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How Much Does a Wood Retaining Wall Cost?

Last Updated on May 20, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

With their rugged natural beauty and affordability, wood retaining walls provide homeowners an attractive landscape terracing solution to gracefully reduce steep sloped yards, prevent erosion, and add decorative elevation changes to gardens. But what really impacts the costs behind constructing these popular backyard projects?

This detailed guide examines typical construction materials, installation and labor pricing, design factors that impact costs, value-added finishes, the process for estimating costs, and cost-saving tips for keeping wood retaining walls affordable yet structurally sound. Let’s start by reviewing the basics of proper retaining wall construction.

How Much Does a Wood Retaining Wall Cost?

On average, wood retaining walls installed cost approximately $20 to $35 per square foot depending on height and layout complexity. Pressure-treated pine or cedar timber runs $30 to $70 per 8-foot board.

Total costs for a multi-tiered 200 sq ft wall often span $5,000 to $8,000 or more. Size, site prep, drainage, and professional versus DIY labor significantly sway pricing.

  • Pressure-Treated Timber Sections: $30 – $80 per 8 ft length depending on wood species
  • Landscape Fabric, Gravel, Perforated Piping: $250 – $500 per 100 sq ft section
  • Stakes, Rebar, Hardware, and Fasteners: $150 – $300 per 100 sq ft
  • Backfill Dirt, Sand, Compactable Clay: $250 – $500 per 10 cubic yard dump truck load
  • Wood Sealer, Stain, or Paint: $150 – $400 per 100 sq ft
  • Cap Stones, Coping, Finishing Touches: $15 – $50+ per linear foot

Material costs scale up substantially with the overall square footage and maximum height of walls.

The Fixr website states that wood for retaining walls costs between $10 and $15 per square foot. Railroad ties or wood walls are a popular option for creating a natural and rustic appearance.

The wood is stacked, sometimes in an offset pattern, to create the structure. The wood is thicker than vinyl, so it can be a more substantial structure and is a good option for creating a tiered wall. However, wood cannot be used for walls over 4 feet tall.

According to the Bob Vila website, wood is a popular and budget-friendly material for retaining walls and costs between $15 and $30 per square foot. Timber retaining walls are typically used in smaller projects and are a cost-effective choice. The article also mentions that railroad ties are banned for use as retaining wall material in some areas due to environmental concerns.

This Forbes article provides a similar estimate, stating that on the whole, wood retaining walls cost about $19 per square foot. The article sources this information from various home improvement websites like The Spruce and HomeAdvisor.

The Angi website also corroborates these findings, stating that a wooden retaining wall averages $15 to $30 per square foot. The article describes wooden retaining walls as a homeowner favorite due to their cost-effectiveness and readily available nature.

How Do Wood Retaining Walls Work?

Wood retaining walls typically involve:

  • Rows of horizontal timber boards or railroad ties stacked in an interlocking configuration and secured with rebar stakes pounded deep into compacted soil. The staggering design distributes weight.
  • Layers of packed gravel backfill reinforced with drainage landscape fabric behind the timbers to allow proper water flow.
  • Anchored corners with added side tiebacks for increased structural stability on higher walls, slopes, or poor soils.

Benefits of properly installed wood retaining walls:

  • Cost-effective natural rustic appearance blending beautifully into gardens.
  • Can be shaped in curved, terraced, or angled designs, unlike rigid concrete.
  • Provide ample strength and erosion control when constructed correctly on suitable terrain.
  • Easier for DIY than stone or concrete if following code carefully.

Cost Ranges Based on Project Size

100 Square Foot Wall – 2 to 3 feet height

  • Materials: $1,500 – $2,500
  • Installation Labor: $800 – $1,500
  • Total Cost: $2,500 – $4,000

300 Square Foot Wall – 4 to 6 feet height

  • Materials: $4,500 – $7,500
  • Installation Labor: $2,500 – $4,500
  • Total Cost: $7,000 – $12,000

Larger, taller walls escalate expenses further but make an exponentially greater visual impact.

Factors Increasing Wood Retaining Wall Costs

Retaining Wall Made From WoodOverall Wall Size and Multi-Tiered Layout

  • Extended lengths and additional elevations require vastly more materials, equipment, and labor to complete.

Difficult Site Accessibility and Excavation Needs

  • Heavily sloped yards, tree clearing, and poor drainage cause significant cost escalations.

Local Labor Rates Based on Competition and Expertise

  • Prevailing contractor rates in a given area heavily influence project cost. Highly skilled crews command premium pricing.

DIY Work vs Professional Installation

  • DIY saves significantly on labor but requires expertise and equipment rentals. Most opt for pro installers.

Premium Finishing and Design Features

  • Multi-tiered designs, integrated lighting, stone accents, and plantings can add tens of thousands in costs but provide great beauty.

Now let’s examine some key additional cost considerations beyond construction itself.

You might also like our articles about the cost of landscape boulders, hardwood stair installation, and block foundation repair.

Other Wood Retaining Wall Expenses

Permitting and Code Compliance Fees

  • Permit fees often range from $150 – $500 depending on jurisdiction. Required for safety.

Site Specific Grading, Excavation, and Equipment Rental

  • If terrain requires substantial clearing or leveling before installation, costs grow substantially.

Timber Treatment and Maintenance

  • Sealants and specialized stains or treatments maximize lifespan and prevent insect damage.

Enhanced Landscaping and Finishing Touches

  • Plants, steps, lighting, decorative stone accents increase aesthetic appeal.

Account for all potential costs in initial budgeting for ideal planning. Now let’s explore two project cost scenario case studies.

DIY Vs Professional Wall Installations

DIY 100 Linear Foot Wall Project

  • Materials: $3,000
  • Equipment Rental: $750
  • Total Project Cost: $3,750

Professional 200 Linear Foot Multi-Tier Wall

  • Materials: $9,000
  • Professional Installation including Excavation: $12,500
  • Engineering, Permits: $1,500
  • Total Project Cost: $23,000

As you can see, complex projects involving excavation equipment and professional labor see costs grow exponentially compared to DIY.

Minimize Construction Costs

Some homeowners contain costs through moves like:

  • Opting for low-maintenance natural or washed gravel versus expensive decorative rock facing to reduce material costs significantly.
  • Using a leveling rental attachment on their own lawn tractor for grading rather than paying for excavation equipment delivery for smaller projects.
  • Buying pressure-treated boards in bulk once project size is finalized to secure contractor bulk pricing. Shop sales.
  • Building in cool months with lighter soil when excavation is easier.
  • Acquiring free soil and gravel quotes from multiple suppliers before choosing rather than just going with one known vendor.

Careful planning and cost comparisons keep backyard makeovers on budget.

Considerations Before Building Your Wall

In closing, keep these tips in mind for budget wood retaining wall projects:

  • Study permitting guidelines upfront to avoid unnecessary delays or rework costs during construction.
  • For taller walls, consult an engineer on specifications needed to meet code based on your specific slope and soil. Don’t risk collapses by guessing.
  • For foundations, don’t cut corners – proper drainage and stable compacted backfill are critical. Reinforce with tiebacks if needed.
  • Hire contractors during slower seasons for better rates if possible. Be sure they are licensed and insured.
  • Inflate your budget estimate by 10% to account for unavoidable unknowns that often creep up during construction.

By planning thoroughly and responding to your unique terrain wisely, you’ll minimize spend while maximizing value. Enjoy!

Final Words

Wood retaining walls well-engineered to match site realities provide homeowners an affordable medium-duty landscape design solution. Costing approximately $25 to $45 per square foot depending on complexity, height, and options, wood walls deliver lasting erosion protection and garden enhancements at reasonable budget levels with proper planning and execution.

Just be sure to enlist professional support for challenging terrain. Then enjoy your breathtaking new backyard oasis for years on end.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are wood timber retaining walls cheaper than stone block walls?

Yes, the total installed cost of wood timber walls averages $20 to $40 per square foot compared to $30 to $60 per square foot for natural stone, and $25 to $50 for concrete block. The cost of wood materials makes it the most budget-friendly option in most cases.

What is the cheapest retaining wall to install?

For DIY projects not exceeding 4 feet in height, basic stacked pressure-treated pine timber walls are typically the most affordable option, running around $15 to $30 per square foot since external equipment rental and labor costs are avoided.

How do you estimate the cost of a large retaining wall construction project?

Carefully measure the linear footage and maximum height to calculate materials down to the exact board-foot. Research local prevailing labor rates if using a contractor. Factor any equipment rental needs for site preparation. Include 5-10% overage padding for inevitable unknowns. Have an engineer verify constructability if exceeding code height limits.

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