When it comes to residential retaining walls, there are a variety of materials to choose from. You'll need to consider the purpose of the wall, the look your desire and your budget when deciding what retaining wall material is right for you. Whether you choose concrete block, stone, or another material, you'll want to understand the basics of retaining wall construction so that you can make sure your wall is designed and built correctly.

TYPE OF MATERIAL PROS CONS STYLE DURABILITY
Concrete Block
Block Wall, Gray, Water Feature, Pond
Woody's Custom Landscaping Inc
Battle Ground, WA

Can be used to create curves

Can only be used for walls under 4-foot tall

  • Slump block resembles Spanish style architecture
  • Ground faced block is popular with midcentury architecture

Lack of footings may affect strength

Stone Veneer
Bluestone Veneer, Retaining Wall, Stone Veneer
Maureen Gilmer
Morongo Valley, CA
  • Any look can be created using this type of construction
  • Natural, custom appearance

Must be well designed, usually requiring a landscape architect or capable contractor

Natural stone varies by color and style but it's important to match the stone on existing architecture

Solid core can be designed in almost any thickness and height

Poured Concrete
Board Formed Concrete, Retaining Wall
Huettl Landscape Architecture
Walnut Creek, CA
  • Stronger than a block wall
  • Variety of design options
  • Skill required for form makes for a difficult solution for residential projects
  • May crack

The smooth, sleek form is often used in modern landscapes

Forms have to be immaculate to reduce chances of a wave or a bulge

Brick
Low Retaining Wall, Steps, Brick
Cipriano Landscape Design
Mahwah, NJ

Strong and durable

  • Labor intensive
  • Requires special accommodations for drainage

Complements traditional homes and landscapes

Installation methods result in a solid structure which is extremely durable

Wood
Rustic Fence
Cagwin & Dorward
Novato, CA
  • Accessible materials
  • Fairly simple installation
  • May rot
  • Doesn't last as long as other wall materials
  • Recommended for walls under 4-foot
  • Can relate to almost any style
  • Blends into the landscape more naturally than any other material

If installed with proper materials, waterproofing and preservatives, it can last for 20 years or more

Dry Stone/Boulder
Stone Retaining Wall, Natural Retaining Wall
Woody's Custom Landscaping Inc
Battle Ground, WA

The most natural solution to grade change

Difficult to control water flow

Dry boulder and stone walls are ideal for colonial, country, and English-style gardens

Water accumulating in the interior of the wall will destroy its integrity

Gabion
Gabion Retaining Wall, Waste Rock
Maureen Gilmer
Morongo Valley, CA
  • Requires no special masonry or skilled labor
  • Green alternative by using recycled materials

Wire basket may rust away in certain conditions

Complements coastal and riverside homes

Unlike most building materials, a gabion wall can move with the earth and be placed along waterfront areas

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