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Retaining walls allow for the expansion of usable space, provide support for structures, and can add aesthetic qualities to a landscape. Premature failure of retaining walls is common across the United States, but a properly constructed retaining wall can add significant value to a property and should last for decades.

Below are common items to consider and issues to be familiar with.

  • Reasons for a retaining wall

    • More functional space. A retaining wall can create or expand a patio, yard, or other space and change a sloped lot into a flat, usable area

    • Building or parking lot support

    • Erosion control

    • Seating

  • Retaining wall design options (listed from "typically" least expensive to most expensive)

    • Timber walls (railroad ties or other wood)

      • Moisture sensitive​

      • Limited lifespan

    • Interlocking blocks (stacked walls)

      • Many types, sizes, shapes, and aesthetics available​

      • Typically masonry construction

      • Some block walls require a cap

      • Geotextile mesh (Geogrid) must be used in many situations

      • Some block walls need to be filled with aggregate

    • Brick​

      • Typically small planter walls​

    • Gabion Wall​

      • Welded wire cage filled with stone​

      • No footing needed

      • Many times used for erosion control situations

    • CMU (Concrete Block)​

      • May be filled or unfilled​

      • Mortar required to build a block wall

      • May be reinforced with rebar

      • Typically require a footing to be poured before the wall is constructed

      • Careful attention needed for weep hole placement

      • Typically are finished with a facing for aesthetics

        • Stucco​

        • Thin Brick

        • Stacked stone or flagstone

    • Poured concrete wall​

      • An infinite number of shapes and designs

      • Always reinforced

      • Require a footing to be poured before the wall is constructed

      • May be finished with a facing or painted

      • Careful attention needed for weep hole placement

    • Natural stone wall

      • Natural look

      • Widely considered the most attractive

  • ​​Common issues and causes of premature failure

    • Poor drainage

      • Many walls fail due to improper drainage - water can develop hydrostatic pressure on the wall. Freeze/thaw cycles​ can cause a wall to fail prematurely without proper drainage through the wall.

    • Improper use of filter fabric. 
      • Filter fabric should typically not be used directly on the back of the wall.​ Filter fabric tends to get clogged with sediment leading to additional pressure on the wall.
    • Not including drainage aggregate on the back of the wall
    • Not installing Geotextile mesh (Geogrid) on stacked walls (typically needed every 2nd course)
    • Block used for wall is too small

    • Foundation issues (insufficient compaction, footing construction, etc.)

    • Unanticipated loads (equipment, vehicles, etc.)

    • Lack of steel reinforcement

    • Not filling block with aggregate (required in some stacked walls), or mortar/grout (CMU walls)

    • Rot (timber walls)

Know what you're buying



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