Augmenting retaining wall along fench

spindle23February 21, 2014

I just bought a house and I'm tryijng to redo my backyard. I have a fence that slopes downward and it has a retaining wall below it that is in good shape. The prior owners had gravel up to a quarter of the way up the fence towards the lowest point. I dug this up and the bottom of the fence and the bottoms of the panels are rotted. (see picture)

I'd like to build something to augment the existing retaining wall so I add soil (eventually sod) and keep that area from having more damage, though I don't plan on raising the elevation more than 1-2". What is the easiest way to fix this? My current plan is either to use flagstone from the prior landscaping or some treated 4x4s to build an additional wall slightly away from the fence to about halfway up the length of the fence where the old retaining wall kicks in.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Here is a link that might be useful:

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Need more pics from different viewpoint.I try to do some.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 7:26PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

spindle23, I think we need to see a view from farther back ... well, really the whole yard. I'm not understanding where you are considering placing the new retaining wall.

And ... is the old retaining wall the low cement barrier at the left of your photo? Again, it would help to see more of that area, and what its purpose is besides storing odds and ends of lumber and cement. And it would help to know what you plan for the yard (entertaining, growing veggies, young kids playing on the grass, trees to shade the house, etc.).

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 9:50PM
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Here's some more pictures, hope that helps

1) and 2) from the deck above the lawn facing N
3) On lawn facing S
4) is the rotted area (on the right in 1 and 2)
5) is facing E from the concrete pad.

The area was originally landscaped with rock, gravel and some plants and I've removed most of it. The area with the wood is also a driveway, theres a garage under the deck. The old retaining wall is below the fence facing N. I want to build a partial wall to be able to make that area a bit more level. FWIW, the whole yard drains to that point.

I'd like this to be grass with plants/trees on the edges.

Here is a link that might be useful: More perspectives

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 11:37AM
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Also, here's what I'm thinking of doing, see the pic. I would put the end of a perforated pipe in that corner. It's a retaining wall, but it's basically just covering the parts of the fence that aren't treated (can't really modify the fence, it's shared between my neighbor and I)

Here is a link that might be useful: What I'm trying to do

This post was edited by spindle23 on Sat, Feb 22, 14 at 17:34

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 5:31PM
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Spin, I must say that I don't understand very well your description of what this is and what you're trying to accomplish. Are these "before" pictures, or of the present? (It looks as if there is much more excavating to do before getting to a place of stability.) And how did this come to be in this condition? It almost appears as if the earth was in a wet, semi-liquid state and the whole yard slumped. In the what-you're-trying-to-do picture, it doesn't seem as if the wood structure (which I guess will be below grade ...?) has any structural stability. What is supposed to hold it in place? I can't visualize where the garage that's mentioned, is. It looks like we're looking at an entire yard that is two stories off the ground. What is holding all of this earth up? I don't think it's possible to advise until understanding just what it is we're looking at. As it is, it looks like a freaky, inexplicable condition. Maybe a Google Earth picture of a larger area might help put it in context (?) ... maybe.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 11:02PM
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> As it is, it looks like a freaky, inexplicable condition.
:) Now I'm confused.

The middle part was full of pea gravel and river rock (faux river thing). I recently dug it up.

The wood structure would go over the bottom of the fence. There is a retaining wall there, but it's sloped and too low, and to get the dirt any higher without rotting the wood of the fence (which the prior owners did). The bottom would be held by dirt and whatever packing base and this dirt would press up against the original retaining wall.

I've attached a pic. Does that clear anything up? Google earth image is lousy, unfortunately.

Here is a link that might be useful: General layout

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 1:18AM
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In the pictures, I don't see a deck except for the steps landing.

":) Now I'm confused." Do you not see that, relative to your neighbors, your yard is elevated 15' up in the air? What's really holding it all up? ... not anything you're showing us in your pictures. (BTW, it would be much better if you could post any future pictures directly into the thread. There's a "Choose file" button for each post.

If you don't explain the basic structural aspects of this seriously raised yard, I don't think you'll be able to get any help that means anything. There is a deck/garage/driveway shown on the recent diagram. But it doesn't correlate to anything in the pictures. We also don't know where the stairs are going.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 3:13AM
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Ok, let me try again.

The stairs go up to the deck, the deck is above the garage. I wasn't clear on whether you were talking about why the pictures were from high up or the house

In the attached picture, facing S. S neighbor is above me. E (left side of picture) - there is a very large concrete retaining wall.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 11:31AM
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This one is from the deck facing E. Again, big concrete wall below fence. I assume this what you mean by 15' up?

The north fence on the left slopes down along with a retaining wall below it. The topmost point is maybe 2ft above the N neighbors lawn where the driveway is, the bottom most point maybe 3'. Everything is structurally sound to my knowledge. In the NE corner (everything drains here), there was dirt and gravel, rotting the fence - I'm just trying to fix this before I move on to filling the area with topsoil and putting in seed/sod.

Sorry if this is confusing, let me know if I can explain more or what I'm missing in this description or what I can take photos of to help.

This post was edited by spindle23 on Sun, Feb 23, 14 at 11:49

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 11:38AM
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Here's a more graphical depiction of what's going on and what I'm trying to achieve if that helps at all. Second frame was before I started digging, with the soil resting against the fence, third frame is my (possibly bad) idea of how to keep the soil off.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 12:07PM
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Part of the problem is that you're mentioning a garage, a deck, a drive ... but none of those items are visible in any of the pictures so it's impossible to correlate to them and grasp how the property fits together. I'm thinking now that the garage may be beside us, not somewhere below us and buried underground, whereas its opening to the street would be on another level. You've got to remember that we can't see anything but what you show us and the pictures don't relate to the standard things one would see on a property, such as a house, garage, building walls, etc.

In the drawing and picture, your proposal of what you might do, I cannot understand. Can't tell what's holding anything in place.

Could you provide a picture, taken from nearby the lowest elevation of your yard, but from outside of the property (outside of the fence) looking back at it, whereas the picture encapsulates the yard and the house?

My gut reaction to how this should be fixed speculates that it will be much different from what you now are planning.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 2:44PM
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It's going to be hard to provide that - my N neighbors are about 2 ft below, my E neighbors are 10 ft below and the S one is covered by some large shrubbery. I'll try to see if I can get a picture from the street. Here's a Google Earth snap in the meantime.

The driveway goes to the garage, the deck is on top of the garage. The problem area is in the NE corner of the yard. I'm not sure how to describe what's holding it in place - I've described the retaining walls. The figure I most recently drew is of the N fence, soil was running up against the fence. The E part of the NE corner has a giant piece of concrete that goes well above where I want to run the soil

This post was edited by spindle23 on Sun, Feb 23, 14 at 15:42

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 3:37PM
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I pity that house behind you! What kind of cave must their back rooms be??

The google satellite view is helpful in grasping the overall lay of land.

My gut reaction to what you propose is that it will be inadequate. It looks like you still intend to bring the grade up above the bottom-of-fence level. Properly, the fence should be sitting atop the grade/retaining wall. There is no real indication if the retaining wall that holds the back yard up in the NE corner is adequate & sound. If it is not, whatever you do after it will not hold. Why don't you expose the upper portion of the wall at this corner and let us see what it looks like? Also, it would be good to see a photo of this corner taken from the outside of the wall/yard.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 8:14PM
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This is the NE corner, The retaining board ends towards the right, there's nothing below the visible part, I can reach my hand under and into the neighbors yard.

As far as what's keeping it together, seems like it's just the fence posts? I spoke the prior owner and they had the landscaping done a 4-5 years ago, so it's held, but I'm guessing possible if I don't make the yard slope to that point that the soil will cause more pressure than the gravel/soil before it.

Still working on the pic from the corner from the neighbors yard....

This post was edited by spindle23 on Mon, Feb 24, 14 at 21:51

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 9:49PM
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In a heavy rain, excess water will run off to the lowest point, which I guess is the NE corner. How does that water escape the yard? It must have a way to do so without causing damage.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 10:03PM
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Yep, it drains into the corner. It's hard to see, but there is a hole at the bottom rightmost piece of wood. I'm not sure exactly how it does it. Behind that piece of wood is the back of the neighbors yard (behind their fence) that is just dirt and there is the 10' drop. I imagine it either drains downhill towards my neighbor yard and past it downhill or there is some sort of drainage below the wall to the E.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 10:17PM
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Things are not very clear to understand the problem. Let me give you a solution and try to understand the problem.

Pour concrete footing/column with base (say 2' X 2' X 4' depth) and insert 4 X 4 treated wood post into it. Tie/bolt/screw/clamp the fence post to it.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 10:25PM
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hvp1962 - Not quite sure what that would solve.I'm fine with the yard draining to this point. I'm trying figure out how to deal with the rotting on the fence since it and the retaining wall below it slope more dramatically than I want the soil line to be (you can see from the moisture in the most recent pic where the gravel from old owners used to be)

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 10:37PM
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My solution was (for the fence panel) to connect the rotting fence panel to the wood post which is anchored to the ground by concrete.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 10:48PM
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As described, the drainage scheme sounds a bit substandard ... much as if one removed a downspout from the roof gutter and let the fast moving torrent of water crash to the ground. This water may be crashing (well, fast-running down a wall) in a location that can't be well observed, but the fact that fast moving water is capable of moving soil (and larger particles) and doing damage is nevertheless a likely possibility. I'd be out there observing what is happening from all angles during the next big rain. Keep in mind, if the water is doing any damage to the immediate downstream neighbor's property, the OP will likely need to deal with that at some point.

I don't think an explanation has yet been offered as to how the whole back yard of dirt appears to have slumped to a lower elevation. If put back in place, what is to keep it from happening again?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 1:13PM
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Since the walls are concrete, I assume you are in a mild climate where deep footers are not needed. And the top of the retaining wall at the rear of your property is higher than the top of the sloped wall at the NE property corner,

If you look up the sloped wall from the NE corner, at the top the soil grade falls against the wall. down the slope the soil grade is near the top of the wall, At the NE property corner the yard grade is somewhat higher than the top of the sloped wall. The above being shown in profile on the left side of the graphic below.

I suggest you build another short concrete wall about a foot inside the sloped wall as shown above. Dogleg the end at the rear wall to allow a place for yard water to flow to the corner. The area between the walls should be concrete to carry any water flows without erosion. If the maximum height of the new wall is 16 inches, it's a reasonable DIY project.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 9:51AM
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given how little useful info we can glean from the text and photos, this is the most relevant yin49's suggestions have been to any discussion.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 7:37AM
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