The Complete Guide to Retaining Walls and How They are Saving Soil, Water & Money

Introduction: What is a Retaining Wall?

An earth wall built to hold back the soil typically has a cross section in the shape of an inverted “V”. The wide part of the “V” is called the “spur” and forms a lip which sheds water from the side of the wall. The spurs are thus always in contact with the soil, with only the narrow part of the “V” showing above ground level. The buttresses are sometimes cut back below ground level to increase the thickness of the bearing soil.
Retaining Walls are used for a variety of reasons: they hold back banks, they permit land to be usable if slopes are too steep, they can hold up roads or railway lines, or they can use an existing steep slope as a feature. They keep materials which would otherwise flow down a slope in place, such as soil or granular material. They can also be used to keep water in or out of a particular area.
The basic types of retaining wall are:
There are three widely used methods for constructing retaining walls which depend on the stability of the slope behind the wall:

4x4 or 6x6 for retaining wall
4×4 or 6×6 for retaining wall

Retaining Wall Basics – Foundation Preparation

There are several tools that eliminate grading and stabilize the walling before backfill – vibrator, compactor, or a ram-pump. A vibrator (or walk-behind) is used in places where grading would be difficult, and can be rented from most local building supply companies. Ram-pumps work similarly to a vibrator but also offer the advantage of being fired by ground batteries which eliminates the need for two people to operate them. A ram-pump may be rented from local building supply companies with a minimum requirement of 100 pounds of force. A vibrator and ram-pump combined can fall within the capability of one person without resorting to battery operation. The use of a compressor or a ram-pump are good options if a machine is available and not always necessary, but there are times when no machine is needed.

4x4 or 6x6 for retaining wall
4×4 or 6×6 for retaining wall

The Difference Between a Retaining Wall and a Fence

And in most cases, you’ll be building a fence if you’re employing a dry-stack or other masonry retaining wall. Masonry and pressure-treated wood are commonly used for fences. And in most cases, the same applies for walls built with rubble fill.
In general, a retaining wall is a masonry structure that has been built to support or strengthen the foundation of an existing building or structure. It is less likely to be used in situations where the dry-stack walls are built as part of a larger reinforced concrete project, such as when the load-bearing wall in question is part of the structural frame.
But before you dig those next holes for setting up your dry-stack walls or raking dirt for your retaining walls, here are some important points to keep in mind.
Retaining walls typically get their strength from the same materials and methods used to build the foundation of a house or building. They’re made from masonry, or concrete filled with stone, stones and bricks. They are designed to withstand forces that are applied by the earth to which they are attached.
Concrete, usually hot-mixed in a mixer truck on site, is poured on top of whatever is already placed in the hole (landfill or rock), then tamped and leveled. The wall units are set up in a straight line or on an incline, using stakes to hold the rows together.

4x4 or 6x6 for retaining wall
4×4 or 6×6 for retaining wall

What is the Best Type of Retaining Wall for My Landscape?

A retaining wall or retaining structure is a structure designed to resist the lateral pressure of soil. A buttress is the simplest form of retaining wall and consists of little more than a pile of stones or boulders. Closer to ground level, there are three basic types of retaining walls: dry-stone, dry-stacked, and mortared. Dry-stack is the simplest and usually the least expensive to build. An adobe retaining wall is made with clay, sand and water. It is well-suited for areas that experience freezing temperatures because of its thermal mass. Solid concrete walls are typically poured in situ.
Dry-stacked stone walls or remodeled stone walls, also known as dry-stone walls, are constructed without mortar. Dry-stack retaining walls may be built to create an ornamental or rustic appearance and out of respect for traditional building methods; they may also be used when other types of retaining wall are not suitable. Dry-stacked retaining walls utilize stone materials, chips or shaved granite. Dry-stacked walls are well suited for rural and mountainous areas where other retaining wall designs such as adobe walls are impractical to build.
A mortared stone retaining wall can be more expensive to build because it requires mortar to hold the stones together, which is expensive and time consuming.

4x4 or 6x6 for retaining wall
4×4 or 6×6 for retaining wall

What Are The Different Materials You can Use for Your Retaining Walls?

The best materials are natural, stickless rock and sand. Limestone sheds water. If you want a retaining wall that looks like it is supported by actual rock, however, use stone or cobble. Stone is not the least expensive material as it is, but taking a few extra steps to look like it is supported naturally can make it look more realistic. Pre-made or bulk tile can be used for both retaining areas and walls. These are available in various colors and sizes, and come in standard sizes as well as irregular shapes. You may even use brick or wood. Just be sure to use a product that is made for retaining walls.
Tile and brick are not the best choices for a slope that needs to shed water, but they are an option if you only need something to hold someone back or something to keep things up rather than something that will keep them in place.
Some of the most popular products include:
1. Cobblestone is usually European limestone with rounded edges. It is very distinctive in this regard and will set a tone for the rest of your project. It can be put together with mortar or cement.
2. Concrete is obviously the most expensive choice, but is also likely to be the most durable, something that will last as long as several generations of use.
3. Stone or stone look products such as fieldstone or pebble mix are best used if you want a “real” look with less money spent.

4x4 or 6x6 for retaining wall
4×4 or 6×6 for retaining wall