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The Pros and Cons of Building a Retaining Wall

The Pros and Cons of Building a Retaining Wall

Retaining walls are structures commonly used to hold back soil and debris. There are many different types of retaining walls, but all serve the same purpose – to hold back soil and water, support walkways and structures, and create attractive landscaping features.

Building a retaining wall can increase a property’s value, improve drainage, reduce soil erosion, and minimize flooding potential. On the other hand, retaining walls can be expensive and require regular maintenance.

In this article, I will discuss both the advantages and disadvantages of retaining walls so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not one is suitable for your property. 

The Advantages of Building a Retaining Wall

Retaining walls offer unique benefits that can improve your home and property. Some of the advantages of retaining walls include:

Increased Property Value

A well-built and well-maintained retaining wall can add significant value to your property. Not only does a retaining wall improve the curb appeal of your home, but it can also help to protect your property from damage caused by erosion and flooding, which increases the overall value of your home.

Property value increases will vary depending on the location and type of retaining wall, but a good rule of thumb is that investments in this type of landscaping will see a 100-200% return.

Improved Drainage

Retaining walls can improve drainage on your property by directing water away from structures and towards lower-lying areas. This can help deter soil erosion, flooding, and the damage that can come with it.

Areas prone to flooding or with significantly wet soil will see the most significant drainage improvements from a retaining wall.

Reduced Soil Erosion

Retaining walls are an excellent way to prevent soil erosion, which can lead to the loss of valuable topsoil and increase the risk of flooding. A well-placed retaining wall can also ensure the soil doesn’t erode onto your walkways, driveway, patio, or steps, which can be difficult to clean and walk on.

Reduced Flooding Potential

Retaining walls can also help reduce the potential for flooding on your property. 

They redirect water away from structures and towards lower-lying areas. Because of this, they can minimize the amount of water that pools around the base of your property, which can have detrimental effects on your home’s basement and foundation.

Reduced Maintenance

Unlike fences or other landscaping features, retaining walls do not require weekly or monthly maintenance to keep them looking their best. Once installed and properly sealed, a retaining wall will last for many years without needing any additional work.

The Disadvantages of Building a Retaining Wall

While retaining walls offer many benefits, they also have a few disadvantages that homeowners should consider before construction begins. Some of these disadvantages are:

Retaining Walls Can Be Expensive

Retaining walls can be expensive to build (although we’ve covered some cheaper options here), depending on the size and type of wall you choose. You should expect to pay anywhere from $20-$50 per square foot for a professionally-built retaining wall.

This price tag can be prohibitive, especially if you are on a tight budget. However, it is essential to remember that a good retaining wall will add value to your property and last for many years.

Additionally, cheap options are available and we wrote about them here.

Retaining Walls Require Annual Inspection

Like all structures, retaining walls will need an annual inspection to ensure they’re in good condition. Sealing and repairing cracks as they occur is essential to keeping your wall looking its best and performing at its highest level.

If left unchecked, minor issues with a retaining wall can quickly become large and expensive problems. Thoroughly inspecting your wall every twelve months is key to avoiding these issues.

Retaining Walls Can Be Dangerous

A poorly constructed or improperly maintained retaining wall can be dangerous, especially if it is near a driveway or walkway. Make sure to choose a qualified contractor and follow all safety instructions during construction to prevent accidents.

Retaining walls should only be built in areas that are stable and have been properly assessed for potential risks. Incorrectly placed retaining walls can lead to dangerous situations and should be avoided.

These types of dangerous situations include:

  • Wall failure. Wall failure can occur when the soil on which a wall is built becomes saturated with water. When this happens, the weight of the wet soil can cause the wall to collapse.
  • Overloading. Retaining walls are designed to withstand a certain amount of weight. If too much weight is placed on the wall, it can collapse.
  • Erosion. Retaining walls can be undermined by water and wind erosion, leading to their collapse.
  • Slipping and falling on the wall. Wet or icy surfaces can cause people to slip and fall on a retaining wall.

Before building a retaining wall, be sure to consider all of these potential risks and take steps to avoid them. Keeping your family safe should be your number one priority.

Retaining Walls Can Block Views

While not always the case, retaining walls can sometimes block views from a property. If you are looking for a wall that will not obstruct your view, either from the street or from inside your home, consider choosing a shorter, smaller wall or using a fence instead. 

They Can Negatively Impact the Aesthetic of Your Landscaping

Although durable, concrete retaining walls can be a stark contrast to the natural beauty of your landscape. If aesthetics are important to you, you may want to choose a wall made from stone, brick, or other materials that will better match your surroundings. 

Retaining Walls Can Take Up Too Much Space

A retaining wall can take up valuable space on your property, especially if it is large or installed near an area with high foot traffic. Make sure to leave enough room for the wall to be built and consider how it will impact other features on your property.

You should also look at how the wall will transition between your garden, as well as any patio areas, porches, walkways, or outdoor steps.

Retaining Walls Are Not Suitable for Every Situation

Some properties are simply not suitable for retaining walls due to the slope of the land or other factors such as the presence of trees or underground cables. If you are unsure if a retaining wall is right for you, consult with a licensed professional before construction begins.

How To Build a Retaining Wall That Protects Your Property

Once you have determined that a retaining wall is the best option, there are several steps you need to take to build a wall that will protect your property and last for many years.

  1. Choose the Right Type of Retaining Wall

There are several types of retaining walls to choose from, including concrete, stone, vinyl, and wood.

Depending on your budget and the look you are trying to achieve, some walls may be better suited for your property than others. 

Concrete walls are generally the most affordable, while stone walls provide a more natural look. Vinyl and wood options are more expensive but maybe a better choice if you are looking for a decorative wall that will add beauty to your landscape.

  1. Begin Construction

Once you have chosen a wall type, it is time to start construction. 

Construction generally takes around 20 hours per every 10 to 15 feet of the wall being built. However, this varies based on your skill level, the wall type, and the terrain. 

Once construction is complete, make sure to test the wall for stability and carefully inspect it for any potential problems. If you are not comfortable building the wall yourself, hire a qualified contractor to do the job for you.

  1. Seal and Repair Your Retaining Wall

Once the wall is complete, it is important to seal and repair cracks as they occur to keep the wall in good condition. Concrete can crack as it ages, so using a high-quality crack filler is key.  

If your wall is made of stone or brick, be sure to check the mortar and repair it, as needed.

Again, regular inspection is key to avoiding expensive problems down the road.

Final Thoughts

A retaining wall is an excellent way to improve your property’s appearance, functionality, and value. It can provide many benefits, but it is essential to weigh all the risks and costs before making a decision.

Retaining walls increase property value while also reducing flood potential by improving drainage and reducing erosion. However, they can be expensive and take away from your landscape’s natural aesthetic. In addition, required maintenance and the loss of valuable space on your property make retaining walls a decision that should not be taken lightly.

If you’re interested in getting one yourself, check out our article about retaining wall ideas for your garden.


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