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The Responsibility of Retaining Walls

Updated April 17, 2017

Retaining walls restrain saturated soil in landscaping environments. Builders and homeowners construct retaining walls to create flower beds, terraced levels in sloped yards, to section off driveways and pool areas, or to prevent soil erosion. They are generally constructed using timber, interlocking blocks, stacked stone, brick, breeze block or concrete. A 4-foot tall, 15-foot long retaining wall may restrain as much as 20 tons of saturated soil.

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Flower Beds

Homeowners can create flowerbeds around their home or in the centre of their yard by constructing a retaining wall. The retaining wall serves as the barrier, containing the soil that will be brought in to provide the proper bedding for plants, flowers and shrubs. As of 2011, interlocking concrete blocks were the most popular material used to construct these walls. They are durable and easy to install. The most important and difficult part of the process is digging the trench that will serve as the base for the first row of blocks. This trench must be level and filled with aggregate base. Once this is complete, the homeowner can simply lay in each block, locking them together according to their tongue-in-groove construction. The cost for such a wall in 2011 is generally about £13 per square foot, according to This Old House.


A builder or homeowner may wish to construct terraces in a sloped yard. This will create a textured and layered look, and also provide the support structure for planting trees, shrubs and flowers. This Old House recommends that walls not be taller than 4 feet, due to the tremendous amount of weight they may support. It's not necessary to consider your hilly yard a hindrance, according to Enhancecapes. The tiers you create, they state, "serve as ledges to hold innumerable objects." Homeowners and builders can use retaining walls to create terraces that make a once useless slope an opportunity to create aesthetically appealing designs.

Dividing walls

Homeowners may wish to construct a retaining wall to provide an attractive divider separating their yard from their neighbours. Again, cement blocks are the most common material used for this sort of project. The builder can simply stack the blocks once a proper base has been provided. Such a retaining wall can provide the border to hold a narrow bed for shrubs or flowers.


Builders often construct pool areas in settings where the surrounding landscape is higher than the pool itself. Retaining walls will form the barrier to hold back the surrounding earth, and also create an attractive border. The retaining wall will form the boundaries of the pool area. The wall can not only serve the practical purpose of creating a border and protecting from erosion, but also give texture and contour to enhance the beauty of the pool area.

Proper Construction

It is important to ensure a proper foundation when building a retaining wall. A trench must be dug and lined with aggregate material to provide a "toe footing" for the wall. This will keep the wall from moving. It is important that this trench, and the aggregate material within it, are level. The next step is to place the first course, or row of blocks, bricks or timber. Once this important set of steps is completed, the remaining construction will go much more smoothly. An improper foundation can compromise the structural integrity of the wall and move it out of place due to soil erosion. This is a critical concern, as even small retaining walls must bear tremendous loads.

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About the Author

Mark Quick began writing professionally in 1998. His experience includes six years as a reporter and editor-in-chief for Houston Community Newspapers. He has been a credentialed minister since 1993 and currently serves as senior pastor of Cornerstone Assembly of God.

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