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All About Retaining Walls

by | Aug 4, 2021

When there’s a drastic change of elevation, homeowners will typically decide to include a retaining wall; a wall that holds soil on one side and is freestanding on the other. Although retaining walls are used for practical reasons and specifically in regions where there’s uneven terrain, they’re also used to match the aesthetic of homes and add to a property’s features. If you have a retaining wall in the front of your home it’ll often be what visitors and neighbors first notice when they drive up to your home.

When you’re deciding on your retaining wall, you have a lot of options to personalize it and make it significant to your personal style and home aesthetic. Your custom retaining wall can make the perfect foundation for the rest of your home’s landscape and set the scenery for the rest of your yard. If you’re wondering about retaining walls, if you need one, and how difficult they are to build, this article will cover everything you need to know!

retaining wallsStructure Options

You’re not limited to just one retaining wall structure, you have multiple options. It depends on where you’re located and what you’re looking for style-wise, but as a general rule, you’ll have a few different structure options to choose from. Remember that the structure must retain the soil behind it and rocks, so the priority is having a strong structure. Here are a few of the basic structures that you can choose from for your retaining wall.


Concrete retaining walls never look identical since concrete blocks come in a variety of sizes, styles, and shapes that will make your retaining wall stand out from others. This structure option is sometimes frowned upon since homeowners usually think of it as simple and plain, but it doesn’t have to be! Concrete walls can make a stunning addition to your landscape if you have the right contractors come in. They’ll be able to add colorful concrete blocks or little details that will make your wall special.


With pavers, you have more choices for your structure. Pavers come in a huge variety that you can choose from, ensuring that you’re not limited to just one option for your wall. Pavers are the most commonly used for retaining walls and the type that you’ve probably seen most often when driving through neighborhoods. You can choose the color and style of pavers to suit your preferences since you’ll have such a range of options.


Another very popular choice, stone blocks are often used for retaining walls. Natural stone walls can be an incredibly stunning addition to any home and give your landscape character. Stone provides you with more options to choose from than pavers or concrete, giving you many different styles and color choices. Bluetone, quartz, and limestone are only a few of the options that you have when you’re choosing a stone for your retaining wall. Stone walls are stunning and sturdy, making them a great option for your retaining wall.

retaining walls

Retaining walls can help layer your yard.

The Basics Of Retaining Walls

If you’re considering a retaining wall, you want to make sure that you understand the basics before you hire a contractor. By knowing what you should be on the lookout for you can ensure that you have a high-quality retaining wall worth the money that you spent and that will accommodate your needs while also adding to your lawn and home. Here are a few of the basics that you want to know before getting started.

Think About The Base

The first step of your retaining wall and the most important is the base. Wall blocks need to be placed at the appropriate height below ground level according to the height of the wall. Experienced contractors know how important it is to start any wall on a solid base since this will set the foundation for the rest of your wall.

The Backfill Is Important

The soil that is placed behind the retaining wall is called backfill, which is another crucial part of your retaining wall. The most important part of the backfill is to make sure that it’s compact securely behind the wall before you can proceed. Expert contractors know the importance of compact backfill and know exactly how much backfill is needed for retaining walls.

Designing Drainage Channels

Water can’t pass through retaining walls themselves, which means that it’s important to have proper drainage designed for water to run through. Drainage channels have to be custom-built to allow water to run through the wall to prevent bulges in your stone blocks and cracks in your wall. Proper drainage channels can be done in a variety of ways, including holes in the wall for water to run through, installing pipes, and making sure that you have the proper amount of backfill behind your retaining wall. Proper drainage plays a huge part in the quality of your wall and how long it’ll last.

Determine The Proper Retaining Wall Height

Lastly, you want to determine the proper height for your retaining wall. The height of your wall will directly determine the weight that it can hold and how much reinforcement is necessary. For residential homes, retaining walls are typically 3 – 4 feet high, providing good strength without requiring the use of additional reinforcements. However, this depends on what the homeowner is looking for and, in some cases, it may be necessary to make it higher.

retaining walls

Retaining walls can separate yard from driveway

Can You Build A Retaining Wall Yourself?

You’re probably wondering if building a retaining wall is a DIY project that you can tackle on your own. Sadly, we don’t advise this. In some cases, when the retaining wall is built of wood it may be a project that you can tackle on your own since these are easier to build and less expensive. However, stone retaining walls require an expert contractor to be involved with the project. Walls that are under 4 feet are typically designed and built by a contractor or they’re sketched by a landscape architect and then built.

Walls that are higher than 4 feet are usually a larger project and typically have to be designed by an engineer. An engineer will be able to measure out everything needed for the wall and make sure that they have suitable reinforcements. It’s always a good idea to have a contractor involved, especially when you’re doing something for the first time and want to make sure that it’s done correctly. It may be tempting to tackle building your retaining wall by yourself, but waiting for the experts will be worth it.

Robert Markley

Robert Markley is a licensed Landscape Architect with over 20 years of experience working with clients to provide excellence in landscape design, project management, and installation services. He also possesses a rare combination of skills as a horticulturist, licensed Landscape Contractor, and licensed Irrigation Contractor, equipping him to provide a comprehensive and practical approach to any project, big or small. He takes pride in helping our clients envision and create amazing outdoor spaces that are enjoyed now and for years to come.

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