Is Building a New Retaining Wall a Good DIY Project?


The answer to the question of whether building a new Atlanta retaining wall is a good do it yourself (DIY) project or not, depends on several important factors. If you are in excellent health, and prepared to move a lot of heavy material, in possession of (or having access to) excavating equipment, and the knowledge to get the job done right, then it is a perfect do it yourself project for you.

Every well planned and well executed project makes a wonderful success story, providing satisfaction to look back on over the years. Especially a new retaining wall or retaining wall replacement project, as a concrete or masonry wall project done right will last for decades. On the other hand, building with masonry units is very strenuous and the delivery, site preparation, and movement of materials all involves a tremendous amount of work.

Code Compliance and Adjacent Property Line Issues

City of Atlanta Code Compliance: Every new Atlanta retaining wall must be designed and built to conform to Atlanta building code requirements, which may necessitate the services of a professional engineer.

Atlanta retaining wall constructed adjacent to the neighbor’s property line

Property Line Issues: Retaining walls can alter water flow across your, and your neighbor’s property. One of the code requirements is that your neighbor’s property lines (grade elevation or other details) and the total amount of water flowing on to their property, must not change as a result of the site improvements you are doing on your property. In most cases it is acceptable to reduce the amount of water flow, but it could not be increased.

Aside from the location, here are three critical details to resolve immediately when planning a masonry retaining wall:

  • The height, length, and width of the wall
  • The depth, width, and details of the footing
  • The materials and reinforcement required for the wall

Retaining Wall Building Material Options

The preferred materials to construct retaining walls for Atlanta residential or business properties are concrete, stone, or brick. For the DIY project, pre-formed inter-locking concrete retaining wall blocks are a good choice and available in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.

Concrete Foundation for the Retaining Wall

Walls greater than 12 inches in height will require a solid, concrete foundation, or footing. A rule of thumb is that footings are typically twice the width of the wall, and at least as deep as the wall is wide, but consult local codes for consider exceptions.

  • Additional items to consider in the construction of a retaining wall include the following:

    Mortar: Another of the basic ingredients needed for retaining wall construction is  mortar, which is the bonding agent that holds the masonry units together. It also seals out wind and water and compensates for variations in the size of the masonry units.
  • Reinforcement: Any wall more than 2-3 feet in height will require some type of reinforcement to keep it from buckling. Steel reinforcing bars provide both horizontal and vertical stiffening, when laid horizontally with the mortar for the length of the wall it helps tie wall sections together. Placed vertically between double rows of brick, for example, or in the hollow course of concrete blocks, reinforcing bars add strength.
  • Backfill: Backfill the space directly behind a newly constructed retaining wall with gravel or sand—not dirt, which easily absorbs water and swells adding pressure behind the wall.

Atlanta Retaining Wall Drainage System Details

Water seeps down through the backfill and drains out between the individual blocks with stackable retaining block walls. It is a best practice to include drainage tile to direct water to graded areas where it can disperse. Each retaining wall is built with a drainage system behind the wall that considers the existing grade patterns and site drainage issues. This  prevents water pressure buildup that will later damage the integrity of the retaining wall.

The Beauty of a Dry Stone Retaining Wall

Stacked dry stone is one of the most beautiful materials to use when adding a new Atlanta residential retaining wall or replacing an existing wall. The key to a successful stone wall is carefully fitting the stones, as the wall should appear to be a uniform unit, rather than just a pile of rocks. Lay freestanding, dry-laid stone walls in two rough wythes (rows) with rubble fill between them.

Bond stones, equivalent to headers in brickwork, run across the wall, tying it together. Place these in a staggered pattern at a minimum of one every 100ft.² of wall surface. The well-built dry stone wall slopes inward on both surfaces. This tilting of the wall face is called batter, which helps make the wall secure.


Is a Retaining Wall a Good DIY project?

We wish you every success with your project if you choose to take it on, but if not, reach out to Greenlawn Georgia Masonry Hardscaping & Landscaping. We possess the knowledge and experience necessary to construct a sturdy, attractive and durable Atlanta retaining wall for your residential or commercial property.

Atlanta Landscaping & Hardscaping Contractor

Greenlawn Georgia is a full-service landscape and hardscaping installation company in Buford Georgia serving North Fulton, Hall, Gwinnett and Forsyth Counties. We stand ready to help you move from the planning to the execution of beautiful new retaining wall for your Atlanta home or business. Contact us today by telephone to (770) 375-9640 or via our Contact Form.

Contact Greenlawn Georgia Masonry Hardscaping & Landscaping

Let’s get started on your next hardscaping, landscaping, concrete or outdoor kitchen project! Reach out to us through our Contact Page or by phone at (770) 375-9640.