What Is A Retaining Wall?

Offering reliable landscaping services to homeowners in British Columbia since 2013

Picture of Natasha Maerz

Natasha Maerz

Owner/Office Manager

Drive through any neighbourhood and you will see a variety of different types of retaining walls. You will see wooden retaining walls, concrete walls,  standing walls, and wall systems that have fallen over. Some retaining walls can drastically add to the look of a homeowners  property, or instantly lessen the beauty of a landscape. The main purpose of a retaining wall is to retain the soil, however some walls are a focal point for homeowners that are looking to spruce up their yard. A retaining wall can help bring out the look of flowers beds and surrounding landscape, and the height of the wall can make your entire property stand out. 

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 is a retaining wall?

The simple definition of a retaining wall is that it is a structure that holds, or retains soil behind it. Retaining walls are designed to restrain soil to a slope that it would not naturally keep to (typically a steep, almost vertical, or vertical slope). Areas that retaining walls are used in are areas where the landscape needs to be shaped severely, and engineered for a more specific purpose, like hillside farming, or roadway overpasses. A professional engineer should always be brought in when necessary to ensure the integrity of wall. 

Sizes of retaining walls

Retaining walls can be built to suit whatever homeowners need and are looking for and can be built with a variety of materials . Sizes  and types of walls range from small landscaped walls that surround a garden, pond, or elevated patio, to  enormous soil-retaining projects.

Materials used in a retaining wall build

Retaining walls come in a variety of materials that can be used to build wall systems.  These  include  concrete blocks, poured concrete, treated timbers (Wood retaining walls), rocks and boulders. All of these materials can retain soil, but some will have a shorter lifespan than others. (Read  retaining walls wood vs. Allan block). Other than wood, concrete walls typically come in  a variety of colors and shapes that homeowners can choose from, allowing the wall to either blend in with the surrounding area, or act as a focal point to the space.


Cost of a retaining wall

Unfortunately, sometimes a property needs a retaining wall replaced, or put in to retain the soil in your yard, even though homeowners most likely want to spend their money on something more exciting! A small retaining wall can start at $5,000 and can go up to $100,000+ depending on what material is used ( concrete wall blocks or wood retaining wall) , whether a wall needs to be engineered, and the length and height of the wall. For an in depth look at cost read How much does a Allan Block concrete retaining wall cost?

Pros of a retaining wall

When retaining walls are built correctly:

  • They prevent soil ( retained soil)  from eroding and coming into your yard
  • Keep surrounding structures ( like flower beds)  safe from elements that could damage them
  • Prevent flooding in your landscape ( proper drainage) 
  • Great decorative feature for any yard ( Walkways can be put in in front of the wall system) 

Cons of a retaining wall

  • The retaining wall can fail causing damage to property
  • Can be costly to redo the retaining  wall, causing a headache and possibly financial strain
  • If you have a wood retaining wall the lifespan of the wall is 10+ years, meaning eventually it will need to be replaced

Keep in mind that these cons are a possibility if the wall is not built correctly, what type of wall material is used, the height of the wall, whether or not a professional engineer provided plans, and if proper drainage was added. 

Who needs a retaining wall?

  • If you have a dirt erosion problem in your landscape, and dirt is spilling over into your yard, you may need a retaining wall to act as a barrier to the soil.

    If you have a failed wall that needs to be replaced.

    If you have drainage problems in your landscape, retaining walls can help with proper drainage. 

    If you are wanting to add a low maintenance landscape addition that can be the focal point of your outdoor space.

    If you would like to have a raised patio, garden or flower bed.

    Retaining walls can help homeowners fix issues like soil erosion, and turn a regular outdoor space into an aesthetically pleasing space. If you are looking to have a wall put in on your property, make sure you know what type of wall you need, and what look you are going for, so that you can reap the benefits a well-built retaining wall gives you!