If you’re currently trying to discern whether or not you could benefit from building a retaining wall, try answering the following questions:
1. Do you own a home or property situated on or near sloped, uneven ground?
2. Do you live in a particularly wet climate where flooding and soil erosion are prevalent?
3. Are you looking to add a touch of uniqueness and beauty to your yard and/or property?
If you’ve answered “yes” to any one of the questions above, it’s time to consider installing one.
The Benefits of a Retaining Wall
Retaining walls have a number of uses as well as offer many practical advantages to the homeowner. Generally, the main purpose is to prevent the erosion of sloped earth that may threaten to shift and slide; thereby, potentially damaging or destroying your home or property. They are also particularly effective tools in climates with heavy precipitation, e.g., the Pacific Northwest. Not only will an effective one properly support sloping earth, but it will also act as an effective means of draining water runoff and reducing hydrostatic pressure. Furthermore, they provide a number of agricultural benefits. For warmer, dryer climates, a wall can delay seepage of water from land, and for wetter climates, properly drained walls can divert water from areas prone to flooding.
In addition to practical purposes, these structures maintain a certain aesthetic value as well. As such, adding one may increase the resale value of your home, while also enhancing your own enjoyment of your property. For example, a wall can be constructed in a series of steps or levels, granting you unrestricted creativity to include all kinds of plantings, flowers, or other elements that will add texture, color, and new life to each successive level. Not to mention, stepped retaining walls have proven to be a more effective form of erosion control.
Retaining Wall Options
Since these structures provide support for vertical grade changes, an effective one must be constructed in such a way as to accommodate and redistribute the lateral pressure caused by sloping. As a result, they vary in size and type, and often include materials like stone, brick, concrete, vinyl, steel, and pressure treated timber.
If you’re brainstorming ideas for a retaining wall, the following are commonly used types.
Gravity retaining walls rely on their mass to hold back pressure. Often these walls are constructed from large pieces of stone, concrete, or other heavy materials that are often a composite of elements including steel, rock, timber, soil, and concrete.
Sheet pile retaining walls are utilized for soft earth and limited space. These walls are typically constructed from thin sheets of steel, vinyl, or wood which are driven into the ground.
Cantilevered retaining walls were more popular before the introduction of gravity walls. These walls are typically taller and fashioned from thin stems of steel-reinforced concrete often cast in the shape of inverted T. In effect, they will “cantilever” loads, diverting pressure downward toward the strong base instead of forward. The advantage to this particular type of wall is that it uses less material than most others.
Anchored retaining walls employ the use of anchors placed behind the wall (into the earth) for support. The size and shape of anchors vary, and a number of different methods are used to place them. They are typically used when either high loads are expected or the wall itself is required to be thin, rendering it too weak to stand alone.
Finally, soil nailing is a technique actually used to reinforce the wall. Usually, a number of relatively slender elements, like steel bars, are installed through the wall at a downward angle. This allows them to be easily modified during the construction process and, typically, built from the top down.