4 Basic Considerations for Landscape Retaining Walls

A retaining wall is a practical solution for controlling soil erosion and making your yard more usable. A low, decorative retaining wall can be used as an outdoor planting bed to create interest in the otherwise flat landscape of many yards today.

A well-built retaining wall is a sight to behold, and can last for decades. If you’re considering hiring someone to build one on your property it’s important that they have the right experience in order to get the job done properly. Otherwise, an unsightly eyesore of leaning or bulging walls may be all that remains after years without problems if things don’t go according plan during construction.

1. Base

First, a retaining wall must be built on a suitable base. Block manufacturers as well as experienced contractors and engineers stress the importance of starting with an excellent foundation before building your new creation- it is crucial for supporting the rest of this structure! A good foundation includes compacted soil (at least six inches) but also needs sand or gravel to ensure that water does not seep through into your home’s basement.

2. Backfill

A retaining wall’s backfill is not just a way to keep the dirt away from your house, it also needs to be properly compacted in order for water drainage. At least 12 inches of granular backfill should go behind the wall and you can use native soil if there are no plans on doing any landscaping. It all depends how much space will remain after installation because at 6+ inch layer of native soil goes over top as well when going without landscaping

3. Drainage

Third, since most retaining walls are impervious which means water cannot pass through the wall itself efficient drainage is crucial. When drainage goes unaddressed hydrostatic pressure will build up behind the wall and cause damage such as bulging or cracking. There are a number of ways to ensure proper drainage of water from behind a retaining wall: first by making sure your landscaping contractor backfills at least one foot space with gravel, second installing perforated pipes along both sides inside or on top if possible that can allow for weep holes in case there’s any overflow when it rains too much; third asking your contractors about what type materials they use for keeping moisture out so you know whether something like concrete blocks would be better suited than brick stones. No matter

4. Height

Fourth, it’s important to know that the height of a retaining wall determines the load it can bear and how much extra reinforcement will be necessary. Generally speaking, residential retaining walls are built between 3-4 feet high; this height provides excellent strength without requiring anchors or cantilevers. If your property requires a higher wall you have two options: You could hire an engineer who specializes in designing these types of structures for your specific needs OR build multiple lower ones which would create terraced effects throughout your lawn.

Using Waterproof Membranes

Not all moisture can be seen in a retaining wall. Moisture will seep through the masonry and travel through on both wet and dry sides, leaving behind mineral efflorescence or discoloring mildew if it is not dealt with appropriately. This means that waterproof membranes need to go into place before any decorative veneer such as stucco, stone or tile going up so they don’t get damaged by too much moisture absorbing from the back of your walls. There are various types of these membranes available for different climates but only your contractor knows which one works best where you live!

Retaining Wall Design Ideas:

  • Incorporate a fountain or water feature into your retaining wall
  • Integrate an outdoor fireplace into your retaining wall design
  • Install landscape lighting in your retaining wall
  • Include built-in bench seating in your retaining wall
  • Don’t forget steps if you plan to access the area above the wall
  • For a finished look, have wall caps installed

Check out our post on Introduction to Retaining Walls: 101

Jordan Stambaugh is a main contributor to USA Retaining Walls. He runs Green Fox, a digital marketing company for outdoor contractors. From the Pacific Northwest and an Eagle Scout, Jordan has great appreciation for the outdoors and natural spaces. He believes in sustainability through design and choices in the building process.

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