Retaining Walls Anatomy

Retaining Walls – Why?

Nature’s uneven terrain has its charm, until you try to play soccer with your children or throw a football. Build a few retaining walls and now you have a field that feels like a stadium to your family.  Retaining walls can level the playing field – truly!

More than problem-solvers, retaining walls also have a sculptural quality that adds definition to the landscape, and they can be made from various materials to evoke different styles. Stacked timbers or mortared stone, for instance, can impart a rustic look, while poured concrete is sleekly modern.

Just keep in mind that when planning for a type of retaining wall meant to hold back tons of soil, there’s little room for error. How effective your wall will be and how long it’ll last—decades or just a few years—depends largely on things you can’t see, such as a sound footing buried in the ground and drainage to keep water from building up behind the wall.

Retaining Wall Anatomy

Below is an image that visually displays the main sections of when building retaining walls.

Drainage stone: 
Restricts the water from collecting behind the wall
Filter fabric: 
Prevents soil from clogging drainage stone
The backward lean into the earth, about 1 inch for every 1 foot of wall height
Weep hole: 
Spaced every 6 to 8 feet, it lets water drain through the wall base
Reinforced concrete supports the wall
Footing drain: 
Carries away water

Common Questions

How long do they last? There is no limit to how long the stone will last. Wood will last up to 40 years but is not as optimal as concrete or stone.  The real question is the quality of the work of the installation.  Be sure to find out how long the installer stands behind their work.

Hire a Pro? Unless you have years as an engineer designing retaining walls, it might be best to trust the pros. Now that does not mean you cannot tackle this one yourself, but be sure to get it designed by a professional if it is a decent size wall.

How high?  While most codes require retaining walls that are taller than 4 feet high, be designed by a licensed engineer; it is important for you to check with your local building code.  Size does matter in this game.