Nature’s uneven and wild terrain is undoubtedly magical.
However, a lot of that magic seems to dissipate once you try to have a romantic wine dinner on your uneven patio or try to play a game of badminton on a giant slope.
That’s why many people choose to install a retaining wall as a backstop: it carves out a practical and fully-functional space for you to enjoy any activity outside.
On top of creating manageable outdoor spaces, retaining walls also create a unique sense of definition to the landscape and your yard.
They come in all sorts of different styles and forms to create a personality as well. From rustic stacked timber to modern poured concrete, you can create stunning walls, based on your personal style.
In this article, we’ll outline everything you need to know about retaining walls while offering 6 gorgeous retaining wall ideas for you to gain inspiration from for your own home.
The Basics of Retaining Walls
First things first, when planning to implement a retaining wall that’s designed to hold back literally tons of soil, there’s very little wiggle room left for error.
The effectiveness of your wall and its longevity depends on factors you can’t see, such as drainage and a solid footing in the ground.
For this reason, and many others, we highly suggest you don’t take on a retaining wall as a DIY project unless you already have a lot of experience.
On top of managing sloped areas, retaining walls can also be used on ground level to help raise up living spaces. They can elevate planting areas for better drainage while also creating a seawall.
There are so many benefits and ways to use these personalized walls. However, they can also be quite costly.
Let’s look at some of the basics first.
How Much Do They Cost?
Poured concrete retaining wall prices begin at $4.30 per square foot, while interlocking concrete block walls are $5.65, $11 for stone and $6.15 for treated pine.
This doesn’t include filter fabric, drainage stone, installation or supplies.
Will They Last Long?
It all depends on who installs it and how they do it.
When done properly, these walls last a long time.
There’s no limit for the lifespan of concrete or masonry wall that’s installed properly. In comparison, walls made of timber can last for up to 40 years.
Pro Job or DIY?
A lot of people will recommend interlocking concrete block walls and timber for DIY projects, but poured concrete and masonry jobs are clearly best left to a professional.
While it is possible to install a retaining wall on your own, there’s a lot of factors that need to be considered in order for the wall to be successful, long-lasting and most importantly, safe.
However, if you’re confident and have the proper instructions, you could do this job yourself.
The Anatomy of a Retaining Wall
There are some basic parts for a generic mortared-stone wall.
If you’re planning on getting at your retaining wall idea yourself, it’s important to keep these basics in mind.
Components used for other types of retaining walls vary.
For a basic mortared-stone retaining wall, you’ll need:
- Drainage stone to keep water from collecting behind the wall
- Filter fabric to prevent soil from clogging your drainage stone
- Weep hole to allow water to drain through the base of the wall
- Proper footing which is reinforced supports, usually concrete, for the wall
- A footing drain to carry the water away
Retaining Wall Complications
A magical aspect of retaining walls is their incredible strength.
They're able to carry loads which is created by more than soil weight. Water that’s collected from behind the wall creates hydrostatic pressure. This is the cause of most wall failures.
Only properly designed drainage walls and waterproofing systems can ensure wall survival.
In fact, building permits will require these specific calculations since retaining wall failures can cause a lot of damage.
This is especially important in areas where slopes are unstable and the climate experiences heavy rain that may lead to ultra-saturated soils and horrific mudslides.
You should always remember that no matter how beautiful these structures may be, they’re powerful and need to function as designed.
This can only occur when they’re made from adequate materials and created by high-quality contractors.
However, once you nail down these two aspects, you’ll be able to create a stunning wall that stands strong and proud for decades afterward.
Retaining Wall Ideas
There are quite a few materials you can choose from to start off your retaining wall masterpiece.
While short timber walls are an economical and effective way to handle your runoff and erosion situation, concrete block walls are also quite popular due to their modern aesthetic.
Dry stone walls are almost art in itself and are so strong that some stone walls from colonial times are still fully functional to this day.
There are also veneer walls which are usually the landscaper’s choice if you’re looking for a higher end landscaping job. Along with its CMU or functional concrete masonry unique core, there’s almost an unending amount of choice for sleek and sexy brick or stone veneer.
No matter which material option you choose, there are many ways to make it uniquely stunning on your personal property.
We have listed the different wall materials, along with links to gorgeous ideas on how to transform them into functional works of art.
The most affordable choice, timber walls are held together with screws, rebar or spikes and only need a basic crushed stone footing and deadman to anchor them together.
You should expect pressure-treated fir or pine to last for 40 years, while red cedar or redwood will last about 20 years.
We love this timber retaining wall idea on Pinterest. It’s rustic, stunning and creative.
When paired with a professional drainage system, brick, stone or concrete block walls are extremely strong and long-lasting.
You can choose the specific materials yourself and your local home center or stone yard. However, you’ll need to rely on a mason to install the wall properly.
There are many ways you can personalize masonry and beautify it to fit your yard perfectly.
We love this idea on Pinterest.
This is, without a doubt, the most durable wall material choice out of the list.
On top of strength, poured concrete can also be personalized by being stamped, veneered, stained or carved.
Similar to masonry, poured concrete walls are supported by concrete footing and weep holes. This is the only type of wall that doesn’t lean back against the soil.
As you can tell, there are so many ways you can make this type of retaining wall unique to fit your style or yard.
Here’s our favorite idea poured concrete retaining wall idea.
Interlocking Concrete Blocks
Concrete blocks are great for those of you Bravehearts who are determined to install their own retaining wall.
This is because they are light and flat-sided that fit together effortlessly, without the use of mortar. These blocks can have a rough, quarried look and come in tan, gray and red colors.
We love this style from Pinterest.
Retaining Wall Ideas: Final Thoughts
With the right set of creative retaining wall ideas, you can terrace the backyard, carve out a patio, transition a sidewalk, line your driveway or make a stunning display for your backyard.
The ideas are almost endless; all you need to do is work with the landscape you have and get some advice from a talented landscape architect for how to use your gorgeous backyard effectively.
No matter what material you choose, you’ll be able to personalize it to make it your own and to help make it fit perfectly with your home and yard atmosphere.
Retaining walls are becoming increasingly popular ways to create a functional outdoor living area while providing stunning displays that accentuate your landscape and truly make your house feel like home.
Check out these other retaining wall ideas by the Backyard Boss for more inspiration on how to create the perfect retaining wall in your home.