How to Plan Your Retaining Wall

A retaining wall is a structure designed to hold or retain the soil behind it. Retaining walls are an important aspect of many yards because they prevent unwanted soil movement and sliding. It’s a simple concept, but it’s essential that you properly plan out your retaining wall before you begin building it. Mistakes made early on can result in labor-intensive fixes down the road.

retaining wall

Determine the purpose of the retaining wall

Before you can dive into your retaining wall project, you need to know why you are building the walls. Do you need to solve a drainage problem? Are you looking to add more usable space for gardening? Would you like to add stairs? Are you simply looking to add something new to your landscaping? Once you know the purpose of the retaining walls, you can begin laying out the overall design and location of each wall.

Check building codes and talk with utility companies

Make sure you familiarize yourself with local building codes before finalizing your retaining wall plans. Taller walls often require special building permits. For safety reasons, you will also need to contact utility companies to have them check for any underground cables before you start digging. A local landscaping professional will be able to talk you through these steps or even take care of them for you.

Identify soil types and water drainage

Granular soils, which have a sandy feel, are great for building on, as they allow for good water drainage. Clay soils stick together and place pressure on the walls. Organic soils will also stick together, but they should only be used on top of the walls for planting areas. If your yard does not have the proper soil needed to build on, you may need to bring in new soil to ensure the structural integrity of your retaining walls. Water management is an incredibly important aspect of planning out a retaining wall, as poor water management is the number one reason for retaining wall failure. There are two factors to consider: surface run off and in-wall drainage. Talk with a landscaping professional to identify water sources and design your walls to create proper drainage.

Plan out the necessary size and placement of each retaining wall

The layout of your yard will determine where you need to place retaining walls and also how tall each wall needs to be. Walls higher than 4 feet can be a little trickier to build, so it’s best to work with an experienced professional to ensure that you won’t end up with a shaky structure.

Factors such as land slope, setback, and surcharges will help determine whether you will build gravity walls or reinforced walls. The setback is the angle at which your wall will lean back into the hill. Weight from things such as driveways, swimming pools, and patios are all common examples of surcharges. Gravity walls rely on their own weight and setback. When additional reinforcement is needed, a reinforced wall will provide more stability.

Get creative with the design

Retaining walls may be functional, but that doesn’t mean that have to be ugly or boring. You can play around with different cinder block colors and sizes to create a wall that compliments your landscape instead of disrupting it.  Retaining walls don’t have to be strictly utilitarian. You can work with a landscaping professional to create curved walls, patterned designs, and interesting textures. Terraced walls are also a great way to incorporate a tiered design and create more space for flowers and plants.

If you are looking into creative yet functional retaining walls, contact Hackmann Lawn and Landscaping to discuss your options!