Girl you think you know it all…Anyone else remember this chant from the ’90s? Maybe I’m the only one!
Either way, this post is more about a block wall, of the retaining variety.
You see, Dad and I repaired it during the last episode of the First Time Homeowner series.
But honestly I think it was beyond repair, even then. With the pressure of the dirt behind it and driving the lawn mower over it regularly, slapping some mortar and a few pieces of broken up concrete on top of the wall that wasn’t broken wasn’t going to last long.
So here we are today, well a month ago before Brandon and I started this project.
Crumbling and encroaching on the parking strip.
Not cool bro.
Fortunately, my Dad had some very nice blocks leftover from an exterior episode of Today’s Homeowner.
And with some very careful calculations, we determined there were enough blocks to use them to replace our sad retaining wall. We would have been in big trouble if we ran out in the middle of our project. The blocks aren’t available in our area and we’d have to drive 5+ hours to Atlanta to find them in stock! Spoiler alert-we didn’t run out!
By the way, these are the small Yukon RockWall by Pavestone. I know they are available at some Home Depots. And if it’s not available in your area, it won’t even show up when you search on homedepot.com.
Since the blocks are so heavy, it took several trips in my SUV to get all of the blocks we needed to our house. In fact, we loaded up too many at first, and my back left tire started leaning in like it was folding under the pressure!
Also since they’re heavy, we tried to lay out the blocks near where we’d need them so we wouldn’t have to move them around a bunch.
Once all of our materials were ready, we got to work demoing the old stuff. It was the first time I’ve really used a sledge hammer. And I have to say it’s not as hard as it looks. As my husband taught me, let gravity do most of the work.
It was very exciting just to get rid of that ugly, old wall! Even the bare dirt looked better to me!
Okay, not really! After we removed the old from both sides of our front walkway, we concentrated just on the left side. We cleared any remaining debris and then did our best to create a straight line with a string. We needed the string as a point of reference to butt each block on the bottom row against so one wouldn’t be sticking way out or way back.
We were also moving the wall out from where the old one sat so the front of the bottom blocks would be flush with the front edge of our front walkway. So we couldn’t just put the new blocks in the same spot as the old whatever-that-was wall.
The best way we could think to lay out the string so it didn’t go too far out or too far in as we went along was to measure off of the street. The edge of the walkway was 32 inches from the edge of the asphalt curb. So we went to where our wall would end and measured 32 inches from the edge of the asphalt curb there.
Not the most accurate measurement since the “curb” isn’t made from a form or very consistent. But that’s what we got to work with!
With the string set, we laid our first of 116 blocks! Just a note to keep in mind if you’re building a wall more than 2 blocks high, you’ll need to put down a more substantial base first, like crushed limestone.
We used a torpedo level to check the levelness of each block from front-to-back and side-to-side.
When we put the second block down, we also checked that the front edge between the 2 blocks was level. This was very tedious, but it was worth it to make sure the finished product didn’t look wonky!
Apparently just that first block was tedious enough for Brandon to need a break! I turn around for one second…
But once we got the hang of it, we grooved along pretty quickly.
We chugged along and completed the first run on the left side before we took a break and did a few other things around the house.
Once we were reenergized, we headed back out to glue down the top layer. These blocks have a lip on the bottom that keep them from slipping forward from the force of dirt behind them. But we took it a step further and applied some landscape adhesive between the two layers of block. That way if someone is walking on top of them or running the lawnmower tire over them, they aren’t going to shift left and right over time.
The first block on the top layer was centered between the first and second block on the bottom row. We applied the adhesive on the bottom of the block we were putting down just on the areas where it would be overlapping the block below.
When it was set in place we pushed it as far forward as the lip would allow to make sure the top blocks would be fairly straight too. Needless to say, this row was MUCH easier than the first. No leveling or shifting dirt around. Just slapping on some glue and setting it in place.
After 28 blocks on top, we were pooped and done for the day! Especially with the switch back to standard time and the sun setting so early!
And unfortunately for our neighbors, we left it with the half block missing at the sidewalk and the other side demoed, but not started for a few weeks. Again, with the sun setting early, we couldn’t do anything to it after work during the week. And the following Saturday, we were flying out of town for our trip to Grenada.
When we got back the next Saturday night, the leaves had fallen from our pretty gingko tree.
And fortunately, we were feeling ambitious and got started on the second half that Sunday afternoon. We got about half of the first row down before vacation blues settled in and the sun set.
I apologize to my neighbors for leaving it at that stage for another week!
But, delaying the completion of the project only fueled our desire to finish. So we finally reached the finish on the following Saturday.
To be 100% complete, we had to run to the store and purchase a diamond-tip blade for our circular saw. We cut 2 of the blocks in half to fill in the gaps where the top row meets the sidewalk. The last block on the bottom on the right side was also a half block. The top row terminated with a full block.
It might seem intimidating to cut through concrete. But if you’ve used a circular saw before and go nice and slow, it’s more messy than difficult or scary. You’ll definitely want/need safety glasses! My blocks were 4 inches thick, so I cut as deep as I could on one side and then flipped it over and cut from the other side. A little glue and it slide right into place.
We have yet to fill in the backside of the wall with dirt, or “backfill”. Because who wants to pay money for dirt?! It doesn’t seem right!
But I couldn’t be more pleased with the results! And despite the tediousness of leveling the blocks, the process wasn’t terrible!
How you doing?
One thing that the wall made noticeable what I already knew, the yard slopes towards the driveway. So by the time the wall terminates there, the whole top block is above the grade of the yard. Not so much of a problem except trying to mow. But I think we’ll sprinkle dirt there from time to time when we have some leftover to slowly build it up, at least right at the wall.
Ahhh, it looks SO much better!
Just have to make sure Brandon doesn’t run into it when it’s parking his car!
You can tell by scrolling through the pictures the passage of time. We started with green grass and Fall decorations. And over the 3 weeks the grass went dormant and yellowed, the yellow leaves on the gingko tree fell and were raked up, and the Fall decorations were swapped for Christmas!
And another project checked off the good ole to-do list! Speaking of, I’ve been meaning to type out everything I want to do to this house of ours and share with any readers willing to read it! It’ll also hold us accountable to actually do some of them!
I love to stay in touch, so please leave a comment and let me know what you’re working on around your house! And be sure to follow me on Facebook to keep up when new episodes and blogs are posted. God bless!
Thanks for Checking In! ~Chelsea
Pat Kelly says
Did you use water to cut that brick or just the diamond blade.
Chelsea Lipford Wolf says
Hi Pat. It was just a diamond blade on a circular saw! ~ Chelsea
Deanna R. Jones says
Thanks for posting these pictures. I’m also working on building a block retaining wall. I’ve also been having trouble with the way that my yard slopes when building it, only instead of the yard sloping toward the driveway, my yard is sloping away from the driveway. Would you advise me to do what you did and sprinkle dirt so that I can have something leftover to build up against the wall? I’m not sure if I should do something different since my yard slopes upward rather than downward.
JT ham says
how much adhesive…you missed showing us a pic of the adhesive applied…and no top to finish it off?