Cheapskate wall buttressing: A primer

My better half & me, at her rental house near nerve-gas central, totin' post hole diggers and pressure-treated 4x4 posts and bags of quick-setting concrete, fixin' to do a cheapskate fix on a problem that mos' def qualifies for a total ripout and rebuild.


Back yard retaining wall has begun its slo-mo fall. Pulled away from the ground behind it several inches and leans precariously. Whole thing was put in wrongo: just a wall of brick 1 layer deep, no backward lean, no anchors, no backing gravel for drainage or drain holes, and a bunch of hollies and oaks planted right on the other side with very patient, insistent roots.


Of course, like everything else in this problem pit of an investment house, the wall had failed at some point in the past and had been poorly repaired by the amateur cheapskate who used to own the place.


The wall had been obscured by the big rotten deck and the gargantuan holly bushes, so we were unable to assess its state when we bought the place. That's my excuse.


So here's what we did: cut the four 8-foot 4x4s in half to make 8 posts. Dug 8 holes in a line 6 inches from the wall, 18" deep. Connected each pair of posts with a horizontal 2x8 (salvaged from the old deck) to make 4 connected pairs, each looking like a short section of a wooden fence.


Drilled two 1/2" holes in each horizontal connecting fence rail. Inserted a 6" long 1/2" carriage bolt with washer and nut into each hole to use as a jack.


Set the posts in the holes with the quickset concrete.


Cut short pieces of 2x4 and drilled one shallow hole in each piece, to be used as a pad to set between the jack-bolt and the brick wall. The head of the bolt fits into the shallow hole to keep it from slipping off the pad.


Screwed the nut down the bolt against the fence rail, which extended the bolt against the pad on the wall (a cheapskate jack). We were hoping that this might provide enough force to push the leaning wall back upright, but no dice. It did, at least, serve to buttress the wall so that it won't fall down go boom on some poor tenant.


It looks, of course, like crap. What we should do is tear the wall down, rip out the hollies, root and branch, and eliminate the need for a wall by digging the ledge into a nice, smooth slope. Then maybe install a French drain at the bottom, like we did next to the house.


I think this 1970s housing development was built on a swamp. When it rains a lot, the water table rises to the surface. The ground gets soggy and springs form in the crawl space under the house. Plus, rainwater drains down the slope in the back yard toward the house. The retaining wall, pushed by water, earth, and root slowly topples. Especially a cheapskate wall like this one.


All the little victories--digging the holes, setting the concrete, making the jacks--don't rate even a giggle from Ma Nature, who can (and likely will) crush them just rolling over in her sleep.


And yet we persist. Head, wall, some assembly required... repeatedly.

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