80 foot long retaining wall that ranges from 4 feet tall on one end to 12 feet tall on the other.

I am planning on a segmental wall made of Versa-Lok "Bronco 18" blocks - 1200+ pounds each. Yes proper drainage and geo-grid behind the wall, etc.

Theoretically (I think) if the bearing value of the soil is high enough, I can just clear away the topsoil, prepare a nice bearing surface of compacted road base, and stack up the blocks like legos. HOWEVER, I would like to go further than this ...

Can I create an 80 foot long grade beam, right at the surface of the existing soil, with perhaps a 8 foot deep pier every 6 feet (helical rebar, etc.) connected to a steel reinforced grade beam (all one concrete pour) and then stack my blocks on that, with the lip hanging off the back of it, of course ? So basically I am doing a big giant 80 foot long first block that goes into the soil with piers, and then stacking the rest of the blocks on it ?

It seems to me that this would guarantee stability of the wall, regardless of the bearing value of the soil.

Two questions:

  • Is this something that people do ? Lay down a grade beam with piers to stack the segmental wall on top of ?

  • Is this the unbelievably overbuilt, guaranteed to never move solution that I think it is ?


  • what does the block manufacturer recommend? ... it is unclear what might happen because of uneven weight dustribution from one end to the other
    – jsotola
    Aug 24, 2020 at 3:28
  • "Theoretically (I think)" As do I, but it has not been proven yet.
    – Alaska Man
    Sep 23, 2020 at 17:17

1 Answer 1


When you build a grade beam with piers every 6’ apart, you are essentially building a “post and beam” foundation.

The grade beam will need to be designed to span from pier to pier. The size, amount of rebar, etc. will be based on the load, (i.e.: 4’ to 12’ tall blocks stacked on the grade beam).

The reason the foundation system changes from the traditional “footings on grade” to the “post and beam” style is that the piers will act as posts pushing against the deeper (and more resistive) soil. (Soil 8’ down in the ground is more compacted than soil near the surface.)

Question #1: Is it something people do? No.

The one thing that foundation engineers fear is differential settlement. When a traditional foundation system rests on the ground, the ground can support a fairly uniform load. When you install piers they extend down to more “resistive” soil (soil that’s been compacted over eons of time from the soil higher up.) This will settle less than the soil near the surface, causing differential settlement when loaded (when the blocks are stacked on top).

Question #2: Is it unbelievably overbuilt and guaranteed never to move? Could be.

If the grade beam and piers were adequately designed, then yes, they would not move. In order to design this type of foundation system you’ll need geotechnical engineers to take samples of the soil and test them for compaction, etc. Plus, the size and complexity of the system is far more expensive.

Side Note: This type of engineering requires the highest type (most expensive) of insurance. In the medical field, anesthesiologists and OB/GYN pay the most, (except for special surgical doctors.) These engineers pay higher rates than them.

  • Thank you - you answered my previous question on walls a month or two ago. I am just having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that we can just start stacking these blocks on grade with nothing under the ground and nothing anchoring it (so long as the ground has proper bearing value). It seems so far removed from other kind of retaining walls where we'd be 12 feet in the ground and have deadmen and so on ... it seems too good to be true ...
    – user227963
    Aug 24, 2020 at 6:15
  • @user227963 the traditional way of saying "thank you" around here is to up-vote the answer, and to give it a check mark if you found it helpful.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 23, 2020 at 12:33

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