How Does a Retaining Wall Work?

  • A retaining wall is a section of wall that is put into place to landscape the side of a sloping lawn. Sometimes they are added to simple keep the area from eroding or washing away due to weather. These retaining walls can be made of concrete, large rocks, decorative slabs and even railroad ties.

  • The design of the retaining wall is determined by the homeowner's proposed use and wishes. If the homeowner is adding landscaping to their home, they would choose stone slabs to build a decorative retaining wall.

  • The hill or sloped area is dug out, either by hand, a small bobcat or a large piece of digging equipment, depending on the size of the project. The side of the hill or slope is dug away to create a straight area to build the retaining wall. Sometimes the area is dug into different levels to create a stepping-stone effect.

  • Once the sloping area is dug away, the ground needs to leveled out so that the retaining wall goes up straight. Adding sand and using a yard roller to pack down the surface helps to achieve this. The bottom row of the retaining wall is laid into place and checked to make sure it is level.

  • The wall is built from the ground up using the chosen materials. Once the wall has reached the desired height, a small amount of backfill is done, or large amounts of dirt are added, depending on the slope of the original area.

  • Sometimes the use of the retaining wall is simply to level out an uneven sloping yard. The retaining wall can be built higher than the slope and filled with dirt. Sod is then added, and the homeowner has created a more level yard space.

  • Small retaining walls can also be built on level ground to create landscape designs. These smaller retaining walls are then filled with dirt to create a raised flower bed or fountain area next to an entryway or back patio. These smaller retaining walls are usually only about 2 feet tall, and only serve as decorative appeal.

  • Much larger retaining walls are built along sloping edges solely to keep the land from washing away or eroding. These larger walls are usually made of concrete. For these, forms are put into place and concrete is poured into the forms. When the concrete hardens, the forms are removed to expose the large concrete retaining wall.

  • These concrete retaining walls serve the function of holding the earth in place to prevent the area from washing away. They are also used in cities to open up a sloping area to make way for sidewalks and streets to be added or widened.

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