One of the most widely used hardscape materials today is concrete retaining wall blocks. You have surely seen them somewhere in your neighborhoods either used in commercial or residential landscapes. Their ease of use is a big factor. This post will be about their use and design options.
These products are made by many manufacturers. They come in a wide variety of shapes, textures and colors. Without revealing the manufacturer’s names I will describe some varieties available to you and their many uses.
These blocks come in many sizes but most of the dimensions are somewhere around 6″ high x 12″ deep x 16″ long. This would just be a common size available. The products are also available in smaller and larger dimensions. Some systems even incorporate a mixture of different sizes.
The best approach to picking out a block is to visit your local landscape or mason supplier. They will usually have displays for you to look at and also have catalogs on hand.
Most of these blocks incorporate some type of molded lip at the rear and bottom to keep them from sliding forward on the block beneath. This lip will also cause the face of the wall to slope back, which increases the blocks resistance from the pressure of back filled earth behind it. Some manufacturer’s use a system of fiberglass pins, like dowels, which are inserted into holes in the blocks during construction to achieve the same functions as the concrete lip used by others. Then their are some that are simply glued to each other during construction. In almost all styles, the final cap stone is glued to the block beneath.
The faces of many of the wall blocks are split-faced. During manufacturer the blocks are molded as two, face to face, and then hydraulically split apart when they harden. This process creates a very rough, craggy face giving them a stone like appearance.
Some block faces are molded to resemble natural stone faces as well. These type of products will often be sold as a kit containing various heights and lengths to achieve the look of a real stone wall.
I’m going to lay off the block descriptions for now. As I could probably fill a whole post and more on this alone.
Walls and Steps
The most common use of these block, as their name infers, is as a retaining wall. People who have been around a little while, will remember when railroad ties were used for this purpose in a lot of home’s landscapes for purposes such as retaining walls and flower beds. These blocks first appeared as a replacement for these walls.
Today their uses are many and create a most eye-popping result in some cases. As a retaining wall, these blocks function very well. For sure, it is important to follow manufacturer recommendations and good construction practices insuring a well-made and lasting wall. This information will be available in most of the manufacturer’s Product and Technical guides, available at your landscape and masonry supplier or online.
Sometimes your property can present obstacles to your design plan that seem difficult to overcome. Perhaps the area where you want to place your patio in has a steep uprising or down slope. Concrete retaining wall block can be very useful in these situations. They can be used to help you level these areas out.
Steps are probably the next most common use. These blocks can be used to create simple straight up and down passages from one level to the next of your particular design need. They also can be used in flowing, rounded tread designs for more appeal. The use of these block in creating a tread or landing area over 12″ in depth, will require the use of paving bricks or some similar material to fill in the area between the risers.
An item appearing more and more on you folk’s wish lists these days is the fire pit. These blocks are easy to put together in either a round or rectangular configuration for a fire pit. It is possible to purchase kit forms of these projects which also may include metal ring and grill components to make it even simpler.
This is a very “doable” project for any adept do it yourself er. There are many instructions online for these projects on sites such as Pinterest. Some block manufacturers are jumping on board with kit form fire pits as well. If you are nervous about working on a project with concrete retaining wall blocks, this is an easy project to accomplish and learn the basics.
It is not too difficult of a project to create pillars from these block as well. They work well as standalone components to mark the entrance to your driveway. Many landscape themes will also incorporate them into their components at the end of walls as accents and to create smooth transitions from one wall to the next.
These pillars are often topped with lights or plants to make for more interesting eye appeal.
This is where you can really let your imagination run wild while looking for inspiration from what others have done. There is just so much you can do with the variety of materials available. It can get overwhelming, so just enjoy the journey. Browse the different block manufacturer’s web sites. They present to you pictures in their design and project galleries from which you can draw a wealth of ideas for your project before starting.
A kitchen may not seem like a difficult project to tackle. You must keep in mind the planning that is necessary if you wish to add components such as built in grills and sinks. It is definitely necessary to have a well-designed plan available before you start your outdoor kitchen. You will need to know dimensions for the parts you will be using as well as locations for access to water, propane and the like.
Wall blocks definitely lend their selves as valuable products for the the do it yourself er. You should just remember that size definitely matters here. Large projects usually require the removal and hauling of tons of earth. A wall over four feet in height requires added construction techniques to insure it’s longevity and integrity.
Some of the blocks themselves are extremely heavy and rough to handle. A design incorporating many geometrical aspects, will require lots of cutting with special tools and safety equipment. Provisions need to be made to allow the free flow of water from behind the wall. Most projects will require the use of a plate compactor, which are available at rental centers.
Do not be afraid to tackle a smaller project. Get a product and technical guide from the manufacturer of your selected product and follow it closely in building your project. Pay specific attention to the base preparation. This is probably the most important step. A good base goes a long way to insure that your project will perform as expected.
Thanks for taking a look here, I hope it has helped you in your project design and product selection. Please leave comment or question below.
6 thoughts on “Concrete Retaining Wall Blocks”
This post comes in at a great time. I am thinking about improving my backyard during this shut down. This gives me some good ideas. I like the ideal of using bricks to build some walls around my covered cooking area. I think I that would make some great additions to my backyard patio. I guess I may be thinking about installing an outdoor kitchen.
I hope you will find my post informative enough to help in making your selections for your projects.
I really like the idea of being able to buy patio material on line. It beats going to a big box store where things are scattered to lead you to other parts of the store. The shopping ability here is easy as your travel from one item to another without traveling a long distance. Cudo’s for your choice. Thank you for making things easy!!
It always helps to have a good handle on what is available to us before we begin selecting from the , sometimes overwhelming, choices presented to us. That was my intent and I’m glad I could help.
I love concrete retaining wall blocks majorly because of the beauty they bring to a house. Retaining walls are not as simple to design as you might think. They need mathematics experts like structural and civil engineers to do a good job and build a wall that lasts especially if the land is not evenly levelled.
It had not occurred to me that one can make a good outdoor kitchen and fireplace from concrete blocks. From your blog, I can see it makes the place look beautiful and executive.
Given the weight and roughness of blocks, I believe it is a good idea to make them on-site as opposed to buying and transporting them.
Thank you for sharing this blog, Ricky, it has given me fresh ideas on what concrete blocks can do.
I’m glad you have found some inspiration from this post. There are many uses for this building material. One only has to use their imagination.