Let’s face it, when it comes to property landscaping, gravity and bad weather are your worst enemies. They have a habit of pushing the soil in your yard downhill, wreaking havoc on your property—and your neighbor’s property as well. Thankfully, installing retaining walls pretty much solves that problem, and can easily be installed by local retaining wall contractors near you.
What is a retaining wall?
As the term implies, a retaining wall is a structure that is built to keep the soil in your garden or yard in check, especially on sloped properties. In other words, it’s used for preventing the soil from sliding, slumping, or caving in. As a general rule of thumb, retaining walls are placed on areas where soil might prove unstable. Sometimes retaining walls may also be referred to as block walls, but either way we have the contractors ready to help you have it installed in your home.
Retaining walls and their many uses
Retaining walls have many uses beyond its original purpose. Let’s talk about them one by one.
- Prevents soil erosion. As already mentioned, bad weather can cause the soil in your yard to erode or wash away. This, of course, can negatively impact the look of your home’s exterior. A retaining wall is an effective way to secure the soil in your garden in its place.
- Provides stability. Building a property on a sloped landscape can result in the buildup of lateral pressure on the ground, causing the soil to move downhill. By building a retaining wall in areas where pressure buildup can occur, you can redistribute the weight evenly, thus ensuring that the entire landscape remains pristine and stable.
- Aesthetic appeal. Retaining walls are one of the first things you see upon entering most properties. So it comes as no surprise that many property owners have taken to building them for design purposes. Offering amazing flexibility in terms of design, retaining walls can add tremendous curb appeal to any property and its surrounding landscape.
- To prevent water runoff. Too much rain can’t be good for your property. But with a retaining wall in place, you can divert all that water into a drainage system or at least control its flow.
- Provide additional seating. Why not? Walls, most especially retaining walls, have provided us with convenient seating since time immemorial.
Do you have plans to install retaining walls around your property but have no idea what kind of budget you need to prepare? Don’t fret. This guide should give you a primer on the essential factors you need to keep tabs on to get at least a nearly accurate estimate.
DIY or Pro?
However you want to go about it, remember that building retaining walls is a big investment, one that requires time and money. It’s an endeavor that requires plenty of materials, equipment, skills, and expertise in order to be pulled off. Whether you want to go DIY or hire the services of a professional (a landscape contractor, for instance) is up to you. But before you dive into it, you’d do well to familiarize yourself with the factors that can affect overall costs. If you’re ever in doubt, remember that hiring the services of a professional landscape contractor is probably the best choice. It’s more cost-efficient in the long run. More importantly, it’s safer.
You can also easily get quotes from competing retaining wall builders by simply filling out the form at the top of the page, and we’ll take care of the rest, matching you with the most relevant companies near you.
Cost of the Retaining Wall Itself
Let’s start with the retaining wall itself. Obviously, you need raw materials to build one. How many will you need? How big do you want the wall to be? How tall? What about the length? What type of material do you prefer? As for the latter, knowing the average cost of each material can help you come up with a good estimate of the total budget you need to have on hand.
So without further ado, let’s look at some of the most common materials used for building a retaining wall along with the average cost per square foot.
Concrete ($20 per square foot)
Concrete is a popular choice for retaining walls on account of the material’s rare combination of durability and flexibility. Better yet, it has a visual appeal that meshes well with modern homes. It’s also easy to install and maintain. How easy? For starters, you only need to clean each block only once a year. We have teamed up with concrete wall contractors that are ready to help you when you want to move forward.
Brick ($14 per square foot)
If you want to go for something warm and rustic, you can do no wrong with brick. For one, it goes well with classic and traditional homes and landscapes. They’re also durable and extremely easy to maintain and can be installed by masonry contractors and landscaping companies.
Wood ($15 per square foot)
Wood has an undeniable appeal that transcends generations, adding warmth and a strong sense of nostalgia to any property. Installing the material is easy, although you have to keep your eyes peeled for signs of rot buildup every few months or so. This is also a popular material for wood siding.
Timber ($18 per square foot)
Timber is a cost-efficient material that offers great value. It’s as versatile as it is visually appealing. Its major drawback is that it can easily be damaged by inclement weather conditions. As such, regular maintenance is recommended if you want your timber retaining wall to last for a long time.
Stone Veneer (varies)
As the term suggests, stone veneer is a covering made to imitate the appearance of natural stone. Stone veneer can be manufactured using different types of materials. If you want a cheaper option, you can go for artificial or manufactured stone, which costs between $3 to $8. Natural stone costs more, going for at least $8 per square foot. Naturally, the material you use as a base for the stone veneer affects overall costs tremendously.
Base material options include:
- Sheet Metal
Natural Stone ($11 per square foot)
Natural stone is not only versatile and durable, but it also has a lot to offer in the way of visual appeal. It’s also safer for kids and pets to sit on since it’s not as slippery as ceramic or porcelain.
Gabion (depends on the type of filler used)
Gabions are enclosures of inorganic material tied together with wire. Such organic material may come in the form of rocks, concrete, brick, or a combination of them. Gabion retaining walls offer stability and flexibility, making them ideal for unstable landscapes. Moreover, gabion walls are permeable, preventing them from being washed away by moving water. Gabions are relatively affordable, though the price can go up mostly due to the type of filler used. If the filler used, for example, is slate, then expect the cost to go up. If you’re on a tight budget, you can use free recycled concrete instead.
This is quite obvious, but it bears emphasizing: the size of the retaining wall can significantly impact the cost. A bigger retaining wall requires more building materials (see Materials section), manual labor, transporting equipment, and more. The length even plays a bigger factor in terms of costs. The longer the wall, the more time needed to excavate the ground, remove dirt, and prepare the soil for installation. As such, expect to pay a few thousand dollars for this job alone.
Retaining wall companies recommend that retaining walls without additional support shouldn’t stand more than four feet, though there are exceptions to the rule. In fact, a retaining wall can be built up to 10 feet high. To give you a basis for estimation, a retaining wall standing up to 8 feet high may cost up to $21,000 while a 6-feet wall can cost around $17,000.
A good method in determining overall cost is to add the price per block. For example, how many blocks of brick would you need to build a 12’ wide by 6’ high retaining wall? Add them all up and you can arrive at a fairly accurate estimate.
Before a contractor can install retaining walls on a piece of land, measurements and subsequent excavations have to be made first. Dirt and surface materials need to be removed to pave the way for the retaining wall’s construction. The costs will heavily depend on the wall’s dimensions (height, length, thickness, etc.), although there are many other factors involved, such as the need for drainage or structural reinforcements.
Then there’s the clearing and grading of the plot as well, which would cost you around $1,800 per acre. Doing excavation work on sloping landscapes is typically more expensive than on flat land. Sloping blocks involve logistical considerations including soil constitution, wind exposure, and drainage requirements, among many others.
As you can tell, coming up with an estimate can be quite tricky, but a skilled contractor should be able to explain and discuss the choices available to you depending on your situation.
Type of Soil
The type of soil used around the retaining wall has a big impact on the overall costs. Non-cohesive soils, for example, are more suitable for short retaining walls whereas tough soils like bedrock or sand will cost you more due to their high soil resistivity. Expansive soils or bedrock can drive up excavation costs.
A good drainage system is essential when you’re building on sloped areas and sites where extreme weather is a regular occurrence. When flash floods strike, rainwater can build up to a point where walls won’t be able to handle the rising hydrostatic pressure.
Thankfully, a good drainage system can alleviate these problems in more ways than one. A good landscape contractor should be able to discuss with you why you need one to go along with your retaining walls. Of course, it goes without saying that this will add to the total costs.
Drainage systems come in different types, and the one you need will depend on your unique circumstances, such as weather conditions in your area, the soil type in your yard, and your landscape’s characteristics.
Weep holes. Weep holes are essentially openings made on the retaining wall, allowing water to escape from behind the wall. This prevents water pressucre from building up, ensuring that your retaining wall stays secure in its place.
Drainage pipe. This is preferably a perforated pipe that takes in water and facilitates its passage through the entire length of the wall. Taller walls may require more than one drainage pipe since they are more vulnerable to hydrostatic pressure.
Granular soil backfills. These are granular materials placed alongside the retaining wall. Because of they’re non-cohesive properties, granular materials allow water to permeate through the backfill. As a result, the water isn’t trapped in one place, preventing pressure from building up. Instead, water is gently pushed downward until it reaches weep holes and/or drainage pipes installed near the retaining wall.
The general rule of thumb is, the more accessible the site, the cheaper the project will be. Transporting building materials or hauling away bags of soil can be labor-intensive and time-consuming, often requiring special equipment and additional workers. The price will significantly drop If the site is easily reached via transporting equipment. If the location is accessible only by going through a narrow side yard, for instance, then expect the price to shoot up.
As a general rule of thumb, the more complex the retaining wall’s design, the more expensive it will be. Building and setting up a retaining wall is no small feat, especially when you incorporate additional elements into it. Curves and unorthodox designs require different framing, and contractors may need additional materials and special equipment to set them up.
For example, building a retaining wall with built-in steps requires careful planning, extra measurements, and specialized skills. How do you incorporate the stair design to the slope design? How much excavation will be needed to properly set up the stair risers?
Below are some of the most popular retaining wall designs.
- Gravity Walls
- Sheet Pile Retaining Walls
- Anchored Retaining Walls
- Cantilever Retaining Walls
Gravity Retaining Walls
By virtue of their own weight, these walls are capable of withstanding high soil pressure. Materials are on the expensive side since these walls often require concrete or stone blocks. The price shoots up further when higher elevation is needed, as is often the case when there’s little room for excavation.
Cantilever Retaining Walls
These walls are ideal for landscapes with large variations in grade elevation. Often requiring concrete material, cantilever retaining walls depend on the backfill material to keep soil pressure in check. These walls are cost-effective to make and install, unless more space is needed.
Sheet Pile Retaining Walls
Sheet pile retaining walls are recommended if you want support with a more watertight structure. Ideally, these walls are constructed out of reinforced concrete or steel capping beams. Sheet pile retaining walls can also be painted for added visual appeal.
Anchored Retaining Walls
Anchored retaining walls use underground cables that serve as an anchor to keep the soil behind them secured and stable. This design is recommended for walls meant to keep heavy loads at bay or for thin walls that require added support and reinforcement. As for installation costs, it’s a tough call due to the complexity of the mechanism.
Additional reinforcements have to be incorporated into the retaining wall if the location is prone to natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, and storms.
If the site is near a fault line, a reinforced seismic design has to be recommended and approved. Of course, this adds to the overall cost since building retaining walls requires special expertise and additional reinforcements. Contractors trained in seismic engineering should have the technical knowledge needed to build walls specifically designed to sustain high-pressure seismic buildup.
If the location is prone to extreme weather or has unstable soil conditions, extensive measures have to be taken to ensure that the retaining wall will be able to keep hydrostatic pressure at bay. Depending on your circumstances, the retaining wall might need to be taller, require special designs (cantilever or gravity walls), or a special drainage field to trap the water in.
Getting Free Quotes When You’re Ready to Move Forward
The easiest way to move forward with your retaining wall is to fill out the form at the top of the page and we’ll make sure to match you with the most relevant retaining wall repair and installation companies near you. Since they know they’re competing for your attention, they’ll be providing you with the best quotes that they are able to, and you’ll get it done at the right cost.