Retaining walls have long been considered one of the most attractive elements in hardscape design. However, despite being often the centerpieces of many designs, they do not fit every situation. So how do you even know if you need a retaining wall for your patio to begin with?
We hear that question often, so we decided to write this article to explain to homeowners in what scenarios exactly they can incorporate a retaining wall, and how to actually do it.
So, if that’s something you’ve been wandering, look no further, as this article has the answers you’ve been looking for. From top to bottom, let’s talk about retaining walls.
Do I Need a Retaining Wall for my Patio? How to Know
There are basically two reasons why you would need to add a retaining wall: your property is on a hill or your terrain is uneven.
If your property is on flat ground and not at the bottom of a hill, chances are you don’t really need a retaining wall, unless you plan on creating a suspended paver patio or an outdoor fireplace space.
Retaining wall have two functions. They can serve as a structure to create “levels”, either on flat ground or uneven terrain. When planned correctly, they can fix what looks to be a jagged terrain and turn it into an organized sequence of levels.
Doing that not only creates a much more aesthetic appealing space, but also prevents erosion, controls the flow of rainwater and can even prevent landslides.
Also, and even more important, you can extend the area of land you can use, and add tons of value to the property as a whole.
So, if your property is located on a hill, you should waste no time and start developing your project right now. Other than that, if you want to add levels to your flat property, you will also need the help of retaining walls.
Our next section will give you some tips on how to get started with your project.
Retaining Wall Options
You start by choosing what kind of retaining wall you want, of course.
You currently have three options of materials available in the market for your retaining walls: natural stone, interlocked concrete blocks, and timber.
Of all these materials, timber is the least used one. It doesn’t last very long, it loses its aesthetic appeal in time, and it doesn’t provide a very strong protection against erosion effects.
Natural stone and concrete blocks, however, are widely used and considered the best options by professionals in the area.
They are both very cost-effective, but concrete pavers get ahead for being slightly cheaper upfront and having an easy maintenance. Natural stone, however, dominates in the looks department, as no other material can quite beat its aesthetic appeal.
If you’re going to need a higher wall, concrete blocks are your best option, as they can be indefinitely stacked up to reach the desired height.
Natural stones, especially in their boulder form, can’t be stacked up that much and are a better choice for creating small levels.
How to Build a Retaining Wall
First of all, be prepared to do a lot of digging. Second, planning is crucial at this stage.
Your retaining wall must be placed strategically, in a way in which it will be able to create even levels. Start by measuring the distance of your area following the slope of the hill.
Following that, you simply divide that measurement by the amount of steps you want to know how much each level is going to have. With that being done, you’ll start to have a better idea on how much space you’re going to have available.
So, for example, let’s say that we have a hill that we want to work on. This hill has a measurement of 10-feet, and we’re going to use 6-inches concrete blocks to build our retaining walls.
If we want two levels on our projects, we will have each one measure 5-feet. With the walls at the beginning (creating the first level) and at the middle (creating the second level).
But what to do once the planning is done? Well, let’s go for the guide on how to build your own retaining walls.
Step 01 – Base of the First Wall
Your project will start with the placement of the first wall, right at the end of your property. To do that, first you’ll have to dig for the base of that wall.
So you’re going to dig a kind of trench, 4-inches deep, alongside the entire extension of the wall. Then you’re going to fill this trench. It is recommended that you add the gravel little by little, so you can better compact it along the way.
Step 02 – Placing the Wall and Drainage
Now is time to start placing your wall, and here there are two important disclaimers.
First, almost every wall system that you acquire will come with instructions on how to properly place them. As long as you follow those instructions, you will have no problems whatsoever.
Second, be mindful of drainage. You’ll have to leave some spaces in the walls to place drainage pipes. Again, your wall system of choice will probably come with those set of instructions, but just in case they don’t, here’s how you do it.
Leave a small space every 5-feet or so on the extension of your wall and cover it with a small grated fence. On those spaces, you’re going to place the drainage pipes and connect them all the way through the drainage system.
Once the wall is built and the drainage pipes placed, you will cover those pipes with gravel, essentially filling up the part of the ground immediately next to the ground.
Step 03 – Backfilling and Repeating the Process
Now you’re going to fill up the rest of your space with dirt and prepare for the next wall, where you’re going to, essentially, repeat this process.
Professional Help Building a Retaining Wall
Not going to lie, the process is not easy. It involves a lot of digging, planning, and heavy lifting.
This guide account only for the most basic of installations. Things can be much more complex depending on your situation and objectives.
Unlike in a regular paver patio installation, we do not recommend you tackle a retaining wall project from a DIY perspective.
Things can quickly get out of hand, and you might be left with a bad installation that will need to be fixed by a professional either way.
So you’re much better off if you contact a qualified hardscape contractor from the start. Look around your area for someone you can trust and start your project with the experience of a professional by your side.
We here at S&S Pavers, during our 12 years of experience, have helped countless homeowners across the Sarasota and Manatee counties with their installations. We know very well the importance of working closely with professionals to make sure everything goes smoothly.
And if you happen to be around our area of activity, why not give us a call to help you?