Everyone wants a yard that is useful and that they can enjoy. You can dress up a yard in many ways, but retaining walls were made to help you create a safe, exciting, and alluring yard. You can also utilize every bit of space you have to work with.
However, building them isn’t easy.
After all, one has to know what their options are, how to achieve each type of wall, and how to do so safely. It is always recommended to hire a professional to help you out and save the 100% DIY stuff for other endeavors.
What Is A Retaining Wall?
A retaining wall is a structure that stores soil behind it. They can be made with just about any natural building material, but needs to be built sound as the soil above it is usually walked on. So an ill-built retaining wall is a huge hazard.
The point of them is to create levels in your yard. They create another area above the lower level. It can also be a way to feature fountains or to block off a higher level with soil falling down. There really are so many uses for them.
History Of Retaining Walls
Retaining walls have been built since at least ancient Egyptian times. They were originally built to control and direct the Nile river. In a way, they were used for irrigation and at times, as dams. The Egyptians were quite intelligent.
They built walls from reeds to divert the flow of water into reservoirs that they’d use to irrigate their crops and plants. Others would use them in a less practical way in order to create gorgeous designs in the high-class courtyards.
While modern times have seen innovations in the materials used to build retaining walls, retaining wall applications have largely remained the same: preventing soil erosion, creating space, and diverting water.
Retaining walls were extremely popular in ziggurats in Mesopotamia as a way to build levels in the structures. Here, you can see them learning in the way they were used as an exterior design style and how they developed retaining walls further.
Types Of Retaining Walls
Because they are so versatile, there are many different types of retaining walls. Some are used for bridges, some for personal gardens, and others that haven’t been used since ancient times. Check out these common types of retaining walls.
A gravity wall is a retaining wall that does not use soil reinforcement. Because it doesn’t have soil reinforcement, it is usually shorter than other retaining walls. It is set back and leaning back so that gravity does the work for us.
Concrete Cantilever Retaining Wall
A cantilever is a long projecting beam or girder fixed at only one end. A cantilever is a type of beam that people use primarily in constructing bridges. Cantilever beams only have support on one side, so they don’t take up much extra room.
Buttressed Retaining Wall
A buttressed retaining wall is supported by buttresses. A buttress is a slanted support often seen on the back of cardboard cutouts or picture frames. They are usually made out of the same material that the wall is made from.
Reinforced Retaining Wall
A reinforced retaining wall is a wall that uses geogrid reinforcement for additional stability. This allows contractors to build taller retaining walls. The soil behind the wall has layers of reinforced materials to keep things stable.
Sheet Piling Wall
Sheet piles are sheets of metal that are interlocking which creates a solid barrier and support system. They create a zigzag-type pattern when looked at from above. This type of retaining wall uses the pockets for the soil to be stored and reinforced.
Green Retaining Wall
Green retaining walls aren’t generally as supportive as block or brick retaining walls, but they are eco-friendly. Since green retaining walls are made from vegetation, they are often used as a garden of sorts in no-waste homes and communities.
Mechanical Stabilization Wall
Mechanical stabilized retaining walls are so strong that cars can drive over them. They are often built under bridges and overpasses. They are made with composite materials with alternating layers of compacted backfill and soil reinforcement elements.
Anchored retaining walls are sound walls that is supported by anchors driven into the earth behind them and attached to cables. They are usually supported by pressurized concrete and are a great option for reinforcing thin walls.
Retaining Wall Materials
Any strong material can be used as a retaining wall if done by a professional. So choose whichever one matches your other landscaping designs best.
Brick is a strong choice and you really can’t go wrong with it. Painted brick can match anything and it’s the most common type of material used in modern-day retaining walls. This is a safe choice for anyone.
Stone is one of the most natural-looking retaining walls. You can collect your own stone or buy it. It can turn any yard into a family fantasy land and offers a good way to drain as the stone will have natural pockets.
Concrete offers a more modern, industrial look, but it also looks very clean. It can be paired with other types of walls as it is one of the strongest retaining walls you can have. Anything you add is simply for looks.
Concrete or stone blocks are a great way to build a retaining wall. It offers a thick base to build on and is often used in large structures and bridges. Blocks are a very common material used for retaining walls.
For short retaining walls, you can use caged rocks that are surrounded by chicken wire and packed tightly. You will need to hire a professional if you don’t want to risk an avalanche if the wire loosens.
We’ve already talked about vegetation in an architectural way, but what about in design terms? Vegetation walls are inviting, natural, and the “greenest” thing you can build with. It will be difficult but it’s possible.
Using wood walls is almost as difficult as using vegetation. It just isn’t as structurally sound as stone or brick. You can do this but it usually requires some other form of reinforcement like metal or cement.
Permits And Restrictions
Some counties, states, and countries have restrictions for retaining walls. Most of the time, the restrictions are based on height. Under a certain amount and you don’t need a permit. But over a certain amount and you do.
For the most part, you need a permit to build one taller than 4ft. The permit will come from a licensed engineer who evaluates your plans. So if you know one personally, get in touch as they’ll be able to walk you through the steps.
These restrictions may be annoying, but in the end, what is most important is keeping your family safe. So even if there aren’t restrictions, get help from an engineer, contractor, or architect before you start building.
How To Build A Retaining Wall
If you want to build your own retaining wall, we recommend hiring a professional to help you out. For a full guide on how to build a retaining wall, check out this page where we go over the steps in detail.
Creating A Plan
The first thing you should do is create a plan. You should draw the plan out and come to life on paper and in your head. If you’re hiring a contractor, it’s a good idea to have a general plan before you speak to them.
Choose A Location
The second thing you should do is find a good location. This can come before or after you create a plan as one is reliant on the other. You may need to make changes to plans after you find a location. But the location should accommodate the plans too.
Setting The Course
This includes digging out a spot and doing and pre-landscaping work you need to do. You will mark the location and dig it out. You’ll need to make sure that the soil is strong enough to hold the wall and that everything is safe.
Next, you’ll add gravel to the ditch. Choose gravel that won’t shift but also will pack enough to support the wall. You don’t want the gravel to pretty much turn to dirt over time. You want something that will stay like it is, or become stronger.
Place The Drain
It’s important that a retaining wall has good drainage. So set up a good draining system or water retaining system. For this step, you will want to consult a professional. You can even incorporate a french drain into your setup.
Here, you will start building the wall. One layer at a time, start laying your foundation and build a structurally sound wall. Knowledge in brick masonry may be useful here. Being able to use mortar is a must.
Creating The Aesthetic
After you’ve finished building the wall, it’s time to decorate. Fill gaps with soil and add plants, statues, and turf on top. This is where you can make the decisions without consulting a professional. This is your canvas, so make the most of it!