How do I choose what my retaining wall is made of?

Offering reliable landscaping services to homeowners in British Columbia since 2013

Picture of Natasha Maerz

Natasha Maerz

Owner/Office Manager

Besides retaining soil, retaining walls make a gorgeous focal point wherever they are built on your property. A retaining wall that is built straight and true, and matches the “feel” of a homeowners property does wonders for curb appeal, and will have family and friends in awe of how nice your space looks.

While a beautiful retaining wall can change the entire look of your property, a retaining wall that looks out of place, does not match the aesthetics of your yard, or is not built correctly (uneven and wavy), can make your yard look cheap and drab.

If we haven’t met before allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Back 40 Landscaping and our expertise is in retaining walls and hardscaping. We also like to bring education to those looking for retaining wall solutions.

What to think about when choosing your retaining wall  material?


The type of material

The two most popular material options for a retaining wall are concrete and wood.

Wooden Retaining Walls

Wood retaining walls can be a lower initial cost, and are more DIY friendly.

They will last several years if made out of regular lumber, and upwards of 10 years if built with pressure treated wood.

They can last even longer if made out of pressure treated wood  rated for ground contact.

While  wood retaining walls  have a lower initial cost, they will have to be replaced at some point.

They have the shortest lifespan and lowest resale value and unfortunately have the fewest color and design options, as paint and stain do not adheres well, and curves are a lot more difficult to accomplish.


Concrete retaining walls come in many configurations, but all of them typically have the highest cost, but they will last almost indefinitely.

Poured concrete retaining walls can be a great option if you like the look of them, or have limited access to an area.

Using a concrete pump large amounts of concrete can be pumped overtop of a house to a limited access backyard.

They can be poured in a single day, and alleviate having to set hundreds of blocks manually.

They can be decorative; however most are pretty flat on the face.

This is a little boring when compared to some other options.

A large concrete block is also a really good option if you’re looking for a strong durable retaining wall. They are typically used on commercial projects where the function is more desired than the aesthetics.

The downside to these blocks is you need a bigger machine to set them in place. They weigh over 4000lbs, and are not DIY friendly.

The most popular option by far is a version of a handheld concrete block. The most recognized name is Allan Block, but there are other brands such as Valley Stone, offering this relatively lightweight, long lasting retaining wall option.

We prefer Allan Block because of their colors and design, and the fact that they will last a lifetime.

The Allan Block company has an extensive contractor training program to ensure if you want to build them correctly you can, and they are always available for consultation and help if needed.

Allan blocks are easily curved, and cut to make almost any size or retaining wall design.

Natural boulder walls

Boulder walls can be very strong and look great IF they are built by a good boulder wall builder who has access to good stones. Without square and similarly sized boulders even the best wall builder will struggle to produce a high-end looking wall.

Site access is a huge factor if you can even build a boulder wall. Boulders need to be set in place with medium to large size excavators or skid steers.

This requires at least 5-7’ of room for the smallest machines.

In a residential backyard, a boulder wall may not be an option just due to limit space.


The look you are going for

The Lifespan of the retaining wall material should be top priority when choosing what type of retaining wall material you are going to have installed.

The fun part about a retaining wall is choosing what it looks like!

When thinking about your retaining wall design look at what your yard or space already looks like, and the “feel” that it gives off. 

If your home is modern, with lots of stone or paver work,  you want to go with a modern looking material.

If you are out in the country and there are lots of wood elements within your space, you may want to go with a Concrete block that looks like wood, or use real wood.

The retaining wall Color

Wood walls

If you are going with a wood retaining wall you are limited in what color you wall will be. Wood walls can be stained to make them look lighter or darker.


There are thousands of concrete wall materials with many different colors to choose from. Most of these blocks come in grey, charcoal, light brown, dark brown, and red. (Of course each company has different names for them!!).

 Retaining wall Add ons

Curves or Tiers

If you want to take your focal point to the next level consider adding curves to your wall, or having a tier in your wall.

Avoiding a typical straight wall will give your retaining wall a unique look.

Flower beds

Consider what type of plants and flowers are going to be in front of, on top of, and around your wall, and adding colourful  flowers can enhance your walls look, and keep it looking nice and fresh.


Nothing makes a retaining wall look better than adding some sort of light. In the summertime the lights will add ambiance as you bbq and hang out around a fire, and in the winter will give a cozy feel to your outdoor space.


Incorporating stairs into your retaining wall not only allows you to reach what is above your wall, but add a look of luxury.


It can feel pretty overwhelming when deciding what material to go with for your retaining wall.

The hardest step of choosing a retaining wall is being  aware of your retaining wall products lifespan, and making sure your contractor will be able to build your wall properly.

After those factors have been figured out, choosing the style of block and color is fun and easy!