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Understanding the Different Types of Retaining Walls

By Jamie Richardson | June 7, 2017

The idea of improving your home’s exterior may seem like an impossible dream, but there are always little things you can do to transform it into a better version of itself.

If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by greenery on your property, you can make the most of your outdoor space by working with the natural setting and subtly shaping it as you like.

This is when retaining walls can come into the picture, regardless of whether you know much about them to start with or not. Understanding what they are and what they can do, though, is a major factor in how your residential or Commercial Hardscaping Installation project is going to turn out.

What Exactly Is A Retaining Wall?

A retaining wall is used to confine soil to a tilt that it would not occur naturally, usually at an inclined angle. Manipulating the soil into distinct shapes, levels, and crevices is one of the best ways to give your landscape, a facelift. When it comes to residential property, this engineering concept can prove extremely useful if you want to separate different areas and make certain features stand out. You can have a retaining wall along the sidewalk or the stairs, as well as using it to create distinctive “patches” around the lawn. Whatever your use, a wall can better divide and organize the space.

What Is It Best Used For?

A retaining wall can serve both aesthetic and practical purposes. First, it can prevent soil erosion, so if you have a specific area where you need to stabilize the earth – for example, a dug-out walkway – then this is a good solution.

Secondly, a retaining wall can separate different portions of soil. If you want to have a raised flower or vegetable bed, or just a visual marker between distinct areas in your yard, then consider installing a retaining wall that will prevent each segment from chaotic proliferation and mixing of the seeds.

Perhaps you dream of having some water features in your garden. In this case, you’ll definitely need a proper retaining wall to frame it against the surrounding lawn.

What Kind of Retaining Wall Do I Need?

One of the most crucial things to take into consideration when designing and installing retaining walls is the need to correct the gravitational tendency of the soil to move downslope.

Once you take care of this aspect, there are four types of retaining walls you can choose from:

The first kind is the gravity retaining wall. Gravity walls rely on their mass – they are usually built out of concrete, stone or other heavy material – to resist the force of attraction and hold the material in its place. The base is usually thicker and more solid than the upper part, so keeping the proportions – the ratio between the bottom and the top – will limit the wall’s height. The gravity wall is usually used when you need a short wall that doesn’t go up more than four feet.

The second kind is the cantilevered wall. Usually shaped in the form of an L or an inverted T (with a segment at the bottom extending beneath the soil that needs to be held back), cantilevered walls are built from reinforced steel, mortared masonry or cast-in-place concrete. This type requires less material than a gravity wall, but the complexity of the structure requires advice from an structural engineering expert, especially on portions of very uneven land.

The third kind is called the sheet pile retaining wall. It is usually built from vinyl, steel or wood boards which are sunken into the soil, with one-third of the board aboveground and two-thirds below, based on your requirements. This wall can be taller, in which case a tieback system extends back for added support. The sheet pile walls are best to use in softer soils such as sand.

The fourth kind is the counterfort wall, which is traditionally made out of concrete and reinforced with anchors and beams that spread back at regular intervals. There is not a big structural difference between counterfort and cantilevered retaining walls, but the former type is used for heights that can go up to 25 feet or more.

In conclusion, installing a retaining wall depends on your needs and environment. Before proceeding with construction, ask for the input of a landscaper or handyman to make sure your project is feasible.

Jamie is a 5-year freelance writer who enjoys real estate. He is currently a Realty Biz News Contributor.
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