How to Build a Retaining Wall

Retaining walls hold back soil to prevent unnatural slopes and separate land. They are usually required by the permit.

Retaining Wall

These walls can transform a sloped property into usable space. They can also create terraces that showcase eye-catching flower beds. Visit to learn more.

Poured concrete is durable and available in modern designs. Brick and stone offer a classic, traditional look that lasts up to 100 years.

Choosing the right materials is essential when building a retaining wall. They come in various forms to suit the needs of different projects and environments. Different materials also vary in price, so homeowners can find one that fits their budget while still providing the strength and durability required for the wall to function properly.

The most common retaining wall materials are concrete and wood. Other options include rock and stone, and some modern walls use a geosynthetic material to stabilize the soil and create a reinforced soil slope. These are especially useful for sites with steep grades that need to be retained.

Concrete can be constructed in a number of ways, including precast concrete panels or poured-on-site solid walls. It is a very durable material, able to hold up huge amounts of earth and water. It can also be designed with decorative elements like bricks and flagstones for visual appeal. However, it is important to note that a concrete retaining wall requires a footing/foundation area to ensure its stability.

Another popular retaining wall material is treated pine, which offers good value for money and a long lifespan. It is a flexible material that can be built to a height of around four feet, and it can be used for curved walls as well. However, it is not recommended to use this type of material for walls that are higher than four feet, as it cannot withstand the pressure from behind.

Brick is a time-honored material that has been used in construction since ancient times, and it can add an elegant look to any landscape design. It is highly durable, but it can be difficult to install as it is labor intensive and requires an experienced mason or landscaper to get the job done correctly. It also requires a large amount of drainage space, as the bricks can swell and put pressure on the back of the wall if they absorb water.

Another option for a retaining wall material is gabion, which consists of cages made from metals or wooden panels that are filled with rock/stone or rubble. These are great for gravity retaining walls that need to account for sliding and overturning forces.


A retaining wall is an essential structure that prevents a mass of earth or rocks on a slope from collapsing. These walls help to maximize land use and increase property value. But before building a retaining wall, you need to ensure it’s designed properly. Stability analysis is the process of assessing the stability of structures and systems through modeling, simulations and experimentation. This is a key step in the design of any engineering project, and it’s critical for ensuring long-term stability and safety.

A retaining wall must be designed to resist lateral earth pressures. These pressures come from the retained soil and any surcharge loads. The wall should also be designed to withstand the weight of its own components. If the wall isn’t correctly designed, it can fail in a short amount of time. It’s important to consult with a professional engineer when designing your retaining wall.

The design of a segmental retaining wall (SRW) starts with the selection of a proper foundation. This includes the type of soil, depth and load. It’s also important to consider future plans for the site. For example, a construction project might require temporary storage of construction materials on top of the retaining wall. This can increase lateral earth pressures significantly, and therefore, requires a higher factor of safety for the design.

For SRW walls, the footing and shear strength is determined by using design software such as SRWall 4.0 or TEK 18.11A. SRW’s are also designed as gravity structures, so their stability depends on the self-weight of the system to resist the destabilizing forces of the backfill and surcharge loads. This is why the base of the retaining wall should have sufficient width to prevent sliding at the base and overturning about the toe of the structure under the action of lateral earth forces.

For very tall retaining walls, it’s usually necessary to taper the wall thickness. This helps to reduce the bending stresses at the base of the wall and maintain a reasonable cross section for the high shears at the top. In addition, the height of the retaining wall should be limited to what is practical for the required stability factors and design life.


Retaining walls look simple enough, stacked stones or blocks. But they’re carefully engineered systems that wage an ongoing battle with gravity to restrain tons of soil that would otherwise slump and undermine the foundation or damage property. They also increase usable yard space by terracing sloped properties. And they can add beauty, personality and value to any landscape design.

When building a retaining wall, start with a sturdy footing or foundation constructed of concrete, RCC, stone or wood. This is what will ultimately hold back the soil.

Next, bury the bottom course or courses of the wall. This should be at least one tenth of the height of the wall to prevent the pressure of the fill you add behind it from pushing the bottom out of the way. This is the most important step in constructing any retaining wall, because it helps stabilize the wall and keep it from falling out of place.

After the base course is buried, you can begin adding more and more layers of block or stones. Be sure to use a good compaction process when adding fill because this will help the soil stay in place and reduce the stress on the wall. Using a mechanical vibrator and/or a tamper can be very helpful for this task.

Once the first course is built, lay a layer of crushed gravel for drainage and to help protect the wall from weeds and trees. Install a perforated drain pipe at the base of this layer to channel water away from the retained soil and the wall.

As you build each successive level, tamp the block well. You may want to use a hand tamper or power tamper. Also, be sure to sand the top of each course to provide a smooth surface for the final capping.

Once the final level is in place, you can install a cap that blends with the design of your retaining wall. You can buy caps designed specifically for your type of retaining wall, or you can use flat flagstones or concrete pavers cut to size and glued in place with construction adhesive.


If your co-op has a retaining wall, it is important to keep up with its maintenance. Retaining walls are meant to retain soil, preventing it from falling away and providing erosion control. They can also be used for esthetic reasons.

Retaining walls can be made of a variety of materials, including concrete and masonry. However, retaining walls are not indestructible and need to be inspected regularly for cracks and other problems that can affect their strength. Building staff should look for gaps between stones, loose mortar and deteriorated mortar joints. They should also look for signs of bulging or shifting of the soil behind the wall. If this is occurring, a professional may need to install permanent buttresses.

Soil erosion is one of the biggest concerns for retaining walls. In addition to regular inspections, it is important to make sure that the ground below the wall is covered with plants and mulch to help hold in the soil and reduce erosion. It is also a good idea to periodically regrade the soil around the retaining wall, especially after rainstorms or long periods of water.

Many retaining walls have a pipe for drainage in them. This needs to be kept clear of debris that can cause clogs and prevent water from being channeled properly. This can cause damage to the foundation of the wall.

Aside from the general inspection and maintenance, a retaining wall can also be damaged by pests. Inspect the retaining wall for any sign of insect infestation and have them dealt with immediately. It is also a good idea to apply a quality sealant on the outside of the wall. This will help it withstand the elements better and protect the wood from rotting.

A retaining wall isn’t something that should be out of sight, but it is often out of mind for building owners and managers. Taking the time to inspect and repair a retaining wall regularly can save a lot of money and inconvenience down the road.