The chances are high that retaining walls are a part of your daily routine, but you just never notice them. Homes, businesses, and schools are only a few locales that often have some kind of retaining wall. They compliment the landscaping wherever they appear while also performing several vital functions.
This article is a primer on everything you need to know about retaining walls. The first section explains exactly what a retaining wall is. The second helps you determine if your property could benefit from having one. Finally, the last section briefly describes some of the design options available to you. Let’s get started!
1. Functions Of A Retaining Wall
Most retaining walls serve to provide extra support wherever it may be needed to prevent the earth underneath your property from moving downhill due to erosion. At their core, retaining walls exist to fight gravity. This means that the lateral force of the slope must be offset by the design of your retaining wall to do its job correctly.
That said, retaining walls can serve additional functions as well. For example, mankind has used them for centuries to create usable land in areas where it’s otherwise too steep to exist. The terraces constructed by ancient South American civilizations are an excellent example of this type of retaining wall. In fact, modern-day farmers in the Sacred Valley region of Peru still use the area’s Andinas, or terraces, to produce their crop. If you enjoy gardening, you can use retaining walls in the same manner (on a much smaller scale, of course).
Retaining walls may also be used to manage water runoff. The wall slows the flow of rainwater, keeping polluted water out of nearby rivers while simultaneously hydrating a gardening or lawn care system. It’s best to choose a “thirsty” design if you’re interested in this functionality.
Finally, many retaining walls double as outdoor seating areas. The specifics depend on the design you choose, and almost nobody builds a retaining wall for additional seating. Still, many homeowners find them to be convenient places to sit and chat once they’re up.
2. How You Know You Need A Retaining Wall
There are three situations that suggest you might need a retaining wall. The first is if you need to deal with significant downhill erosion. Building a wall can be a great way to reduce the slope of your property while also holding back soil, preventing it from shifting.
You may also benefit from a retaining wall if your home is situated downhill from a soil fault line. In an earthquake, land usually slides away from the fault lines in the area. If your property is downhill from such a fault line, it could cause massive erosion even if you’ve never had a problem with it before. A professional landscaper can help you determine if a retaining wall is a right choice for your peace of mind.
Finally, a retaining wall is a viable solution if the foundation of your home is threatened by a sliding hill. If this is the case, erosion can potentially damage the very foundation of your home. This holds especially true if the soil around a downhill foundation is washing away, or if erosion is compacting a foundation located further uphill. In these situations, building and maintaining a retaining wall is among the most critical services a professional landscaping company can provide.
3. Retaining Wall Design Options
Improperly installed retaining walls can lean, bulge, or crack, typically due to a design that isn’t strong enough for the intended purpose or a lack of adequate drainage. If you live in a high-moisture environment, drainage should be one of the first things discussed with your contractor. It might add a little more to your final bill, but it’s far cheaper than trying to fix the damage caused by a leak.
As for materials, you have three main choices to consider. Timber is the least expensive option, generally costing about $15 per square foot. However, timber is not a water-proof material. If your wall is exposed to any moisture at all, water will penetrate the wall’s foundation and weaken the timber.
If you’re willing to spend around $20 per square foot, you can upgrade to a wall built out of interlocking blocks or poured concrete. If your home has a modern aesthetic, this industrial look could serve as a nice compliment to your decor as well.
Finally, natural stone retaining walls are the premium option. They cost about $25 per square foot, but most agree that they also offer the most visual appeal.
No matter which material and design you select, it is best to hire professional landscapers with experience in building retaining walls to handle the job. An experienced professional decreases your risk of ending up with an engineering catastrophe, such as a flood of mud and stone compromising your home’s stability.
It might be tempting to go with whoever you use for day-to-day lawn maintenance, but retaining walls are an entirely different animal. Pick a specialist and enjoy having a retaining wall capable of standing up to whatever Mother Nature throws against it!
BUR-HAN Garden and Lawn Care
2110 Front St, North Vancouver, BC V7H 1A3