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Compare the 6 Most Common Types of Retaining Walls

May 03, 2018

Hopefully, you aren’t reading this blog because your retaining wall (or what’s left of it) is sitting on the ground because it collapsed. However, if you’re seeing the symptoms of a failing retaining wall, now might be a good time to start thinking about repairing or replacing it. There are many  styles and types of retaining walls for the residential landscape. Choosing the best one for your yard will depend on budget, architectural style, and size.

To compare the six most common retaining wall styles, we will give each a letter grade for longevity, strength, maintenance, ease of installation, and cost. 

Longevity - How long the wall will last.  A+ = a long time

Strength - The durability and capacity of the wall. A+ = very strong

Maintenance - Any applications or touch-ups needed. A+ = low maintenance

Ease of Install - The labor intensity  to build the wall. A+ = easy to install

Cost -  Total cost of retaining wall including  material, labor, and install. A+ = inexpensive

Timber Retaining Wall

Longevity: C-
Strength: C+
Maintenance: B-
Ease of Install: B
Cost: A

Timber retaining walls consist of wood posts usually 4”x4” or 8”x8” wide. Historically, timber walls were used as a cheap alternative to stone walls. The availability and cost of the wood posts help keep installation costs down. However, the longevity and strength is nowhere near the durability of stone walls. Read about   Replacing a timber retaining wall - project summary.

Timber Retaining Wall

Boulder Retaining Wall

Longevity: B
Strength: B
Maintenance: A
Ease of Install: A-
Cost: B+

With the proper equipment, boulder retaining walls are among the easiest to install. No cutting, mortar, or precise leveling is necessary during installation. Glacial boulders are typically used since they are the most abundant and least expensive. The boulders themselves are very durable, but the wall is prone to irregularities in water flow and weight distribution which can effect its lifespan.  Repairing a boulder retaining wall.

Boulder Retaining Wall

 

Concrete Block Retaining Wall

Longevity: A-
Strength: A-
Maintenance: B+
Ease of Install: B
Cost: B

Also known as a mod-block wall or segmental retaining wall, concrete block walls are the best all-purpose wall for both commercial and residential landscapes. The cost is fairly low considering the customization available and durability. A well built mod-block retaining wall should last 40+ years. Read the   basics of a concrete block retaining wall.

Concrete Block Retaining Wall

Natural Cut Stone Retaining Wall

Longevity: A
Strength: A
Maintenance: A-
Ease of Install: B-
Cost: C+

Natural cut stone is higher in quality than boulder or block walls, but they also cost more. Laying a natural stone wall is labor intensive. Each stone is unique and may need to be cut, chiseled, or manipulated to fit into the wall. Once installed though, natural stone walls look great in every landscape and will last a lifetime. Read about variances in the cost of natural stone.

Natural Cut Stone Retaining Wall

Concrete Retaining Wall

Longevity: A
Strength: A
Maintenance: A-
Ease of Install: C
Cost: C

A poured concrete wall is very labor intensive and expensive compared to the other landscape retaining walls. You typically don’t see too many concrete or veneered retaining walls when they are under four feet tall. However, a concrete wall is extremely durable and long-lasting. How much does a retaining wall cost?

Concrete Retaining Wall

Gabion and Corten Steel Retaining Wall

Longevity: B+
Strength: B+
Maintenance: B
Ease of Install: B
Cost: B-

Gabion and Corten steel walls are becoming very popular in contemporary landscapes. The choice to use them is usually for the aesthetic rather than function. These materials do however offer plenty of strength and the ability to cover large areas. Gabions are steel-framed boxes filled with large rock. Corten steel is industrial strength steel that naturally rusts without compromising the integrity of the material. Read more about Corten steel & gabion retaining walls.

Corten Steel Retaining Wall

 Gabion Retaining WallKEYS TO A STABLE RETAINING WALL