Anyone with a strong back can stack up a bunch of blocks and build a pretty retaining wall. But it takes skill and planning to construct an attractive wall that can also handle immense pressure, shrug off the forces of gravity, stand for decades and laugh in the face of Mother Nature.
That’s the kind of wall we wanted to learn how to build, so we went to work with some hardworking hardscaping pros. They showed us that it’s all about a solid base, proper drainage and the right materials for the job. They also shared a few handy tips they’ve picked up over the years.
Retaining walls are often found in places where extra support is needed to prevent the earth from moving downhill with erosion. The most basic function of a retaining wall is to battle gravity; the lateral force of the slope must be offset in the retaining wall’s design. Retaining walls can also:
Provide usable land. For millennia, humans have used retaining wall techniques to create terraces of usable land on slopes. Consider the incredible terraces of ancient South American civilizations; farmers in Peru’s Sacred Valley still use the area’s Andinas, or agricultural terraces, to grow lush produce. A retaining wall can serve the same purpose (albeit on a much smaller scale) for your house; landscaping is much easier when you have a level area in your yard.
Manage water runoff. Retaining walls also help slow the flow of rainwater; in this way, they can increase the utility of your gardening and lawn care. Portland homeowners can help keep polluted street water out of nearby rivers by installing a water-thirsty retaining wall system, perhaps with a rain garden incorporated in its design.
Provide extra seating. Once your retaining wall is up, it may provide several unanticipated services; landscaping seating is an example. Depending on the location of your retaining wall, it may prove to be a popular place to sit and chat.
1. You need a way to control downhill erosion. If mountains of erosion materials are clogging important areas on your property, adding a retaining wall is a wonderful idea. Retaining walls minimize erosion by decreasing the angle of a slope and holding back soil.
2. Your home is downhill from soil fault lines. As any landscaping contractor will tell you, even if erosion isn’t threatening your home now, it could under the right conditions. In an earthquake, land typically slides away from fault lines. If your home is located downhill from a fault line, a retaining wall can provide stability and peace of mind.
3. Your foundation is threatened by a sliding hill. Erosion can threaten your home’s foundation. If the soil around a downhill foundation is washing away, or erosion from a slope is compacting an uphill foundation, a retaining wall can help. In such cases, building retaining walls is one of the most important services landscaping and contracting companies perform.