Planning a retaining wall project? Wondering how those retaining wall calculators work? Then you are at the right place. Here is how to calculate materials and cost.

When it comes to building a retaining wall, precision is everything. This includes determining the correct wall dimensions, and required material quantities, and estimating the total amount you would be spending on this home improvement project. There are many online retaining wall calculator tools and they simplify this process. But if you want to understand how these calculators work or what formulas they use, you are at the right place.

In this blog, we want to walk you through the essential steps to calculate your retaining wall with confidence. We’ll cover everything from measuring the height and length of the wall to determining the exact materials needed. Whether you’re planning a small DIY garden wall or a large-scale retaining wall design, we will equip you with the knowledge needed to make your project a success.

Before you can start a DIY retaining wall project, you need to gather accurate measurements. Here are some essential measurements you’ll need to calculate your retaining wall accurately:

The length of the wall is the total horizontal distance that your retaining wall will cover. To measure use a tape measure or a laser distance measure to get the exact length of the area where the wall will be constructed. Make sure to account for any curves or corners in your design, as these will affect the total length.

The height of the retaining wall directly impacts the wall's stability and the amount of materials required. Height should be taken from the base of the wall to its top, including any buried portion. For taller walls, remember that as the height increases, so does the lateral pressure exerted by the soil behind the wall. This may require additional reinforcement.

Once you have the length and height, you can calculate the wall’s square footage. Wall square footage is essential for estimating the total number of blocks needed and for understanding the scope of your project. Here’s how to calculate it:

Wall square footage = Length of the Wall Height of the Wall****

The next step in calculating your retaining wall is to understand the dimensions of the retaining wall blocks you’ll be using. This is crucial for calculating the total number of blocks required to cover the wall’s square footage. To do this, you would either have to measure the length, height, and depth of one block yourself or refer to manufacturer specifications.

Now that you have the basic measurements for your retaining wall, the next step is to calculate the materials required. This involves determining the number of retaining wall blocks, the amount of backfill gravel, and other materials necessary to ensure your wall is both stable and durable. Here's how you can calculate it yourself:

A simple way to calculate the number of retaining wall blocks you need is to divide the wall’s total square footage by the coverage of one block. This will give you the total number of blocks needed for the project.

**Formula:**

Total Number of Blocks=Wall Square FootageBlock Coverage

**Example:** If your wall has a square footage of 200 sq ft, and each block covers 1 sq ft, you’ll need 200 blocks.

Cap blocks are used to finish the top of your retaining wall, giving it a clean and polished appearance. To estimate how many cap blocks you need:

**Length of the Wall:**Measure the total length of the wall where the cap blocks will be installed.**Cap Block Length:**Determine the length of a single cap block, which is usually specified by the manufacturer.**Total Number of Cap Blocks:**Divide the total length of the wall by the length of one cap block to find the number of cap blocks required.

**Formula:**

Total Number of Cap Blocks=Length of the WallCap Block Length

**Example:** If your wall is 50 feet long, and each cap block is 0.5 feet long, you’ll need approximately 100 cap blocks (50 ÷ 0.5).

Backfill gravel is essential for proper drainage and stability of your retaining wall. To calculate the amount of gravel needed:

**Determine Backfill Volume**: Measure the width, height, and length of the space behind the wall where gravel will be placed.**Convert to Cubic Yards (cu yd)**: If your measurements are in feet, multiply the width, height, and length together to get the volume in cubic feet. Then, divide by 27 to convert to cubic yards.

**Formula**:

Gravel Volume (cu yd)=(Width Height Length)27

**Example**: If your backfill area is 2 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 50 feet long, you would need approximately 400 cubic feet or 14.8 cubic yards of gravel

In addition to retaining wall blocks and gravel, other materials may be needed depending on the complexity of your project:

**Concrete or Mortar:**For certain types of retaining walls, especially those made from cinder blocks, concrete or mortar may be required to bind the blocks together.**Geogrid Reinforcement:**If your wall is tall or under significant load (surcharge), geogrid may be necessary to reinforce the wall structure.**Drainage Pipes:**To prevent water buildup behind the wall, drainage pipes are often installed at the base.**Order Extra:**It’s a good idea to account for some extra materials to cover any waste, breakage, or miscalculations. Add 5-10% to your total block count to cover any blocks that might be damaged during construction.

Now that you know how much material you need, you can start to estimate the costs for your retaining wall project. Here's how to break down and estimate the total cost of your retaining wall:

The cost of retaining wall blocks will likely make up a significant portion of your budget. To estimate this retaining wall cost, you need to:

**Determine Block Price:**Get quotes on the price per block. These costs can vary based on the material (e.g., concrete, natural stone) and supplier. Get quotes from different suppliers.**Calculate the Total Cost:**Multiply the number of blocks needed by the price per block. If pricing is given per square foot, multiply the wall’s square footage by the price per square foot.

**Formula**:

Total Block Cost=Total Number of Blocks × Price per Block

**Example**: If each block costs $3, and you need 200 blocks, the total cost would be $600.

To estimate gravel costs, understand:

**Cost per Cubic Yard (cu yd):**Gravel is usually sold in cubic yards or cubic feet. Again get quotes from multiple suppliers to get current prices.**Calculate the Total Gravel Cost:**Multiply the amount of gravel needed (in cubic yards) by the price per cubic yard.

**Formula:**

Total Gravel Cost=Gravel Volume (cu yd) × Price per Cubic Yard

**Example: **If gravel costs $40 per cubic yard and you need 15 cubic yards, the total cost would be $600.

Depending on your project, you may need to factor in additional materials or labor:

**Concrete or Mortar Costs:**If your design requires mortar or concrete, estimate the amount needed and multiply by the cost per bag or cubic yard.**Geogrid and Drainage Pipe Costs:**For reinforced walls, calculate the cost of geogrid and any necessary drainage pipes.**Labor Costs:**If you’re hiring professionals, labor costs can significantly impact your budget. Get quotes from contractors or estimates based on an hourly rate.

**Waste and Breakage:**Add a buffer (typically 5-10%) to your material estimates to cover any damage or miscalculations.**Permit Fees:**Depending on your local building codes, you may need to pay for permits or inspections.**Tool Rental or Purchase:**If you don’t own the necessary tools (like a compactor or masonry saw), factor in rental or purchase costs.

Finally, sum up all the costs to get an overall estimate for your retaining wall project:

**Formula:**

Total Project Cost=Total Block Cost+Total Cap Block Cost+Total Gravel Cost+Additional Material/Labor Costs

No matter if you are calculating the retaining wall using formulas or by utilizing a retaining wall calculator, doing it right can help in the planning process for your project. Here are some frequent mistakes to watch out for and how to avoid them:

One of the most common mistakes is inputting incorrect measurements into the retaining wall calculator. Small errors in measuring the length, height, or depth of the wall can lead to significant miscalculations in material needs and costs.

Double-check all measurements before entering them into the calculator. Use precise tools like a laser measurer or a long tape measure for accuracy. If possible, have someone else verify your measurements.

Surcharge refers to any additional weight or load that the retaining wall needs to support, such as soil, structures, or vehicles. Failing to account for the surcharge can result in a wall that is under-designed for the actual loads it will face, leading to potential failure.

Identify any surcharge loads early in the planning process. Make sure to include this information in your calculations, as it will affect the type and amount of materials needed, as well as the overall design of the wall.

Different regions have specific building codes and regulations that must be followed when constructing a retaining wall. Ignoring these rules can result in legal issues, fines, or the need to redo your work.

Before starting your project, check with your local building authority to understand the relevant codes and permit requirements. Ensure that your retaining wall design complies with all local regulations, including height restrictions, setback requirements, and structural specifications.

Another common mistake is underestimating the amount of materials needed for the project. This can occur if the wall square footage, block size, or gravel volume is not calculated correctly. Running short on materials can cause delays and increase costs as you need to order more supplies.

Use a comprehensive material estimator that considers all aspects of the wall design, including block dimensions, cap blocks, and backfill gravel. It’s also wise to order a little extra material to account for waste, breakage, or miscalculations.

Retaining wall calculators like concrete block calculators, paver calculators, etc., sometimes can generate a lot of data, and it’s easy to misinterpret the results. This can lead to ordering the wrong amount of materials or misunderstanding the cost implications.

Take the time to understand each output from the calculator. If you’re unsure about something, refer to the calculator’s user guide or consult with a professional. Ensure you understand the difference between cubic yards (cu yd), square footage (sq ft), and other metric units used in the calculations.

Proper drainage is critical for the longevity and stability of a retaining wall. However, this aspect is sometimes overlooked in the calculation phase, leading to inadequate drainage systems that can cause water buildup and wall failure.

Plan for drainage from the start. Ensure your material calculations include enough backfill gravel and consider installing drainage pipes behind the wall. A gravel calculator can help you determine the correct amount of gravel needed to facilitate proper drainage.

Sometimes, homeowners or DIYers forget to consider how future changes in the landscape or property use might affect the retaining wall. For instance, adding a driveway, patio, or even heavy landscaping can increase the load on the wall.

Think about your long-term plans for the area around the retaining wall. If you anticipate any significant changes, include those in your design calculations and material estimates to ensure your wall can handle future loads.

Building a retaining wall, whether for enhancing your landscape, creating more usable space, or preventing soil erosion is a big project. Using a retaining wall calculator or formula effectively can save you time, money, and headaches by helping you plan every aspect of the project with precision. Whether you’re tackling the project yourself or hiring a professional, a well-calculated approach will lead to better results and a structure that stands the test of time. Please contact us at Ergeon if you need any help with your retaining wall project. Our team of experts and professionals would love to design your dream retaining wall.

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