Backyard Makeover: Building a Retaining Wall

It's been a little while since I talked about our home projects, but that doesn't mean that we haven't been working hard.  In fact, our yard work has really felt really consuming lately.  When we added on to our house, we left a lot of the yard work to do ourselves.  It's sooooo much manual labor, and I'm sooooo not strong.  We had to install french drains, and our soil was so hard that the hubby had to break it up with a pick.  I couldn't even swing the darn thing, so let's just say my help was pretty darn pathetic.  And it took sooo long.  We worked on those drains every weekend for at least a month.  So. Much. Work.  

After we installed the drains we started building our retaining wall which was a much more rewarding (and less physically demanding) project. We looked at some local suppliers of blocks, but ultimately decided to go with these blocks from Lowes (partially because they each weighed 20 pounds instead of 50...making them much easier to move, and thus a more feasible DIY project.)
It took my dad, hubby and I about 4 full days to build a wall around half the yard, although we weren't all working at the same time for the entire time.  My dad started laying the first row, while my hubby dug out the path.  Once my dad left (after 2 days) I took over laying the first row.  I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed laying these!  (Or maybe I was just thrilled that it wasn't near as physically demanding as the french drains!)

Are you curious about making your own retaining wall?  Keep reading for more details and pictures:
The very first thing that we did was figure out where we wanted the first brick to be laid.  This is super important, because all other blocks are put down in relationship to this one.  What this means is that you either go up or down a level from this block for the whole rest of the yard.  This creates continuity.  

In general you want your first layer of blocks to about half buried (although some were buried more to maintain the same level throughout.)

We put about 1-2 inches of gravel, followed by 2 inches of sand underneath the block.  I smoothed out the sand to make sure that it was as level as possible.

Then I used a small level to check how level my block was: side to side...
and diagonally:
I always checked back to make sure that I was level with the blocks a few feet away too, just to make sure I wasn't gradually introducing a new slope.  It was really helpful to use a big board to but my large level on (to stretch these big distances).
I used a rubber mallet to tag my brick down and make sure that it was sitting firmly in place.
After the first row, it was easy to place the other rows just right on top.  These blocks were heavy, but it still went together so much faster than the first row.

I'm really excited to see this done, and I'm so excited to see the backyard coming together.  We're having a cement slab poured this week, and it really feels like the project is coming together after tons and tons of hard work.

What do you think?  I know it doesn't seem super impressive by itself, but I hope you can visualize a bit of what the yard will look like when its a bit more finished!

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