Will I Need a Retaining Wall for My Outdoor Living Project?

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    There are countless potential changes and projects that homeowners can undertake to improve their outdoor living spaces, and many of these will require the construction of a retaining wall for one reason or another. Homeowners that are planning outdoor projects, improvements, or installations may be wondering if they will need a retaining wall for their specific project.

    We’re going to take a look at what a retaining wall is, what it does, and how you’ll be able to tell if your outdoor living project is going to need one. We’ll also look at alternative and aesthetic functions of retaining walls and visual walls, which may also hold value for your improvement plans.

    What Is A Retaining Wall?

    A retaining wall is a structure that is designed and constructed to keep a slope or hill in place and to assist with grade changes. Retaining walls must be expertly planned, because unlike the walls in a home or other structure that support their load vertically, they experience horizontal pressure from the earth being held back. These walls that are poorly engineered can fail and present a severe danger of injury to those nearby.

    Retaining walls can be constructed out of stacked stone, engineered wall block, concrete, or lumber such as railroad ties. Some communities and Home Owner’s Associations require approval of the materials you select for your retaining wall. Be sure to check your local regulations to ensure you’re protected.

    Will I Need A Retaining Wall For My Outdoor Living Project?

    There are a few things to consider when deciding if your outdoor living project will require the construction of a retaining wall. First, you’ll need to consider if there will be any significant change of grade required for or adjacent to the project. You’ll also need to consider any water issues that may be present both before and after the project.

    Will There Need To Be A Change Of Grade?

    One of the biggest reasons is if there is a change in grade. Changing grade refers to any time you’re raising, lowering, or leveling the ground plane. Anytime you have a significant change in the grade you’ll need a retaining wall to hold back earth for things like ledges or stairs. If there will be a sloping downhill corner, for example, you’ll need a retaining wall to hold the slope in place. If you need to create a level, usable space out of a sloped area, you’ll need a retaining wall.

    Another common need for changing grade using retaining walls is if you’re trying to create a new patio on a space that doesn’t have a level grade. You may have to cut into the grade or fill behind a wall to create the patio properly.

    Pro Tip: If you need walls over four feet tall or terraced, you’ll likely need a professional who can apply engineering techniques for proper reinforcement.

    Are There Drainage Or Flooding Issues?

    Another major reason to invest in retaining walls is if there are any drainage or flooding issues present at the project site. Re-grading the area can help to redirect water and alleviate flooding issues. In this case, it’s important to work with a professional landscape designer who invests time in a detailed site analysis before providing you a proposal. This helps you plan for the walls up front versus when you’ve already started the project.

    Detailed site analysis work should include your landscape designer measuring  your site slopes, terrain, and drainage elements. Then, they’ll provide you an education solution that may or may not require walls.

    Visual Walls

    While retaining walls can be incredibly useful and even necessary in many cases, there are situations where they can be used for a purely visual effect. This is often called creating visual walls or garden walls. These walls aren’t typically retaining anything, but can be both aesthetic as well as functional.

    One of the common examples of garden walls is seen on properties built in a New England or bungalow style .These small 24 to 30-inch garden walls will often enclose the perimeter of the front of the home. They are also a visual delineator around the perimeter of a property.

    Seating Walls Around Fire Features

    Visual walls can be used to create beautiful and functional seating walls around things like fire features or sitting areas. This allows not only a clean visual appearance but a functional area of supplemental seating as well.

    Design Tip: Consider adding columns to the ends of your seating wall to punctuate the space.

    Using Retaining Wall Materials For Garden Beds Or Compost Areas

    Another use and function of retaining wall materials is to create raised garden beds for things such as vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers. Raised beds create interest in flat planes will increasing the functionality and accessibility of the planting area.

    Compost areas can be crafted to match your raised garden beds and retaining walls using the same material. This creates a cohesive, yet functional space.

    If you are planning an outdoor living project, or simply have more questions, reach out today for more information, and to schedule a consultation and estimate.

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    About The Author

    Robyn is a 2009 Graduate of the Kansas State University Department of Horticulture. She grew up in South East Kansas where she graduated from Humboldt High School. She was a Kansas State University Leadership Scholar and President of the Horticulture Club. She married Bret in 2009 and they have a daughter Ellie, born in 2021. Their family is completed by three adopted dogs.

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