Small Retaining Wall DIY Help


We have a sloped garden and after much discussion have decided to drop the back (to create another level), instead of trying to fill it in 1) because of the cost, 2) because we have no side entrance and everything would need to be bought through the house and 3) because the retaining wall would need to be above 1m to build up.

Building down, surrounding all four edges with a small retaining wall (approx 0.5-0.75m high), and levelling out the ground/equally distributing the ground feels doable as a DIY.

Having looked into it, I feel confident building the wall using railway sleepers, laid horizontal and stacked on their narrow side with posts in concrete to support behind. However, we managed to locally source 19 breeze blocks (excess from a locals building project), but I am not sure how I feel about being capable of laying the concrete footing, stacking the bricks and mortar.

However, I am not sure what is the more cost effective option - some kind of breeze/concrete blocks or reclaimed railway sleepers. 

As pretty much all of the wall will be buried beneath the soil, or covered by storage (as this is what the lower level will be used for) aesthetic is not a driving factor. However, ease (for a DIYer) and cost are.

The back and front walls would measure approx 4.5*0.5m
While the side walls would measure 3.6*0.5

Any advice/guidance greatly appreciated.

Pics attached to show where the lowered level will be.



  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 16,149
    edited June 2019
     I would say go for breeze blocks for the foundations.

    1. They are light and easy to manoeuvre.

    2. You can take your time getting them level.

    3. Railway sleepers are heavy and levelling them along their entire length would involve an awful lot of grunting. Possibly disturbing your neighbours.😂

    4. Even if you didn’t get the breeze blocks absolutely flat, you could infill the small differences with soil. The sleepers’ weight would soon bed them down.
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • HexagonHexagon Posts: 1,014
    edited June 2019
    I don't have any experience in this, but I would say YOU CAN DO IT.
    This is because I had years of people telling me I couldn't do my own bathroom. And I'm doing it. Just watch enough videos and read enough "how to" things and follow them step-by-step and you'll get there. It may not be 100% "perfect" (if there is indeed such a thing) but it will be yours, and you did it and you'll be extremely proud.
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 19,333
    I agree.  If you can dig out a trench about a spade's depth deep and fill it with small gauge rubble then pour over some of that quick setting concrete mix that aborbs moisture form the soil you should be able to get a reasonably level base uon which you can set the breeze blocks with some wet mix concrete/cement which you can then tap level to make a base for sleepers or even more breeze blocks if they work ut cheaper.

    We did that years ago in our last garden but we used wine bottles rather than breeze blocks to make a knee height retaining wall which was both decoartive and useful.

    We also had some retaining walls made from sleepers but it was such a big job we got in some chaps to do the heavy lifting as they were chest height in places where they were laid flat but also ran up a slope and were laid vertically then the chaps cut them to one
    level.  Hope this pic explains things better - taken from upstairs.

    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • steephillsteephill Posts: 1,043
    If you are going to level down you need to remember that there will be a lot of spoil to dispose of. About 8 cubic metres based on your measurements weighing about 8 tons all of which will be going through your house.

    Another possible solution is to use a deck to give you a level area at the same height as the main lawn. I was thinking of a steel frame based deck rather than timber but that might be a bit too pricey.
  • Nanny BeachNanny Beach Posts: 2,965
    good old utube, reclaimed sleepers are very expensive, and HEAVY, yes, agree with everyone else breeze blocks.  My late Father did a basic bricklaying course at a local college, always good to have these skills.
  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Bath, SomersetPosts: 4,325
    I can vouch for the amount of spoil @steephill on a project like that - I've been amazed at the amount I've had to dig out just the end of a bank, only about 3ft x 4ft. I'm running out of room to put it. 
  • chabrisnlchabrisnl Posts: 7
    @steephill and @Lizzie27 the reason for creating a slightly lower level at the back is because I wouldn't have to remove anything. It's just a case of redistributing what is there to make a level that will be slightly lower than the rest of the garden. It will only be a slight step down from the level of the main garden, but will just be a case of shifting and leveling that back area into one flat, lower surface, with the retaining wall around to support.
  • chabrisnlchabrisnl Posts: 7
    Obelixx said:

    We did that years ago in our last garden but we used wine bottles rather than breeze blocks to make a knee height retaining wall which was both decoartive and useful.
    Wine bottles! That's super creative! Wow
  • purplerallimpurplerallim LincolnshirePosts: 2,359
    When you dig out the edge of the upper level to move the soil , what do you plan to use to edge the step down? It will be on view  so maybe one row of sleepers or decorative stone on top of your breeze blocks might be nice.
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