Things To Avoid While Building Railroad Tie Retaining Walls: How Much It Will Costs?

Building a retaining wall with railroad ties can enhance your landscape and provide essential support for your property. This type of retaining wall is popular due to its rustic look and durability. However, mistakes during construction can lead to problems and extra costs.

Planning and execution are key. If done right, a railroad tie retaining wall can last for years. This article will guide you through common pitfalls to avoid and help you estimate the costs involved. By following these tips, you can ensure your project is successful and cost-effective.

Planning and Preparation

Stack of wooden railway sleepers

Proper planning and preparation are essential for building a successful railroad tie retaining wall. By taking these steps, you can avoid common pitfalls and set a strong foundation for your retaining wall.

Research and Design

  • Importance of Thorough Research: Before you start building a railroad tie retaining wall, research is crucial. Understanding the materials, techniques, and potential challenges will save you time and money. Look into different designs and read about others’ experiences to learn from their successes and mistakes.
  • Consulting with Experts or Professionals: Consulting with professionals can provide valuable insights. Experts can help you choose the right materials, design an effective plan, and foresee potential issues. Their experience can guide you through the complexities of the project, ensuring that your wall is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
  • Designing a Plan Before Starting the Project: A well-thought-out plan is essential. Sketch your design, measure your space, and calculate the materials needed. A detailed plan helps you stay organized and prevents costly mistakes. Include every step of the construction process, from laying the foundation to installing proper drainage systems.

Permits and Regulations

  • Checking Local Building Codes and Regulations: Every area has its own building codes and regulations. These rules ensure safety and environmental protection. Check with your local building authority to understand the requirements for your project. This step is crucial to avoid fines and ensure your wall is legally compliant.
  • Obtaining Necessary Permits: Most construction projects require permits. These permits ensure that your retaining wall meets local safety standards. Apply for the necessary permits before starting your project. This process might involve submitting your design plans and undergoing inspections.
  • Understanding the Legal Implications of Your Project: Building without proper permits or ignoring regulations can lead to legal troubles. You might face fines, be forced to alter your project, or even dismantle the wall. Understanding and adhering to the legal aspects of your project protects you from these risks and ensures your retaining wall is safe and durable.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

A beautiful retaining wall in a home garden

Here are the common mistakes that you need to avoid while building railroad tie retaining walls:

Using Old or Treated Ties

Using old railroad ties might seem cost-effective, but it can lead to problems. Old ties may be weakened by rot, making them less durable. Additionally, ties treated with creosote or other chemicals pose health and environmental risks. These chemicals can leach into the soil, affecting plant growth and potentially contaminating groundwater.

Chemically treated ties can release toxic substances that are harmful to both humans and animals. Avoid using ties that have been treated with harsh chemicals, especially if your retaining wall is near a garden or water source.

Opt for new, untreated ties or other materials like concrete blocks or natural stone. These alternatives can provide the same structural support without the health and environmental risks associated with treated ties.

Improper Drainage

Proper drainage is crucial for preventing water buildup behind the retaining wall. Without adequate drainage, water pressure can build up and cause the wall to fail, leading to expensive repairs.

One common mistake is not incorporating a drainage system at all. Another is using inadequate materials, such as insufficient gravel or poorly placed drain pipes. Both can lead to water accumulation and wall instability.

Install a drainage pipe behind the wall, and use gravel or crushed stone to facilitate water flow. Ensure the drainage pipe has outlets to divert water away from the wall. Regularly check and maintain the drainage system to ensure it remains effective.

Incorrect Foundation

A strong foundation is the key to a stable retaining wall. Without a solid and level base, the wall is likely to shift and collapse over time. Avoid starting construction on uneven or soft ground. Skimping on foundation depth or using subpar materials can also compromise the wall’s stability.

Excavate a trench that is deep and wide enough to support the base of your wall. Use compacted gravel or a concrete footing to create a level and solid foundation. Ensure the foundation is perfectly level before stacking the railroad ties.

Ignoring Soil Conditions

Soil conditions vary and can significantly affect the stability of your retaining wall. Ignoring these conditions can lead to structural issues.

Conduct a soil test to determine its composition and stability. This can be done with the help of a professional or using a soil testing kit. Understanding the type of soil you are working with will guide your construction process.

For loose or sandy soil, you may need to reinforce the wall with additional supports or a deeper foundation. Clay soils, which retain water, might require enhanced drainage systems to prevent water pressure buildup.

Poor Construction Techniques

Common errors include uneven stacking of ties, inadequate anchoring, and not properly securing each layer. These mistakes can compromise the structural integrity of the wall.

Use proper techniques for stacking and securing the railroad ties. Each layer should be anchored to the previous one using rebar or screws. Ensure each tie is level before moving to the next layer.

Adhere to established construction guidelines and standards. This not only ensures the stability of your wall but also guarantees its longevity and safety. Regular inspections and maintenance will also help identify and rectify any issues early on.

Cost Considerations

Here are some of the things that you need to consider when it comes to the cost of the project:

Material Costs

Railroad ties can vary in price depending on their condition and treatment. New, untreated ties are more expensive but safer. Alternatives like concrete blocks or natural stone may have higher upfront costs but offer durability and low maintenance.

Prices can vary based on the supplier, location, and availability of materials. Bulk purchasing can sometimes offer discounts. Investing in quality materials is crucial for the longevity and safety of your retaining wall. Allocate a sufficient budget to ensure you can afford the best materials for your project.

Labor Costs

If you decide to build the wall yourself, labor costs will be lower, but it requires time and skill. Hiring professionals can be more expensive but ensures the job is done correctly and efficiently.

Professionals bring expertise, tools, and experience that can prevent costly mistakes. They can also complete the project faster and with higher quality. Consider hiring contractors for only the most complex parts of the job. You can handle simpler tasks like site preparation or finishing touches to save on labor costs.

Additional Expenses

Check local regulations to determine permit costs and inspection fees. These are necessary expenses to ensure your project complies with legal standards. Rent or purchase the necessary tools and equipment. Renting can be more cost-effective if you don’t plan to use the tools frequently.

Also, set aside a contingency budget for unexpected costs such as additional materials, repairs, or changes in the project scope. Planning for these can prevent financial stress and project delays.


Building a railroad tie retaining wall can enhance your landscape and provide essential support. By avoiding common mistakes and planning carefully, you can ensure a successful and cost-effective project. Remember to research thoroughly, consult professionals, adhere to local regulations, and budget for quality materials and labor. With proper preparation, your retaining wall will be a durable and attractive addition to your property.

Additional Notes