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Building a Retaining Wall Terrace


Installing retaining wall terraces is a popular means of adding depth and texture to an otherwise flat landscape. In water conservation conscious Southern California, these structures also allow landscapers to capitalize from run-off for different plant types. While — on the large scale – building a retaining wall is a project best left to the professionals, on the smaller backyard scale it is a great weekend project. Do you have what it takes to change the look and feel of your yard today? A few interlocking blocks say you do!

Choose the right blocks

A trip down the yard building material aisle of the local big box home improvement store introduces you to the interlocking concrete block. A small lip at the bottom of the block’s back prevents any shifting and upset, while you put together a visually pleasing terrace section.

Keep in mind that this type of building material does not require any mortar, which makes it perfect for some experimentation. For example, do you want a circle, a figure eight or something else altogether? Experts from Lowes warn that this type of retaining wall should be no taller than 28 inches.

Form a pattern

Lay out a pattern. If you want to do away with a backyard and instead opt for a number of landscaped terraces, consider twists and turns, which add interest to the landscape.

Start excavation

The foundation layer must be below ground. Go one row of interlocking stones deep. If you live in earthquake-prone areas, make it two layers. At this stage, the level is an indispensable tool. Only place the blocks when you are certain that the trench is absolutely level at each spot.

Add blocks

The foundation layer is the most difficult one. It takes quite a bit of time to get it right, especially if this is your first time building a retaining wall. The next couple of layers are easier. Be sure to keep checking the level! Since staggering aids in strengthening the no-mortar wall, make sure to offset the next layer to cover the gaps of the previous one. Porous gardening fabric or gravel on the inside of the terrace keeps soil in.

Do you need a permit?

DIY projects – even in your own backyard – are subject to zoning and code laws. Generally speaking, any structure less than three feet does not usually require a permit, but check with your municipality’s building department to be certain. If you must pull a permit, know ahead of time what the building inspector looks for when signing off on the finished retaining wall.

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