How to design the foundation of a cantilever retaining wall

Written by matthew mccabe
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How to design the foundation of a cantilever retaining wall
Designing a cantilever retaining wall requires proper planning (Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

A cantilever retaining wall is a freestanding wall that does not have support at the top. This structure is designed to retain soil along a hillside or sloped earth. The finished product resembles an upside down T with the top buried as the footing to support the wall. Materials that are commonly used to build a cantilever retaining wall are stone, wood or concrete.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Determine the location of the cantilever retaining wall. Since this type of wall is usually functional, as opposed to just decorative, decide where the wall would best be placed so it can hold back soil and, when needed, create a level place at the top of the wall.

  2. 2

    Determine the size and shape of the wall. You will need to measure the size and shape of the wall you intend to end up with. This includes height and width. These factors help you decide the size the footing will need to be to support the wall properly.

  3. 3

    You will need to consider the amount of pressure that the wall will be holding back. Also, think about drainage for the area. The wall construction must be wider and stronger if the finished product will be retaining water during storms in addition to soil.

  4. 4

    Decide on the type of material you want to use to create your wall and the foundation. By determining the height of the wall, you can decide if the foundation needs to be concrete. Generally, if the wall is planned to be greater than four feet, concrete is the best choice for the footing, even if the wall ends up being constructed of another type of building material.

  5. 5

    Plan the depth. For example, walls that will be greater than four 4 feet tall should have a concrete foundation that is two to three feet below the ground. As you plan for the footing, remember to plan for it to be centred in relation to where the wall will built up from there.

Tips and warnings

  • Make sure you also plan for utilities before moving ahead with the plan. Planning should enable you to find out before you dig if the wall will be in a safe area.
  • If the surface area you are working with is uneven, start at your lowest point and make the footing straight across, not designed to follow the slope.
  • Always check to make sure you do not need a permit to build this type of structure for your property. This is especially true if the wall is planned to be a design of higher than two feet.
  • Be careful that the overall plan does not cause the finished retaining wall to cause water to drain towards your home's foundation.

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