How to Do a Retaining Wall Tear-Down

You have a retaining wall in your yard and it’s showing undeniable signs of deterioration or is beginning to seriously slant as tree roots upend it and you begin to think about demolishing it. Perhaps another solution is to fix it or have the tree removed to save the decorative structure. Then, you start thinking about the expense, time, and effort it will most definitely require.

It’s becoming more and more clear the only feasible solution is to take it down and save yourself the headache and wallet hit of repairing it or having it replaced. Now, the only problem is how you go about breaking it down without leaving a huge mess to clean-up. You want a realistic plan of action that will get rid of the retaining wall and not leave an eyesore after it’s gone.

Well, there is a way to take it down, but it will require more than a little bit of elbow grease to get it done right. Depending on what it is constructed of, and how it’s laid out, the project will be labor intensive, which is why you might consider hiring a landscape architect and having it done by a professional.

Assessing the Situation and Planning Ahead

The first thing you’ll have to do is identify the problem because that will dictate your course of action. In other words, if it’s crumbling because of age and the weather elements, that’s one thing. However, if it’s beginning to crumble because of tree roots, that’s an entirely different situation. In other words, age and weather are normal and only require you to demolish the wall and cart the pieces away; but, tree roots mean a problem with the tree, which will have to be dealt with.

A retaining wall is a wall that is constructed to contain soil to prevent it from eroding. Retaining walls are sometimes found in yards that are hilly, as the soil behind the wall creates a flat surface where flowers or a garden can be planted. Large, thin stones called capstones are often placed on top of the retaining wall to provide a decorative element. —San Francisco

In any case, you’ll have to cover-up the area where it currently stands. Expect to find an unsightly trench devoid of green grass and perhaps a sizable amount of pests and/or critters nesting underneath. As you can see, there will be a lot more to deal with than just hammering down stones and carting them away in a wheelbarrow or hauled away in a rented dumpster.

The Right Way to Do a Retaining Wall Tear-Down

To get the best results and not put yourself into a bad situation, you’ll have to learn how to take down a retaining wall the right way. Just sledgehammering it or knocking it down with a rented tractor will do more damage to your lawn than necessary. Here’s how to tear down a retaining wall:

  • Find out if you need a permit. Depending on the wall’s height and size, you might have to get a permit to demolish it and have it hauled away. Should this be the case, call a professional and let someone with experience do the job for you and save you time and money.
  • Rent a dumpster. You’ll need to determine the size of the wall and how much cubic space you’ll need to hold all the debris. It’s better to rent a dumpster which is bigger than you need than rent one that’s too small and has to be emptied and refilled because that will take longer and cost more.
  • Turn off the power. If there are any electric powered features on or near the base of the wall, such as lights, be sure to turn off the power at the breaker box. In addition, think about any buried irrigation lines which might be near the base of the retaining wall.
  • Cover the immediate surrounding area. Cover any plants with a tarp or unearth them, place them in a temporary pot and move them out of the way.
  • Pry off the top. Retaining walls have caps along the top to help them stay secure. You’ll have to use a crowbar or pry bar to get it off starting at one end where you are standing nearest the top.
  • Hammer and chisel the bricks or stones. Next, you’ll have to chisel the individual layers, working your way laterally from one side to the other, and top to bottom.
  • Dig up the foundation. Using a shovel, dig up the gravel foundation and save the material for future use.

Finally, replenish the soil to make it near even with the surrounding grass in the yard. Then, you can lay sod in the area and care for it to give your yard continuity. If there’s tree roots which are in the way, call a professional to have it removed and sod it thereafter.

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