Retaining walls are a principal hardscaping feature of both residential and commercial properties; when considering a retaining wall design, there are many different types of retaining walls, as well as many building materials to choose from.
Choosing the best retaining wall material depends on many factors, including property type, desired design elements, purpose of the wall in terms of functionality, as well as available budget. There is no right or wrong answer to what retaining wall is best due to the unique elements of each individual job, but there are pros and cons that can be examined when it comes to building materials.
In this article, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of the most popular retaining wall materials, then being able to make a decision that makes sense for your specific job, budgetary needs, as well as desired look.
7 Most Common Retaining Wall Materials
Here, we’ll break down the most popular and accessible retaining wall materials and explore the benefits and potential downsides of each one. Kelowna Retaining Walls are varied in material, and as you research these materials, you’ll see that they could each be used, depending on your job type and preferences.
The respective materials include the following:
Stone Veneer is one of the most popular types of retaining wall in terms of design because there are so many possible appearances when it comes to stone veneer retaining walls. In addition, they give off a natural-looking appearance which many people enjoy.
Stone veneers come in a variety of colors and styles, which can be great in terms of freedom and design flexibility. One consideration when choosing this building material is that it should coincide with the stone that is already a part of the property’s design elements; if there isn’t much stone there already, that won’t be a big issue.
The great thing about stone veneers is that they are very solid and can match the purpose of most any job due to a range of thickness and heights. This makes stone veneers a very customizable option for retaining walls.
Stone Veneer Retaining Wall Pros: Customizable, durable, and natural appearance with many options
Stone Veneer Retaining Wall Cons: Requires a strong and well-created design that is typically done by a retaining wall contractor or architect.
Poured concrete offers property owners many design options as well with heightened levels of durability and strength. This type of retaining wall is most favorable in commercial, industrial, and modern landscapes.
While there is a lot of strength that poured concrete retaining walls can hold, they have to be poured correctly and they may crack over time. If the work isn’t done just right, there is a higher chance that your retaining wall will fail, or that there will be a wave or bulge in the retaining wall.
Poured Concrete Retaining Wall Pros: Great for modern, industrial and commercial landscapes, offers durability and high levels of strength when done correctly
Poured Concrete Retaining Wall Cons: Can crack, wave, or bulge; construction must be done exactly right, doesn’t fit all aesthetics
Brick is a classic look for Kelowna Retaining Walls and can give residential and commercial properties more curb appeal. Brick retaining walls are strong, durable, and effective when the proper drainage system is implemented.
The construction of a brick retaining wall requires more labor, however, and proper drainage for a brick retaining wall must be used; if not, the wall will not hold up over time. It can be tedious but will provide a strong and effective structure for a retaining wall in the long run.
Brick Retaining Wall Pros: classic look, curb appeal, durable with high strength levels
Brick Retaining Wall Cons: more labor required for installation, special drainage systems needed
Another fan favorite, concrete blocks can give a natural look and allow for curvature to be added to the landscape in which it is installed. It mirrors classic architectural styles, which can fit the desired aesthetic of many home and property owners.
Concrete blocks, however, are not effective for bigger jobs and won’t be suitable if the retaining wall need is higher than four feet. Depending on the footing and base, the strength may be affected.
Concrete Block Retaining Wall Pros: classic architectural aesthetic, adds curves to landscape
Concrete Block Retaining Wall Cons: only possible for smaller walls, weak footing minimizes strength and durability
Boulder (Dry Stone)
Homeowners that want the ultimate natural look for their property or garden will love the aesthetic provided by a boulder, or dry stone, retaining wall. These suit colonial and country homes perfectly, and it also offers a viable and practical solution when there is a lot of sloping or change in grade.
While these are lovely and natural, there are still some natural issues that plague these retaining walls. Both water flow and drainage can be big problems, which means it could be a nuisance for a property and may eventually fail due to water buildup if a solution isn’t incorporated in the installation.
Boulder (Dry Stone) Retaining Wall Pros: charming, natural look, effective for sloping and grade changes
Boulder (Dry Stone) Retaining Wall Cons: water buildup and water flow pose difficult problems for boulder retaining walls
Great for erosion control, gabion retaining walls are especially popular at properties that are near bodies of water such as the coast, rivers, or lakes; this is great, since the aesthetic also complements these property locations.
Gabion doesn’t require much excavation or land prep and can be a rather affordable option for a retaining wall. Gabion also minimizes environmental impact through recycled materials.
Depending on the weather conditions, however, the wire basket, or the structural formation of the gabion retaining wall, may begin to show signs of rusting, which may not be a desirable aesthetic.
Gabion Retaining Wall Pros: environmentally friendly materials, great for seaside/riverside/lakeside homes, simple installation with little skill required
Gabion Retaining Wall Cons: wire basket (structural encasing) may become rusted and unappealing
Our final material, wood, is another natural choice that can complement pretty much any design aesthetic. The installation of a wood retaining wall is relatively straightforward, giving your property a natural and neutral look.
While wood retaining walls have the potential for a 15-20 year lifespan, there are elements that may minimize it. When installing a wood retaining wall, proper waterproofing must be executed; there are effective wood preservatives that can help with this. If this is not done and the installation isn’t completed with proper materials, your wood retaining wall will be severely limited in terms of lifespan.
It may also rot and isn’t recommended for any retaining wall needs over four feet, just like concrete block retaining walls.
Wood Retaining Wall Pros: easy-to-access materials, simple and natural design, works well with many different property and design types
Wood Retaining Wall Cons: needs waterproofing and wood preservatives, can rot, may not last as long as other retaining walls
Considerations for the Best Retaining Wall
The best retaining wall isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. When you choose the best retaining wall, you must carefully weigh your options according to your job type, desired design elements, as well as your available budget. When you find the perfect mix of these three elements, you have discovered your definition of “the perfect retaining wall.”
Here is a bit more about each of these three considerations.
It’s vital that you take into account the size of your job, the purpose of the retaining wall, and the location that it will be installed.
Retaining walls all hold up differently depending on the conditions and the purpose, so having these factors clearly defined when working with a retaining wall contractor can make things much easier in terms of choosing the best material for your job and design.
Desired Design Elements
Speaking of design, you should have some general idea about what type of aesthetic you’d like your retaining wall to have and how your contractor can help you achieve it. Ultimately, job type should win over desired design elements simply because the job type can affect the durability and lifespan of your retaining wall more than design elements can.
If you choose simply based on design alone, you may find yourself with a failed retaining wall or one that needs repairs later down the line.
Of course, the deciding factor for your retaining wall may be your budget. There are many different elements that can affect the cost of your retaining wall, including location, design (curves, steps, sloping, additional elements), soils, and material cost, to name a few.
The best thing you can do is have a clear picture in terms of what you need for your job type as well as what you’d like in terms of design, and then create a budget window that you can discuss with your retaining wall contractor. Think about which elements are must-haves for you, and which ones have some room for negotiation or leeway.
Final Thoughts: Best Type of Retaining Wall
All in all, there’s no blanket response for which type of retaining wall is best, but with careful considerations of your job type, design elements, and budget, you can work with an expert retaining wall contractor to find the perfect retaining wall for you and your property.
Ready to discuss your retaining wall job? Contact Kelowna Retaining Walls today and we’ll be happy to partner with you to make your dream retaining wall a reality! As the retaining wall contractors in Kelowna, we have the expertise needed to ensure your retaining wall is installed to the highest caliber and quality for optimal durability and lifespan.
Retaining walls are an important part of many different landscaping jobs for a variety of reasons. The main purpose of a retaining wall is to restrain soil so that it can maintain a position, slant, or level that it normally wouldn’t be able to.
Retaining walls are man-made structures that are designed in a few different ways depending on the demands of the job. Regardless of which type of retaining wall you have, either gravity or cantilever, it’s really important that these walls maintain their integrity and don’t fail over time.
Especially in times of bad weather or other disturbances, it does happen that retaining walls may fail. This can cause a big problem for any space, regardless of it being residential, commercial, or industrial.
In this article we’re going to take a look at the common reasons that retaining walls fail and some tips that can be used in order to recover the wall and rescue it from complete destruction.
Main Causes of Retaining Wall Failure
When a retaining wall is failing, you can visually see that there is something wrong through a few common signs, which include tilting out of vertical composition as well as cracking. Even the best retaining walls can fail, and some of the main reasons that this happens includes foundation issues, soil expansion, wall overload, construction mistakes, design errors, ineffective drainage installation behind the wall (missing or clogged weep holes), or reinforcement deficiency.
As you can see, there are quite a few reasons why retaining walls can fail, which means it’s important for the installation of retaining walls to be executed with a high level of success to prevent any controllable factors from causing issues.
What Type of Retaining Walls Fail?
While there are a variety of ways a retaining wall can be constructed, if the wall is constructed with certain materials or shortcomings, it won’t be able to stand the test of time.
Here, we examine what types of retaining walls are likely to fail.
Block Walls without Adequate Reinforcement
It’s important that you have a licensed professional install your Kelowna retaining walls, as this can be a make-or-break element to whether or not your retaining wall will stay standing.
The most common type of retaining wall failure involves a block masonry wall; while this is a common type of wall for foundation, it’s also one that is commonly installed by untrained or uncertified contractors, which can lead to a lack of expertise in its engineering.
If the design is not properly executed, the wall will typically follow the process of eventual demise— tilting forward, cracking, and collapse. This process can be exacerbated by bad weather or natural disturbances that increase the rate of destruction; the wall cannot withstand these added pressures, and therefore fails.
When there is no reinforcement on a block wall, the height of the wall will be limited to under four feet; anything above that won’t be able to stand the test of time. This is clearly a rookie mistake that no licensed professional should make, and a huge design flaw that is unacceptable.
Moreover, if there is reinforcement that is inadequate, such as concrete filling with steel reinforcement, it won’t hold unless it is securely anchored at the sufficient depth for security. Even with these measures taken, the wall still isn’t likely to withstand anything over 4 feet.
There must be enough footing to hold the wall and reinforce its presence through the foundation.
Retaining Walls Lacking Proper Drainage
On a retaining wall, there must be effective escapes for water so that moisture doesn’t build up behind the wall and damage its integrity. When water builds up behind the wall, there is a lot of increased pressure on the wall.
The problem is that even if a retaining wall does have weep holes, which are the method of retaining wall drainage, in place, they are often clogged. This is an easier fix than some of the other drainage issues, which include having weep holes that are not in the right spot, as well as weep holes that are too small.
When Kelowna retaining walls don’t have the proper weep hole drainage in place, rainfall can be a main trigger for retaining wall failure. After the fact, there is not much that can be done, but it’s much better if the wall has a backfill of sand or gravel, with a foundation drain, weep holes that are placed correctly and of the right size, and not clogged.
Can I Save a Retaining Wall?
When Kelowna retaining walls fail, it’s a huge stressor, and can cause devastating problems for your residence or commercial property. While the word “fail” can mean different things depending on what the issue is, if you can catch your retaining wall failure at the beginning times, you may be in luck.
Let’s take a look at the different occasions where you may need to save a retaining wall, and whether or not it would be feasible.
If the main problem with the retaining wall is due to reinforcement, there will be signs of cracking and deflection, which means that the concrete or building material is no longer level but is giving out.
When this happens, you’ll need to call in a local retaining wall professional to take a look at the size, depth, and spacing of the reinforcement. It is only after the current state of the retaining wall is determined that a solution can be identified and executed.
Extending the footing of the wall or using a tie-back can both be viable solutions for reinforcement issues depending on the state of your wall.
There are two main drainage issues that you may encounter in a retaining wall, which include weep holes that aren’t effective, or backfill that has become sodden. Both of these are issues that need to be resolved if you want to save your retaining wall.
When you have soddened backfill, you’ll need to have your backfill altered to be at a slant or grade, which allows the water to be channeled away from the wall. It’s important to make sure that the backfill material is also of high quality and that the drainage channels are effective in disposing of unwanted water.
Removing and replacing backfill can typically help in resolving this issue and is often necessary if the backfill is already soaked.
If your weep holes aren’t effective or are clogged up, you’ll need to ensure that there is a filter to guide water through the weep holes. The measurements of the weep holes are also important for Kelowna retaining walls, so having a professional determine what is necessary in terms of size and filtering.
Unfortunately, these types of adjustments can be very costly, so other options like grading the wall, minimizing your irrigation use, or coring weep holes through the wall can help. Discuss options with your local Kelowna retaining wall builder.
Unfortunately, if your designer was less experienced than you were led to believe, you may run into design or detail errors within your retaining wall. This commonly happens when a designer doesn’t have enough information or has been given misleading or incorrect information.
It’s important for designers to be communicative when building a retaining wall and for all information to be as accurate as possible from the beginning to avoid any preventable issues.
Not only that, designers should check and re-check their drawings and the data for the construction to make sure that nothing goes awry.
When you have design or detail failures, you’ll have to take a look at the root of the problem and consider an after-the-fact fix if the wall is still in a salvageable state. If you feel that you weren’t able to achieve this with your initial designer, contact Kelowna Retaining Walls today for help.
Total Collapse of Retaining Wall
While it’s not the most common type of retaining wall failure, sometimes a total collapse can happen. This means that some or all of the wall has given way, causing the soil that was being held back and causing damage to different areas of the wall and land around it.
These walls are unable to be salvaged and need to be rebuilt. The good news is that these total collapses are a relatively rare phenomenon, and if you know what to look for, retaining walls will always show some preemptive signs of failure before totally collapsing.
Make sure you always keep your eye on the grade of your wall, which can indicate a lack of reinforcement, too much stress and pressure, as well as structural issues. Also look out for cracking and any signs of drainage issue or failure.
Local Retaining Wall Builders Kelowna
Looking to have your retaining wall inspected for failure detection? Are you building a new retaining wall in the Kelowna area? Do you need to have your retaining wall repaired?
Kelowna Retaining Walls can help you address any of these issues and more. Contact us today and we can set up a consultation to help with all of your retaining wall needs.