ties are not good for either. Real or otherwise. We installed a wood block retaining wall in our front yard and had to replace it 5 years later. We used the decorative blocks but we are going to replace the real RR ties in the back yard with cinder blocks that way I can paint them and add some mosaic designs and we are leaving a few with the holes facing outward towards the top so I can plant in them. dig a hole and fill with gravel and sand for drainage before laying any bricks or blocks and use rebar with cinder blocks and fill with your crumbled concrete.
  • Agnes Chrzanowska Agnes Chrzanowska on Dec 31, 2020

    Concrete blocks are cheaper

  • Cali Cali on Apr 23, 2021

    The longevity of RR ties depends a lot on climate. We bought a house in San Diego that had a few RR tie retaining walls that had been in place for at least 20 years before they started to deteriorate.

  • Deb K Deb K on May 11, 2023

    Hi Chantel, hope this helps. Here are 70 ideas.

  • Mogie Mogie on May 16, 2023

    We used interlocking blocks. They look good and the best part is they are designed to stack and be secure. They aren't cheap but they are a fix that should last a lifetime. You don't need to do the entire project all at one time.

  • Janice Janice on Jul 30, 2023

    In the past I've seen residents place signs in their area for "clean fill dirt", especially in new housing developments. This could supply you with materials that you would otherwise have to pay for and have it hauled in. You might be able to do this and/or mark your area as a concrete dumping area, depending on where your property is located. You might call some locall concrete sompanies to see if they'd want to dump their remaining loads on your property.

  • Kathy Gunter Law Kathy Gunter Law on Aug 30, 2023

    The least expensive thing we could find was crossties. But you will need a good way to set in place as they are rather heavy.

    I used landscaping blocks on some smaller areas with powergrab to secure in place.

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Sep 25, 2023

    Dig a foundation and then use Concrete blocks in a brick manner, or use Gabions and fill will thatever you like. You could also grow plants in them too.