How to design a gravity retaining wall

Written by sharon sweeny
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Gravity retaining walls have been built for thousands of years. They use no mortar to hold the stone together; the force of the earth pushing against them and the interlocking stone structure keep the stones together. You can design a 3- to 4-foot gravity retaining wall using prefab concrete blocks specially made for constructing retaining walls. The blocks are available in a wide range of sizes, colours and styles to fit the needs of most any site.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Determine the materials you will use to construct the retaining wall. Interlocking concrete bricks manufactured specifically for building gravity retaining walls are available in several colours and styles. They come complete with recommended construction methods, as well as how to calculate the amount of materials needed.

  2. 2

    Determine the height you need to build it. Gravity retaining walls are usually less than 4 feet high. Its exact height will be dictated by the slope you are trying to retain. The wall should come high enough up the hill so that material above the wall does not travel downhill and bury it.

  3. 3

    Calculate the wall's depth at its base relative to the wall's height. The base of a gravity retaining wall must be built so it is wider at the base than at the top. Its base should be half to three-quarters as wide as the wall is high. A 4-foot wall should have a base at least 2 feet wide, and preferably 3 feet wide. As the wall gets taller, it becomes thinner and "leans" back into the hill. This is called "battering."

  4. 4

    Calculate the amount of raw material needed to construct wall to height and depth necessary. Follow the recommendations of the manufacturer of the stone you plan to use. Many have formulas that calculate the amount of materials you need to purchase simply by plugging in the planned dimensions of the wall, for example, the planned height, length and width.

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