Retaining walls are both beautiful and functional, and can be an important component of your outdoor space.  While their main function is to prevent the erosion of soil, they can also add charm and splendor to an otherwise plain yard. A distinct advantage of retaining walls is their style variety. They can be designed in an endless array of styles, from gentle curves, to elegant fortress-like structures.

The Importance of Retaining Walls

Prevent Erosion

One of the main purposes of building a retaining wall is to prevent erosion. Over time, age, weather, and improper drainage systems can cause soil to erode. If your property is steep, or has uneven areas, soil can easily slide from its intended position.  The more soil is exposed, the more damage is triggered by fast moving water. This can cause:

  • Trees to slide or lean
  • Structural problems with your home
  • Gulleys or low pockets in your yard
  • Unusable yard space
  • Inability for grass to grow in certain areas
  • Exposure of utility lines
  • Exposure of sprinkler lines and heads
  • Fences to lean or buckle

Retaining walls prevent erosion from occurring by shortening a long slope into a series of more level steps. This protects the soil from running water by, allowing moisture to soak into the surface, rather than pulling soil with it during run off.

Control Drainage

Sloped or uneven yards can create major drainage issues. Because the terrain is uneven, water will pool in areas that can wreak havoc on your lawn, or even the foundation of your home. By adding tiers, supported by retaining walls, water will no longer run down steep slopes, and can be funneled into proper drainage areas. French drains can also be installed to further assist with property drainage problems.

A properly installed retaining wall provides its own drainage system through, weep holes, and a gravel runnel under or behind the wall. This allows water to run off or through the wall and prevents water build-up.

Tiering Sloped Yards

A deeply sloped yard can be a major headache for homeowners. Issues such as: pooling water, difficulty mowing, and inability to use as a ‘family friendly’ space can create long-term problems. Tiers are the perfect solution to tackle drainage problems, and provide level, usable spaces. Tiers (or terraces) are level spaces cut into sloping yards. Spacing between tiers is determined by the degree of slope. Levels are graded to have an imperceptible incline to further assist with drainage. Height and space of tiers depends on the slope incline, and what you intend to use the space for.

Provide Stability for Structures

A solid retaining wall will keep the soil in place, as well as any structures that depend on ground stability. Many times, homes are built on hills and require a retaining wall to retain its structural integrity. If your retaining wall fails, then the soil beneath your home will erode, causing your home to lean or falter. This can cause unwanted cracks in your foundation. Piers can be added to correct this issue; however, they are extremely expensive and time consuming. A better option, is to properly maintain your retaining wall, and repair or replace it as soon as it shows signs of wear.

Create Usable Lawn Space

Very often, steep or sloped yards provide little, actual livable yard space. This can be frustrating for homeowners who like to spend time outdoors. Retaining walls are the best solution to break your sloped yard into tiers and allow your yard to be more user-friendly. Layering your yard requires a well thought out design that will not only make the slope usable, but also give a beautiful aesthetic. Even steeply sloped yards can be leveled into several tiers, with a walkway to each.

Create Step-Up Planting Areas

Retaining walls also provide the perfect surround for flowerbeds, and shape to landscaped areas. Most flowerbeds need to be edged in some fashion, and brick, stones or blocks are a stunning way to accomplish this. Border walls keeps the mulch and soil in place, as well as allowing retention of moisture around plants. Short walls are perfect around your homes perimeter, while taller walls can work for your steeper terrain. This not only helps with erosion, but allows you to have flowerbeds in challenging areas. Beds can also be built on top of larger, functional retaining walls.

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Materials

Your choice of materials directly determines the ability of a retaining wall to bear weight. It must be strong enough to provide long-term support for soil or structures, as well as allow for adequate drainage. Materials used for constructing residential retaining walls are generally decorative and designed for function and appeal. Typical materials used are:

  • Brick
  • Natural stone
  • Wood timbers
  • Concrete
  • Blocks
  • Boulders

Your choice of materials should depend on your climate, and intended use. Our outdoor experts will be happy to discuss the pros and cons of each material, with you.

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Retaining Wall Replacement or Repair

If you currently have retaining walls and have noticed crumbling, cracking, buckling or leaning – it is time to address the issue. Retaining walls are supposed to last many years, but several unfortunate factors can take its toll on your wall, such as:

  • Age – The age of your retaining wall plays a significant factor. As with any wood, time and weather can cause it to crumble and lean. Wood can decay from the inside, giving the appearance that the beams are still in good shape. Insects can also eat away at the heart of the wood.
  • Weather – Wood retaining walls take a great deal of abuse from the weather. Constant swelling and contracting from extreme heat and cold can also reduce its lifespan. The sun beating down will bleach its color over time as well as drying out and cracking the wood.
  • Poor workmanship – If your wall has not been constructed properly, then it’s lifespan was in jeopardy from day one. It is essential, especially if your wall is over four feet high, that qualified installers plan and execute the install. Lack of proper technique and fortification can reduce your walls ability to support and withstand pressure from soil and water.
  • Soil erosion due to lack of proper drainage – Retaining walls can help or inhibit your yards drainage, depending on if it was constructed correctly. Walls must have weep holes to allow water to seep through, thereby reducing force. If water does not have a proper outlet, then it can add pressure to the integrity of the wall. Over time, this can cause the wall to lose its footing. Gravel lines should also be run behind or beneath the wall as another way for water to drain away from the wall.
  • Low-grade materials – Weak, or cheap materials will immediately shorten your wall’s ability to withstand time and weather. Stone or concrete walls will crumble and lean, while wood will rot and split. Inferior mortar will also cause the wall to break down and not hold its shape.

Our home improvement experts will examine and assess your current wall’s capabilities. If they feel that it has a continued lifespan, then instead of a full replacement, repairs can be made. Sometimes, if certain parts of the wall have deteriorated, then that specific section can be replaced. Other times, specific boards can be replaced. The ability to return the wall to its original position and maintain structural integrity is crucial. If the wall cannot fulfill its main function, then it may need to be replaced.

When designing your retaining wall, Home Improvements of America will incorporate a comprehensive plan that includes: soil pressure, drainage, materials, design, natural setting, and budget. From small retaining wall projects, to large structures we will create a design for you that will serve your home or business long-term, and complement your entire landscape.

 

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