retaining wall material options

Offering reliable landscaping services to homeowners in British Columbia since 2013

Picture of Sam Maerz

Sam Maerz

Owner/Site Foreman


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.

Retaining wall materials options

The most common retaining wall material options are wood, natural boulder or rock, and concrete.

This includes poured concrete, and concrete blocks both large and handheld.

Each different retaining wall materials has some pros and cons that we will cover here in a little detail.

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 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 also 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.


Natural 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.



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.

The type of retaining wall material you choose is an important decision that either you or your contractor should make, to ensure you get the lifespan, and focal point your space deserves.