Choosing Between the 6 Most Common Types of Retaining Walls

Retaining walls are mainly used to prevent soil erosion. They can also block water runoff, not to mention they serve as comfy seating areas in a pinch. Retaining walls can consist of varying shapes and sizes, depending on the need at hand and of course, your tastes. Often, retaining walls provide extra usable land. They can also be themed and significantly add to your home’s beauty.

Retaining wall options

If you’re planning to get a retaining wall built, there are several considerations to make, including which material to choose for the wall. It’s essential you choose the best-possible material. That way, you ensure your wall does its job properly, lasts a long time, and remains easy on the eyes!

If you’re struggling choosing a retaining wall material, this mini-guide should help you make an informed decision:

Segmental Retaining Walls (SRW)

  • Durability: Strong
  • Installation: Average
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Cost: Average to above average
  • Looks: Neatly ordered

Segmental retaining walls (SRW) are possibly the most popular retaining wall type today. They have been around since the 1980s, with several improvements being made to their design since then. They are enormously flexible, structurally sound, and look beautifully symmetrical.

SRWs are also alternatively known as mod-block or concrete block retaining walls. They involve evenly-sized concrete retaining blocks being placed together, with granular gravel fill behind and geogrid reinforcement for support.

SRWs can be tall or short, and they can be curved or straight. They can be finished off with decorative colors and textures, making them an attractive option for homeowners.

Timber Retaining Wall

  • Durability: Average
  • Installation: Easy
  • Maintenance: Moderate
  • Cost: Cheap
  • Looks: Rustic

Timber retaining walls have traditionally been a cost-effective alternative to stone. They are not as durable as stone walls, but make up for the lack in other ways. Timber walls are usually made from treated pine or hardwood sleeper. They involve 4x4 or 8x8 blocks of wood being fitted together, often with pillars at intervals for support.

Timber retaining walls, not being very durable, aren’t usually used in commercial settings. However, they are commonplace in urban backyards and gardens. They provide a natural, rustic look that matches extremely well with the greenery of a garden. Note that timber walls are susceptible to moisture damage and extreme weather. But they are cheap to install and maintain.

Boulder Retaining Wall

  • Durability: Strong
  • Installation: Easy (Machinery required)
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Cost: Above average
  • Looks: Big, bold, and natural

Boulder retaining walls are literally rock-solid. You should choose them if you want a retaining wall that lasts a century or longer. As you’re probably aware, boulder retaining walls, involve naturally-shaped boulders being stacked on top of each other. They are extremely easy to build and maintain and go well with English-style country architecture.

Boulder retaining walls can be expensive to build. Boulders, though readily available, are difficult to transport in quantity. However, these walls more than make up for the initial installation cost with their sheer durability and natural aesthetic appeal. Note that they aren’t always suitable in areas where water runoff is a major concern.

Fieldstone Retaining Wall

  • Durability: Strong
  • Installation: Hard
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Cost: Expensive
  • Looks: Gorgeous

Now we come to what’s probably the most expensive option: natural stone or fieldstone. Why is natural stone so expensive? Every single piece of natural stone is unique. When building a wall, often several hundred pieces have to be chiseled and cut to fit perfectly together. The process is very labor intensive. Unless you’re building a gabion, expect to pay through the nose for a fieldstone wall.

Are fieldstone walls worth it? They look spectacular, especially when they’re made to complement a verdant garden and natural stone walkway. They are very resilient and don’t require even a whit of maintenance. Though you’ll pay a lot initially, you can expect fieldstone walls to last a lifetime.

Concrete with Veneer Facing

  • Durability: Strong
  • Installation: Above average
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Cost: High
  • Looks: Smooth and polished

Concrete walls or poured concrete walls with veneer facing are a popular choice with homeowners who prefer a modern look. They involve pouring concrete into molds or forms directly on site, as opposed to transporting pre-fabricated stone from somewhere. Concrete retaining walls are one of the most expensive types to build.

Compared to block walls, poured concrete walls are much more durable. However, they are also hard to build and install, requiring a ton of labor and engineering expertise. Poured concrete walls are often supported by steel rods to prevent cracking.

Why choose concrete walls? They are immensely durable. Being flexible, they can be cast into a variety of shapes and sizes. They look sophisticated and look great with modern architecture. While they are expensive, their benefits offset the cost.

Brick Retaining Wall

  • Durability: Average
  • Installation: Easy
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Cost: Cheap
  • Looks: Old-school charm

Stone retaining walls may have character, but brick walls are homely. They are usually very easy to build, though they do need a solid foundation in place. Bricks are affordable: Brick retaining walls aren’t likely to burn a hole in your wallet, even if the project is ambitious in scope. While they aren’t flexible, they do well enough in most settings.

Brick retaining walls go well with a variety of architectural themes. You can paint them over to better complement the house or garden. They are comparatively durable and can withstand the elements extremely well. However, they are prone to cracking. Replacing a damaged brick can be a pain. Aside from these minor cons, though, brick retaining walls are a dependable option for homeowners.

For more ideas and to view what's most popular around you, check out Hirescapes inspiration board.

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