Retaining walls are a key element in any landscape with uneven terrain. They can make a slope into something far more useful and beautiful, create more usable space and provide additional integrity.
But you can’t just build a little wall yourself and be done with it. Even just a small wall will have to be quite strong to withstand the weight of the earth pressing against it. When it’s raining, the wet earth has even more weight, putting a lot of stress on the retaining wall. So properly thought-through drainage is another requirement for building these walls.
There’s two types of retaining walls:
4 feet or smaller: These are smaller walls are really just retaining walls to separate two parts of your yard, with a bit of a difference in height. If the ground is on the same level on both sides of the wall, then it’s easy. But as soon as you have a higher level on one side, you need strong structural integrity of the walls to prevent it from failing in the future. This can destroy parts of your yard, so that’s something we don’t want.
When building these walls, get a professional to at least help you with the planning. Ideally, let them handle everything. It is a lot more expensive to change something later of repair the damage if the wall fails. Remember, these walls are something that will be in your yard for a long time.
Higher than 4 feet: These walls should be planned by an engineer. No only will these walls have special requirements for structural integrity and stability, but there’s usually regulations on how they have to be built to prevent serious damage. You should definitely get a professional to do these.
Retaining walls material
Retaining walls can be built with a range of different materials. Here’s a short overview over the different types:
Concrete Block – These walls are rather nice-looking and durable, but should not be used with walls higher than 4 feet. They often don’t have footing, which affects their strength.
Stone Veneer – A very versatile wall, that can take most shapes and forms. However, it should be planned and constructed by a landscaping professional. Can be done in a wide varity of styles.
Poured Concrete – Very strong, but not so easy to build. Definitely not a DIY project. If not done well, it may crack over time. Mostly for bigger landscapes. Often used for a modern style.
Brick – The classic: Strong and durable, but also labor intensive to build. Drainage is often a weak point and has to be considered. It looks good in most styles though, very homely and traditional.
Wood – If you want to do it yourself, wood will be your best choice. Not as durable or strong, and not as long-lasting, but an affordable and easy-to-build option. Not for big walls though. With the right choice of wood, it can complement your style very well. When done properly, wood can still last 10 or even 20 years.
Dry Stone/Boulder – A very natural solution with a very traditional look. It is fairly strong and durable, but accumulation water may destroy its integrity over time.
Gabion – The easiest solution that you can easily do yourself. You can choose the filling yourself to fit your style. The metal frame may rust over time though.