How to Build Concrete Block Retaining Wall Steps

A concrete block retaining wall can convert the inclines and unleveled land into the flat areas around your home. Building the retaining wall steps will add to the elegance and make it simple to access where they lead to. The steps must be created in a way that it is easy to climb them, being of equal height. You need to make the steps when you are building the wall instead of adding them later.

Materials and Tools

  • Hammer
  • Wood stakes
  • Nylon string
  • Chalk line
  • Builder's level
  • Tape measure
  • Premixed mortar
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Bricklayers trowel
  • Mallet  
  • 8-by-8-by-16 inch concrete blocks
  • 8-by-8-by-8 inch concrete blocks
  • 8-by-4-by-16 inch concrete blocks

Step 1: Planning the Steps Layout

Decide the type of steps you want, such as flowing curves or straight side walls with the steps built into the retaining walls. Another option is stairs projecting outside or sweeping along the wall. It is best that the steps have a uniform design with the walls. For this example, the height of the steps will be 8 feet and foot depth can be kept as 12 inches. These steps will be attached to the wall in a rectangular shape. You can also adjust the length of the slope by providing a landing, if there are many steps. Work out the number of steps based upon the elevation of the area and height of the stones. You will get the number of steps by dividing the height of gradient by the height of each block.

Step 2: Excavating

Cut the steps into the ground at their location according to their size. Excavate the soil from that area. The basic design of a concrete block retaining wall is dependent on its poured concrete foundation, also called “footing." It is the base for constructing a concrete block retaining wall structure above it. The footing for the wall should be a minimum of 8 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Mark the wall lines using stakes and nylon string and dig the trench for footing.

Make a base trench about 8 inches deep and 20 inches wide for the steps. Fill the base trench with poured concrete footing and do the same for the wall. Level the footing with a trowel and check with a level. Allow it to set for a day. Apply a layer of mortar. Place the blocks for the first step on it keeping the 8-by-8 inch face on front and 16-inch sides for the depth of the step. Fix the stones to complete the first step. Fill the joints with the mortar. Align and level the blocks for the step. Also fix the blocks for the adjoining wall and align their face. Keep them level using the string and level. Fill the soil along the wall base and in front of first step. Compact it.

Step 3: Installing the Second Step

Prepare the base for the second step by pouring the concrete behind the first step. Level the footing for installing the concrete blocks for the second step. Place an 8-by-4-by-16 inch block in the end of the second stair step with 8-by-4 inch faces on the front and then put 8-by-8 by-16 blocks joining it to make the second step. These blocks should overlap the inner edge of the lower step by 4 inches, leaving 12 inches of depth for the step. Fill the gaps with mortar and smooth them. Install the second layer of blocks on the wall after applying about a 3/8-inch thick layer of mortar. The footing should be allowed to set for 24 hours before working on it.

Step 4: Installing the Next Step

Continue the same procedure as in Step 2 until you lay the last step, which will be level with the ground above. The wall also should be completed along with the stairs.

Step 5: Finishing the Steps

Join the soil level with top step and compact it. All joints in blocks for the steps and the wall should be filled with mortar and leveled. The steps should merge properly with the retainer wall.