If you haven’t figured out by now, two of my favorite things are fire and wood. Ironically, they go hand and hand, but one tends to obliterate the other! In September 2010, we decided that our back yard needed an area where we could sit around a fire, talk, jam on the guitar, etc.
Our backyard is not level at all, so I had to build a retaining wall to level a spot for the fire pit area. The project seemed out of my league at first, but once I started researching retaining walls I found that it would be doable. The main thing I realized was that water was going to be my biggest enemy. Water can build up a huge amount of pressure when it has nowhere to go. That is what causes basement walls to crack and leak, driveway walls to fall over, and newly built fire pit retaining walls to collapse.
There are several drainage options when building a wall, but the one that seemed to fit best was a French drain. A French drain system consists of 3 components: Perforated drain pipe, soil filter fabric, and drain rock (gravel).
With the drainage system chosen, I began building the wall. First I had to dig a roughly level trench into the hill in the shape of the retaining wall, stepping it up with the contour of the hill. I also dug a trench for the drainpipe that would drain the water that collected behind the wall. Once the trenches were dug I poured a layer of paver base
rock (crushed rocks) and compacted it using a tamper. I then used leveling sand to fine tune and level the bottom layer of the retaining wall stones.
To prepare the drain system, I used two sections of perforated drain pipe, connected them with a “T” connector, and then connected a third section of drain pipe to dump the water out below the bottom of the retaining wall. I then wrapped the perforated drain pipe in a soil filter fabric to prevent the drain pipe from clogging up with dirt. As the wall continued to grow layer by layer (and trip to Home Depot after trip to Home Depot for retaining wall stones), I backfilled the wall with pea gravel which would help the water drain quickly from behind the wall.
Once the wall reached the final height, I purchased a dump truck load of soil to back fill the area behind the wall. I topped that off with several loads of limestone gravel for a nice and level surface. Almost two years later, the wall hasn’t budged and is as solid as it was the day I built it. A very doable project! This was a little more than a weekend project, but well worth it!