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Where to begin: Dos and Don’ts of Retaining Walls

Before we get into the dos and don’ts, we need to have a good grasp of what a retaining wall is and why they are becoming more popular among commercial and residential properties. Retaining walls are relatively rigid walls used for supporting soil laterally so that it can be retained at different levels on the two sides. Retaining walls are structures designed to restrain soil to a slope that it would not naturally keep to. They are often found in places where extra support is needed to prevent the earth from moving downhill with erosion. The most basic function of a retaining wall is to battle gravity; the lateral force of the slope must be offset in the retaining wall’s design. There are four basic types of retaining walls: gravity, cantilevered, sheet piling, and anchored. Let’s compare these structures and outline some things you should, or shouldn’t, be doing for proper upkeep.

The 4 Types of Retaining Walls

Gravity Retaining Wall

The most basic of retaining walls, the gravity retaining wall uses sheer weight and mass to hold the soil. Gravity retaining walls can be constructed with a variety of materials such as segmental blocks, stone masonry, and cast-in-place concrete.

Cantilever Retaining Wall

Sometimes called a reinforced retaining wall from the steel bars that run through the concrete or masonry retaining wall, the cantilevered retaining walls make use of a retaining wall affixed to a slab foundation that goes under the soil the wall is supporting in an “L” shape.

Sheet Piling Retaining Wall

Used when space is an issue, a sheet pile retaining wall is a thin wall of steel, wood, or vinyl that is driven directly into the soil. These pilings only work in softer soils, and a good rule of thumb is that you have to get one-third of the sheet piling driven into the ground for every two-thirds that will be above it.

Anchored Retaining Wall

An anchored retaining wall can be constructed in any of the aforementioned styles but also includes additional strength using cables or other stays anchored in the rock or soil behind it.

Before Building Your New Retaining Wall:

Do:

  • Check with community guidelines to see if building your retaining wall will require any permits
  • Call DigSafe before any digging 

Don’t:

  • Build near invasive tree or plant root systems

Maintaining Your Retaining Wall

Do:

  •  Inspect Drains And Battering Each Spring
  • Remove any weeds surrounding or growing up onto your wall
  • Inspect the surface behind your wall for low spots

Don’t:

  • Powerwash your stones
  • Use chemical de-icing salts on your wall

Well-built retaining walls transform unworkable inclines into usable outdoor space by reducing soil erosion, turning steep slopes into terraced backdrops, creating focal points in the landscape. If you’re tired of the hard-to-maintain slope near your home or business, it may be time to transform your outdoor space with a beautiful retaining wall.