Do Concrete Bag Retaining Walls Last?

large concrete bag retaining wall alongside a sloping driveway

There are many ways to build a retaining wall and even more opinions about what is best.  You may have heard of building a retaining wall with bagged concrete.  Though there’s plenty of youtube videos and photos online saying it’s a viable solution, you may be a little skeptical.  You may find yourself asking do concrete bag retaining walls last?

Do Concrete Bag Retaining Walls Last?

In our opinion, the answer to do concrete bag retaining walls last is dependent on the setup.  You might get lucky, and the bags all cure properly and your wall may last forever.  After all, concrete is a long lasting solution to just about any building project.  However, the risks in a concrete bag retaining wall just aren’t worth the costs.

A concrete bag retaining wall will cost about the same as an inexpensive precast concrete block wall system. Therefore, we often ask, why take the chance? Before we rule out concrete bag retaining walls altogether, let’s learn more about them.

What Is A Concrete Bag Retaining Wall?

First, let’s look at what a concrete bag retaining wall is before we break down do concrete bag retaining walls last.  A concrete bag retaining wall is a wall constructed using premixed, pre-bagged concrete.  You must build the wall using the same concepts of any retaining wall. A well-prepared draining base is required.  Also, you need good quality backfill that will not flex or swell when wet or during winter.  Furthermore, you’ll need to have an engineer give you feedback on how to build the wall once you are over the height of a ‘landscape feature’ which in many places is between 2 and 4 feet.

stone walkway with a concrete bag retaining wall showing the answer to do concrete bag retaining walls last as only being done so in ideal weather conditions

Concrete Bag Retaining Wall Problems

Bags are stacked like bricks and then once in place, soaked down with a hose.  Hopefully, the concrete completely hydrates and cures.  When you empty a concrete bag into a wheelbarrow and mix with the appropriate quantity of water, you know that curing will occur.  When you are soaking bags with water, you don’t.

This is one of the big potential problems with bagged concrete walls.  You may find your wall is not properly hydrated. Similarly, you could find that only the outer layer of the concrete bag is hydrated. This will leave you with a core of powder in each bag which will lead to crumbling and failure. There is a chance that the answer to do concrete bag retaining walls last is no.  

Additionally, with concrete bag retaining walls you don’t have anything holding the bags in place.  They must be thought of as stones in a stone wall, not as concrete blocks.  Concrete block walls generally will have some method of mechanically holding one another into the wall, either interlocking shape, or the use of geogrid fabric holding the blocks in place.  Some people will pound rebar through the bags and this will likely provide some help in adding some strength between bags.  However, the cure quality will vary from bag to bag, and your concrete strength will vary as well.

How Much Do Concrete Bag Retaining Walls Cost?

These concrete bags are often referred to as ‘sakcrete’.  You can pick up an 80 lb bag of concrete for around $5 to $8 each.  Each bag has a dimension of approximately 20.5” x 14” x 4” thick. When stacked to build walls the face of each bag that is showing is typically the 20.5” x 4” face, or .57 square feet. This means you are spending between $8 and $14 per square foot when building with concrete bags.  When you price out precast concrete retaining wall blocks, you will find they are in the same price range and may actually be less expensive than concrete bags.

Do Concrete Bag Retaining Walls Last Summary

Concrete bag retaining walls cost less than most other material choices. However, we think the problems they cause outweigh the cost. They have a tendency to crumble and fall apart over time. Each bag generally costs between $5 – $8 each.