Retaining Wall Systems

Types of Retaining Wall Systems and Installation Tips

By Mark J. Donovan

Retaining walls are vertical walls that are used to hold back soil and prevent erosion. Retaining wall systems provide multiple benefits. They can transform a sloping yard into a flat or multi-terraced one. They can direct the flow of runoff rain water away from a home or certain areas of a yard. And they can be used to create beautifully landscaped yards. There are numerous types of retaining wall systems that you can build.

Retaining wall system construction can vary in material composition from as simple as boulders, to as complex as a manufactured segmental retaining wall system constructed out of modular concrete blocks and tieback systems.

Choosing the right type of retaining wall system depends upon how high of a retaining wall is required and what your budget is. A retaining wall that has a height requirement of only a couple of feet can be constructed using either simple stones, pressure treated beams, or interlocking concrete blocks. A retaining wall that has a height requirement of several feet or more should be constructed out of a segmental retaining wall system. Segmental retaining wall systems can enable higher and steeper walls due to the fact that they use tieback systems to hold the wall in place.

Soil behind a retaining wall exerts extreme pressure on the back of the retaining wall. A tieback system, constructed out of polymeric mesh geogrids, is buried into the soil behind the retaining wall and acts to hold the modular concrete blocks in place. The geogrids are designed to interlock with the modular concrete blocks to ensure that the face of the retaining wall system doesn’t shift forward over time due to the tremendous soil pressure behind it.

Today’s retaining wall systems are designed to require no mortar. The concrete blocks are interlocking. In addition, concrete retaining wall blocks are available in many different styles, shapes, sizes and colors.

They are also available in various textured surfaces. As a result, beautiful retaining wall systems can be constructed to provide both functionality and aesthetics. Retaining wall systems are also available to create circular walls, walkways and steps. There are even specific retaining wall systems for tree rings and planter beds.

In many cases retaining wall systems can be installed by the do-it-yourself homeowner. However, installing retaining wall systems can be back breaking work. It is highly recommended to rent equipment, such as a Bobcat tractor, to help carry and lift the stones. Also, it is imperative to install the retaining wall system on a solid foundation base. All topsoil should be removed and a several inch thick bed of angular crushed stone should be compacted in place for the retaining wall to rest on.

Also, perforated PVC drainage pipes should be installed behind the retaining wall to direct ground water away from it. The drain pipe should direct water to a low spot somewhere else in the yard.

Building a retaining wall.

In addition, landscaping mesh fabric and crushed stone should be installed directly behind the retaining wall stones or concrete blocks to prevent soil from seeping through the stone/block cracks.

So visit your local home improvement center to find out what type of retaining wall system will meet your budget and enable you to transform your yard into a useable and beautiful space.

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