diy poured wall - diyers only

grishJanuary 20, 2011

I am wanting to frame and pour a 50' solid concrete wall on my property when it warms up. I'm sure many of you have done something similar and I'm wondering if you can offer any advice or shortfalls to avoid during construction.

It'll be about 50' long, 6' in the center and stepped down on the ends to about 4ft.

Just to get it out there, I am not going to hire it done and there are no building codes to worry about so any advice toward hiring a proffessional is not needed. I just want a nice sturdy wall full of rebar and concrete like grandpa used to make. :)

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I pour my own concrete walls, but I doubt you will find many others here that do. For some reason, most people have an unwarranted fear of concrete.

The footer for a concrete wall must be below the soil frost line. In cold climates this makes SRW walls more economical than poured concrete.

In areas where construction is regulated, most walls over 3 ft high require an engineering review. There are two good reasons for this. The forces on a 6 ft wall are huge compared with those on a 3 ft wall and few homeowners are qualified to understand what a sufficient design would be for walls over 3 ft. Second, the consequences of a wall failure tend to skyrocket as wall height increases.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 8:07AM
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Sorry, but a 50' long, 6' high concrete wall is NOT a DIY project. And as the former poster indicates, there are very good reasons for that......hardly worth the bother and expense only to have it fail down the road OR be forced to remove when local inspectors determine you didn't have permits and approved, reviewed construction docs, which is far more likely. And there ARE codes - you may just not be aware of them. All permanent structures over a given size - and your wall would certainly qualify - are regulated by building codes in the US, primarily for safety liability reasons.

Have you ever done a large concrete pour before?? It is not nearly as easy as it sounds or may appear to be on the surface.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 10:41AM
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I don’t know where the original poster lives, but in most of rural Arkansas there are no regulations of retaining walls, none whatsoever. There are no plans required, no permit issued, and no inspection of construction. If you build a dam higher than 25 ft that impounds water you do have to have a permit and if you block a running stream the Corps of Engineers will jump you. Arkansas is a place where freedom to do what you want still abounds.

Of course, if you build something dangerous, your home insurance will probably be canceled. Since agents here are well aware of the lack of regulation, they tend to look for things that might lead to a payout.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 11:05AM
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There are not (nor have there ever been) any building reqs where I live and gardengals post is entirely unhelpful, which of course is why I asked not to get those type of comments.

We have dozens of hombrewed concrete walls out here some of which are nearing 100 years old. Never had a problem with any of them.

Please DIYers only.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 9:23PM
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Typed that post on my phone and didn't realize it sounded as crass as it does until I got home and realized I couldn't edit it.

Hiring it out is simply not an option is all that I meant.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 11:37PM
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I can't tell you how to build your wall. The best I can do is show you what I've done. If you are good at posting photos and plans I can look them over and maybe make a few suggestions. There was a recent tread on concrete construction showing some of my wall work. (see link below)

Here is a link that might be useful: Walls

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 1:59AM
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Thanks alot. Extremely helpful pls8xx. I've actually read a few of your posts now. Appreciate the input.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 7:09AM
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"We have dozens of hombrewed concrete walls out here some of which are nearing 100 years old" wouldn't it make more sense to talk to whoever made those walls then especially as you are so fussy about the information offered here?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 10:09AM
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Yeah, we have a lot of those really old concrete walls here too.

A good thing. It's easy to find the guys that built all those 50+ year old walls. They're all together down at the cemetery.

A bad thing. They're not saying much about how they built them.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 10:53AM
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So you don't think any of those dozens of walls were built recently eh, I wonder why that is?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 11:49AM
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I get the decision to do it yourself. Given the forces at work, I think it would be a worthwhile decision to have a structural engineer design the footer specs, rebar schedule, etc.

FWIW, for wall projects at my house I pour a footer and build out of grade with CMUs and rebar then grout the cells before capping the wall. To my mind it beats building forms, especially in a case like yours where you're trying to keep a 6' tall section from blowing out. Then again, I also find wet-lay masonry kind of therapeutic now that I don't do it every day.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 11:59AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I've done a lot of concrete work over the years. Mostly sidewalks, stairs and patios. Even a few retaining walls. None over four ft. high though.
Making the forms strong enough to keep from blowing out during a pour is the hard part.
Go to a big box store and buy the concrete interlocking blocks made for making walls.


    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 12:00PM
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We have a lot of homeowners here that build CMU walls. Most of these walls fail simply because the proper construction described by marcinde is not followed. There are several reasons that I don't recommend CMU walls for homeowners unless it is a very small project.

1.Laying block that has a nice appearance requires a skill that few homeowners have.

2.The total cost of materials for CMU is greater than poured concrete plus forms where the project can be done in sections.

3.With CMU you have to lay each block and then get grout down all of those 4 inch by 6 inch voids. I think it's more work than assembling the forms and doing the pour.

Marcinde and Mike zero in on the real problem of poured concrete, the forms. Most homeowners fail to understand the immense pressures that wet concrete has on forms or how that force increases with the height of the pour. Blowouts are a nightmare.

I spent three years designing the forms I use. I've never had a blowout. Maybe because the forms are limited to a 32 inch high pour. If I do a taller wall, the forms are attached to the bottom section of the wall and a second pour is made.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 2:03PM
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This is what I would do considering that there is no way that I or anyone else could erect a 50 foot by 6 foot concrete wall of unknown thickness on my own. I would call in neighbours and family and respect their input I would invite them over for the week, we would have a meeting on day one to discuss the project and its rewards, I'm thinking beer and pizza.

No I wouldn't. My guess is that this is a retaining wall that is beyond a DIY project in spite of the OP only wanting rah rah responses.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 7:52PM
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inkognito - Yeah sorry about that. Actually didn't mean to come across as so fussy. I hope you forgive me on that. I'll go ahead and explain.

Like pls8xx points out I am afraid that most of the walls were in fact built by people that are mostly dead or in their 70s. I'm old enough myself to have helped or seen some of them built. It takes a summer to finish one hand mixing your concrete. Which is fine. You see Concrete+Field stone is the mainstay around here. You'll see it supporting everything from bridges to houses to large retaining walls and in home fire walls. It's seems to be strong and lasts if you take your time with it. Not to mention it's as cheap as sending a half a dozen people out in a pick up to collect the materials.

I've tried my hand at a hand mix Mortar/concrete+Blocks filled with concrete and also the Concrete+whatever field stones you find lying around. Never had any of the ones I've put up crumble yet. In fact I went around looking yesterday and none of them are even cracked that I could find.

I've never poured a solid wall into hand built forms out of a truck as everything has been hand mixed except for the house foundation footer we poured last fall for the neighbor and then stacked and filled rebarred Block on top of it.

Pouring a wall had just been on my mind since I had seen one of my other neighbors pour a 4-5'ish tall wall in November into plywood forms and more or less finish it in a weekend. I wasn't able to help with that one though. Of course I could drive there and ask him about it and he'd probably come over and help with mine if he could.

All in all, It was just wintery outside and I was trapped in the house and since I frequently read I just thought it might be a nice distraction to chat about the solid poured wall I've been thinking about building instead of spending a summer hand mixing concrete.

I don't have a problem with professional concrete or contractor peeps it's just that I'd literally have to go out of county to find a bonded/insured one anyways and even then you don't know what your going to get until it's to late to do anything about it and the contracter would probably just hire people like me anyways and never actually show up himself like they seem to do. It's fun and costs less to DIY. If after reading everyone's input I decide I don't want to risk trying to form a 6' tall I might do some fancy dirtwork to make it shorter and/or do Block instead. :)

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 8:24PM
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Thanks so far everyone. After talking to people today and reading your comments there seems to be two recurring warnings to pouring. Dropping the height of the wall to no more than 4' and making absolutely certain that the forms will hold together.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 9:04PM
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Ummmmm.....I do believe your biggest concern is calculating the weight and force of whatever it is that will be behind the wall and then engineering the wall and its footers to withstand this. Although my degree in architecture was a long time ago, I do remember extensive structural engineering classes (3 years worth of them) that pretty much focused on this subject. That is the primary drawback of a DIY project of this scope and why retaining walls over 3' are not recommended without engineered drawings.

If you feel comfortable enough about your forming/pouring skills, then at least make the investment in having an engineer design the wall so that the dang thing will stand up properly, THEN do the rest yourself.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 9:49AM
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I think gardengal gives some great advice to homeowners in general, but it may not be useful to grish. If he lives in an area devoid of contractors, I rather doubt that there will be engineers in the area that he could consult.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 11:37AM
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pls8xx (and grish) - I DO appreciate the point you are trying to make but unless grish has an engineering background himself, how can he possibly know how to calculate the load or lateral earth pressure the wall must support (as well as stability concerns such as overturning, base slippage and soil bearing capacity) and therefore the depth/expanse of the footers needed, the width of the wall required and appropriate reinforcing spacing? As has been previously pointed out, there are very good reasons why a retaining wall over a specified height requires engineered drawings in MOST parts of the country - they are simply beyond the layperson's ability to adequately design for structural integrity. Even the Concrete Network website makes it very clear that this is not a DIY project and that "retaining walls are, and should always be viewed as load bearing members first, and aesthetic groundscapes second."

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 1:18PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I'm late to the party here but I do note that it does not say "retaining" anywhere in the OP. We could be talking about a free-standing wall here.

As a person who is DIY to the bone, I respond to the approach that says "this is not a DIY project" with "so much depends on the DIYer." Nothing that is done by a "professional" CANNOT be done by a DIYer; the only thing is, the DIYer has to take the time to learn the skill and to do the job properly. In addition, it is often helpful to have equipment. For instance, a small volume cement mixer is likely not going to work. In short, it is for the equipment and the learning curve that we hire professionals, and if a DIYer can supply those things, there is no reason the DIYer cannot supplant, and even outdo, the professional.

FWIW, I come by my bones honestly. I grew up watching my parents do anything and everything themselves. When I was little, my dad bought an old car and totally took it apart and put it back together, just to figure it all out. Then they started owning houses, and did everything from replaced rotten support beams to re-roofing by themselves - no house collapse, no leaks. When they bought a "retirement" cottage they picked one that needed an astronomical amount of work, and they did it all - including pouring concrete in the basement at what you might call an artisanal level. I can barely describe what they did there - the house is built on a rock, bare rock, with a creek flowing over it, and he designed and built a stepped concrete foundation with allowance for water flow-through.

Like many incredible acts of home renovation or construction, this was a job that no professional would have taken on and that no ordinary home-owner could have paid for if a taker had been found. It was a labour of love, of extraordinary craftsmanship, an expression of personality in a medium that others regard as utilitarian. This is what DIY can be, and sometimes is: better than professional by a margin of love.

When someone is like that, they will learn anything they have to and do anything they have to in order to DIY. I don't see that it is impossible to learn how to calculate the forces on a wall and the strength required to withstand them. They'll take risks and make sacrifices: heck, my dad had a stroke likely as a result of carrying all those bags of concrete and now can't even go into the basement to see his work. But nothing could have stood between him and that job, even though many people told him it was no job for a do-it-yourselfer. He was DIYing because he could do it BETTER than a professional.

When someone is likely to DIY WORSE than a professional, even this is often OK if they don't need or want professional results - as in, say, aesthetic landscape design. As long as they're happy with their home, what's the problem?

DIY is a problem when professional results are wanted or needed (for safety reasons) and the time is not taken to develop the capacity to do the job well.

OK, rant off.

For a DIY, if this is a retaining wall, it would obviously be a good idea to either learn the calculations required to calculate the forces or do a drawing and find an engineer to advise you on the correct specs. You can probably consult an engineer at a distance, if need be. Even if it is not a retaining wall, it might not hurt to learn about tipping. And the points made here about the forms are obviously good ones. But I don't see any of that as being prejudicial to doing it yourself.


    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 4:32PM
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There is not anything actually pushing on the wall. It's simply a verticle concrete wall built between a house and a hillside (but not in a hillside) to serperate the sitting area from the parking area and tied into a patio which will more than likely be dressed up (with stucco?) and further aid in a little water irrigation. I was wanting the height so it'd be able to sit on the patio and not see the cars on the other side but with a little more dozer work on my part I think I can lower the parking area to help lower the wall like people have suggested.

As far as architects or concrete contractors go, there are no architects and the closest advertised concrete contractor I can find on google is somewhere close to 100 or so miles away. Unless you mean Day laborers that call themselves contractors or Commercial Contractors that build Highways and Walmart supercenters. I've tried calling these guys about small stuff like my pet project and they are never (ever) interested and for good reason I suppose.

There are no Building requirements around here and to be honest that probably let people just started building themselves. It is probably the entire reason there are very few contractors and then that caused the need for community construction, where the community congregrates and 'Barn Raises' as the need arises. Above sarcasms aside It was done this way long before any engineering schools and will probably go on for some time to come, either out of need or sport.

However I also fully understand peoples' need to defend their professions and if I had went to school and spent my life dedicating myself to said profession I wouldn't want a country full of DIY idiots thinking they could do it themselves either. But what are you gonna do. It is what it is.

This type of construction goes way beyond concrete and I think some people don't realize that in unregulated areas people can still build an entire house or anything else (for that matter) for materials only if they want to take the time learning a DIY solution.

We all have gardens, patios, front porches, driveways and houses even when we have to (or want to) build them ourselves.

Of course I appologize for the bickering the post caused. I had hoped if I actually labeled the thread "DIYers only" Everyone wouldn't have to endure a 'Professional VS DIY' thread.

That having been said I'm looking forward to building my new wall in the spring and look forward to reading everyone's comments on the subject. That is if the thread hasn't been ruined yet. Thanks guys. I hope everyone has a nice weekend.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 11:05PM
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I don't know any reason a homeowner could not build a 5 to 6 ft freestanding wall. There is the potential for form blowout, but that can be managed.

Since you seem to be in a rural area, I would ask what the travel time is from the nearest concrete plant. You might want to schedule construction at a cooler time of the year so the concrete does not arrive "hot".

You mention a patio on one side and parking on the other. If you want to install lights or electrical outlets, run the conduit inside the wall now. Water? Utilities for an outdoor kitchen in the future? Awnings attached to the wall? Benches or planters along the wall?

If you live a rural life style, do you need a loading dock at the back corner of the parking/wall?

Parking and patios can shed a lot of rainwater. Where will it go?

Get the idea? You need a plan.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 8:28AM
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Outdoor kitchen is an interesting idea. One that I hadn't really thought of.

Travel time to concrete is 35-40 miles away.

As far as outdoor utilities. I do have water out there and electricity wouldn't be difficult as it's already run to outbuildings using the solid conduit that you cut and can bury or screw into a wall. It's not really 'great looking' per say but it's simple to run your wire through. It's also easy to fix and once you paint it the color of the wall (if you attach to walls) you got to get right up on it to tell what it is. It's the same stuff all of the real large complexes use around here.

I already have a 'loading dock' area that I built into an outbuilding. So no need there.

As far as the water. Yeah. I don't have an irrigation plan
besides just away from the house and rain barrels for a drip garden. I still have to work out a solution for that yet.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 9:56AM
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Well, that clarifies things a lot :-) I had a response to Karin's comments all written out last night but decided to wait before sending to see what other comments might turn up and now I'm glad I did! There is a HUGE difference between what is required for a free standing wall compared to a retaining wall and despite all DIY good intentions to the contrary, I remain firm in my opinion that a retaining wall of the size/height you described is NOT a reasonable DIY project and the calculations required to do so successfully and safely are not something a layperson can just study or "pick up". And it has nothing to do with defending my profession - even with my architectural training and structural engineering background, this is something I would leave to the pros who specialize in such fields.

The issue of a free standing wall of such a large length and size does raise some aesthetic design concerns - pretty monolithic, IMO (kinda like a mini Vietnam War Memorial!) - but if that's what you want, I don't see much hindering your building one. I might want to overdesign the thing a bit just for permanence sake but otherwise the project seems doable. Is there a reason you want to make this barrier out of concrete rather than say, stacked stone or even a wooden fence?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 1:49PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

And once the wall is built, what would you like to plant along it? ;-)

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 5:28PM
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Gardengal - really the only reason I had considered a solid wall was that I had other construction projects to do before (next) winter and didn't want to spend to long on the wall. I've never used the interlocking blocks and don't really like the idea of anything that's not ..solid..I guess. I'm not in a hurry though and I think I will figure the cost with the blocks you suggest. If for not other reason than to compare.

I didn't even consider wood because I wanted an above average long lasting and near maintenance free solution. Once it's done I really prefer to never have to touch it again. I've probably only gotten 10-15 good years out of my previous attempts using wood landscaping beams or railroad ties.

I hadn't considered the fact that it might be viewable from space or anything. :) Since you bring it up though, I'll go compare the looks of a few similar walls.

In my mind though I think it'll be fine. We were going to "dress" it up afterwards. We had thought of stuccoing it but could do just about anything. We had also thought of finishing it exactly like the house and creating a sort "courtyard" look. We are still working on this part of the design.

Thanks for the suggestions.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 9:31PM
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Missingtheobvious - Evergreens! :)

I like evergreens. Since we have four very distinct seasons and we want to break up the wall and we don't want to be in a constant state of plant maintenance we are planning on coming out away from the wall and creating a sort flower bed down at the bottom and filling it with some short evergreen (shrubs?) Or something similar. Could even use those blocks gardengal suggested to frame the bed with.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 10:02PM
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Hold on!! I never suggested concrete blocks.......unless they are the very high-end ones that look almost like natural stone, I detest concrete interlocking blocks. Given a choice, I'd go with poured concrete before using those. And if your wall is going to be free standing, it will likely be viewable from both sides and I've yet to see a brand of those blocks that was intended to be viewed from the back.....they are just raw concrete and look similar to standard concrete masonry blocks. Almost too utilitarian, for my taste anyway. The option I did suggest was stacked natural stone (or a wooden fence). Understand the issues with the fence - it would not be as permanent as a stone or concrete wall and would require maintenance, but a natural stone wall would be both permanent and aesthetically appealing -- far more so than either the poured concrete or certainly the interlocking concrete blocks. Stacked stone walls are not all that common in my area and I have minimal experience with them and for sure nothing of the size you propose so I have no advice to offer on construction or cost, except that natural stone will be more expensive than concrete and probably by a large factor.

Free standing walls of any size are just not very common in my area other than wooden fences or a few brick or stacked stone walls used as a decorative fence element to define a front garden or courtyard.

Stuccoing the concrete wall and then dressing it with plantings would go a long way to improving or softening the appearance. I've also seen concrete walls faced with a veneer of natural stone. Very attractive.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 10:23AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Not only are stacked concrete blocks not meant for free-standing walls, aren't they actually impossible for such an application? Since they overlap, I believe the outcome is automatically a leaning wall. Not so good.

Concrete walls can also be imprinted with designs as they're poured - the city has done that here with many walls that they maintain around elevated properties. Some are just geometric, others a raised outline of a house, etc. I'll see if I can find some pictures.

But ah, yes, a stone wall. On that note I searched out a former forum regular who has built a few and very kindly linked to his photo album. Rather than link to his old threads, I'm linking below directly to his album since the threads eventually get old and die - but these walls never will! Classic case of DIY excess, this. I'm a happier person for having seen these!

The fence option is maybe more attractive if you pour a concrete footing with easy-connect posts or maybe even concrete posts to just hang panels from - that way panels can be easily replaced if they rot out or for the occasional change of scenery.


Here is a link that might be useful: Kaitain4's stone walls

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 12:48PM
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I misunderstood your suggetion garden. Thanks for clarifying.

Karinal - i do like your idea about building wood ontop of concrete. Definately worth looking at.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 9:03PM
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