Building a Sturdy Retaining Wall: Tips and Tricks

A retaining wall is a structure that is designed to support and retain soil, rocks or any other material that is sloping downwards. Usually, such walls have a decorative purpose and serve to add an aesthetic touch to any landscape. However, they are also functional and can prevent landslides, soil erosion, and other geological hazards. Building a retaining wall requires some knowledge and skill. In this article, we will look at some tips on how to build a retaining wall that will enhance the overall beauty of your property while serving its intended purpose.

1. Determine the Size and Style of your Retaining Wall

Before you start building your retaining wall, you should decide on the size and style that you want. Consider the purpose of the wall, the materials you will use, and the design that will complement the surroundings. Also, consider the height of the wall and the pressure that will be exerted on it. If the wall will be more than 4 feet tall, you may want to hire an engineer to help design it and make sure it will stand the test of time.

2. Check Local Zoning and Building Codes

Before you start digging, make sure you check the local zoning and building codes in your area. Retaining walls may require a permit or need to meet certain building codes. Failure to follow these requirements could result in fines, legal liabilities, or even the removal of the wall.

3. Gather the Materials

Once you have obtained the necessary permits and know the size and style of your retaining wall, it is time to gather the materials. You will need to gather the following materials: retaining wall blocks, gravel, drainage fabric, adhesive, and landscaping fabric. Make sure to choose high-quality materials that are appropriate for the size and style of your retaining wall.

4. Excavate the Area

Before you start building, you need to excavate the area where you will construct the retaining wall. This involves removing any plants, vegetation, and debris from the location. You should also dig a trench along the base of the wall, which is where you will place the retaining wall blocks.

5. Install the Base Course

Once you have excavated the area, you can begin installing the base course of your retaining wall. This involves laying the first layer of retaining wall blocks on top of the trench you dug. Make sure to use a level to ensure the blocks are level and parallel to the ground.

6. Build the Wall

The next step is to start building the wall. This involves placing each block on top of the previous one, using adhesive to hold them in place. Make sure to place a layer of drainage fabric behind the wall to prevent soil erosion and water damage. Also, make sure that each layer is level and parallel to the ground.

7. Backfill the Wall

Once the wall is built, it’s time to backfill it. This involves filling the area behind the wall with gravel and compacting it. You should also add landscaping fabric to prevent weed growth. Finally, add topsoil to the top of the wall and plant any desired vegetation.

8. Add Finishing Touches

After backfilling the wall, you should add any finishing touches that will make it look like a part of your landscape. This may include adding decorative edging, plants, or even a seating area. Make sure that any additions are appropriate for the size and style of your retaining wall.

9. Regular Maintenance

To ensure the longevity of your retaining wall, it is important to perform regular maintenance. This may include inspecting the wall for any cracks or damage, cleaning away debris, and removing any vegetation that may cause damage. Regular maintenance will help keep your retaining wall looking great and functioning properly.

10. Conclusion

Building a retaining wall is a great way to add function and style to your landscape. With the right materials and a little bit of effort, you can create a retaining wall that is both beautiful and functional. Remember to check local zoning and building codes, gather the necessary materials, excavate the area, install the base course, build the wall, backfill it, add finishing touches, and perform regular maintenance to ensure your retaining wall stands the test of time.

Preparing the Site

A good foundation is crucial in building a retaining wall that will last for years. Here’s how you should prepare the site:

Check if You Need a Permit

Before you start building, check with your local council about any regulations concerning retaining walls. Depending on the size and location of your wall, you may need to obtain a permit that specifies certain requirements.

Mark Out Your Boundary

Using stakes, ropes, or spray paint, mark out the boundary of your retaining wall, taking into account the dimensions you measured in the first section. Be sure to check with any adjacent property owners and obtain permission if necessary.

Clear the Area

Clear the marked-out area of any debris, stones, or vegetation to create a clean foundation. If there are any trees or plants in the way, remove them carefully with a mattock or shovel. Make sure to save any topsoil removed for later use in filling around the wall.

Digging Footings

Digging a footing is one of the most important parts of building your retaining wall. A footing is a trench that runs the length of your wall, roughly the same width as the wall, and offers stability to the structure. A basic rule of thumb is that you should dig a foundation trench that is twice the width of the block that you will be using for your wall. For example, if you are using a block that is 8 inches wide, then you should dig a foundation trench that is at least 16 inches wide.

Install Foundation Layer

After digging the footing trenches, you are ready to install the foundation layer. This layer is vital to the stability of your wall and ensures that it stays level. A good foundation layer typically consists of crushed stone that is 3-4 inches deep. Once the foundation layer is in place, tamp it down with a hand tamper to ensure it is compacted and level.

Types of Retaining Wall

A retaining wall is a structure that holds soil back from sloping downwards. Depending on the need, different types of retaining walls can be used. Some common types of retaining walls are:

Gravity Walls

A gravity wall relies on its own weight to hold back the soil. This type of wall is usually made from concrete and is suitable for lower walls. Gravity walls are not recommended for walls higher than 4 feet as they become unstable.

Cantilever Walls

Cantilever walls are more challenging to build than gravity walls, and require more material. However, they can be used for higher walls. This type of wall leverages a wall attached to a footing to provide support to the wall.

Sheet Piling Walls

Sheet piling walls are made from interlocking steel, vinyl or wood sheets driven into the ground. This type of wall is best for soil with high water content. Sheet piling walls can be used for walls up to 30 feet high.

Anchored Walls

Anchored walls are similar to cantilever walls except that additional support is provided by anchors that penetrate the soil beside the wall. This type of wall is used for higher walls where more support is necessary.

Segmental Retaining Walls

Segmental retaining walls (SRW) are a popular choice among DIY enthusiasts as they are easy to build. An SRW is made from precast concrete blocks that interlock. This type of wall can be used for walls up to 20 feet high.

Type of Wall Height Materials Difficulty
Gravity Wall 4ft or less Concrete Easy
Cantilever Wall Up to 25ft Concrete, steel reinforcement, footing Difficult
Sheet Piling Wall Up to 30ft Steel, vinyl or wood sheets Intermediate
Anchored Wall Up to 75ft Concrete, steel anchors Difficult
Segmental Retaining Wall Up to 20ft Precast concrete blocks Easy

When selecting the type of retaining wall to use, it is important to keep in mind the height of the wall and the type of soil that needs to be held back. Choosing the right type of wall can make the difference between a wall that lasts for years and one that fails in a short time.

Thanks for Reading and Happy Building!

We hope that this guide has given you the confidence to tackle your own retaining wall project. Remember, make sure to plan out your project, gather all the necessary materials, and take the time to properly install your wall. By following these steps, you’ll have a beautiful and functional retaining wall that will last for many years to come.

Don’t forget to maintain your retaining wall by checking it regularly for cracks, shifting, or other damage. By catching and addressing any issues early on, you can prevent costly repairs down the line.

Thank you for taking the time to read our guide on how to build a retaining wall. We hope that you found it helpful and informative. If you have any questions or would like to share your own retaining wall project, please feel free to leave a comment below. And don’t forget to check back for more home improvement tips and tricks!

Leave a Comment