Let’s begin with the definition of a retaining wall. A retaining wall can loosely be defined as any outdoor wall that is used to hold the ground in place. One retaining wall may consist of a horizontal layer of brick, stone, or wood used to level earth on a slope to plant veggies or flowers. Another retaining wall might need to retain tons of soil to prevent erosion. When choosing the services of a professional retaining wall builder, there’s a lot you need to know.
Planning Your Retaining Wall
How high does your wall need to be? What would be the best materials to use? Is the wall chiefly decorative or does it have a specific purpose? You won’t know the answers to these questions until you go outside and take a closer look.
It goes without saying that you have selected a place for the wall. Knowing the shape and approximate length of the retaining wall will tell your installer several important things; it will help him with suggestions of the right materials. A professional installer can help by creating a visual image using a stick, a string line or stakes.
The height of your wall for your property is a very important consideration. Enormous forces (i.e., tons of soil) work against retaining walls. Your wall will need to be able to withstand these forces and have proper drainage to ensure the added weight of water does not cause the wall to collapse.
Once your contractor understands your goals about the look, and the height and length of the proposed wall, he’ll know how much material will be needed.
A reputable contractor will have no problem getting the following information to you. If the contractor cannot provide these items, you may need to keep looking.
- Business License
- Bond (if required by city)
- Insurance-a certificate of insurance will be sent directly from the contractor’s agent (general liability, workers comp, etc.)
- Permit for Project (if needed-depending on code for your city/county)
- Engineer Design (if needed-depending on code for your city/county-normally when a wall is over four feet in height)
- Location of Utility Services (to ensure the safety of underground utilities-occurs several days before the project begins)
Choosing Retaining Wall Materials
Some of the most popular retaining wall materials include:
Concrete: Always stylish, ask your contractor about concrete block wall systems. Concrete with stone veneer may be another choice to consider.
Concrete with stone veneer: These have the same pros and cons of concrete. They take a bit longer to build; the concrete must be poured and allowed to set prior to the construction of the stone veneer. When completed, your wall will look as if it is through-and-through stone.
Pre-cast stackable block: Stackable concrete block gives the same elegance as pavers with an even look and symmetry of the equal sized and finished blocks. These walls are relatively easy to build and are excellent when curves are required.
Brick: Brick is a good choice, but for best results, hire an experienced bricklayer who has experience building retaining walls.
Stone: Stone can come in many types, colors and can be natural or cut. They offer the same advantages of brick and must be designed correctly to include proper drainage to avoid cracking.
Boulders: A wonderful addition to a mid-century or colonial yardscape. Multi-ton boulders will require the hiring of heavy equipment.
Natural stone: Stone can come in many types, colors and can be natural or cut. It fits beautifully with the architecture of Bergen County homes.
Timber: Railway ties, treated pine and some hardwoods are suitable for retaining walls. In the right setting a wooden wall can stunning. However, wood may not be your best long-term solution, though, since all timber is subject to decay over time. If you choose timber, make sure the wood is treated to resist rotting.
Construction methods will vary depending on the materials you choose. If you choose timber, for example, your contractor may suggest posts be embedded to resist lateral pressure. Choosing brick? You’ll probably need concrete reinforcement and a well-placed drainage system. Don’t take any chances. Your professional retaining wall installer will recommend the best course of action.
As with any construction project, do your homework and get quotes for your wall. Ask friends and neighbors for referrals and reviews. Select a contractor, knowing you’ve covered everything you need to know. Once you have educated yourself on how retaining wall are constructed and you understand what to look for in a contractor you are ready to increase the value and beauty of your home with a retaining wall built by a trusted professional.