Building A Retaining Wall? Here’s What You Need To Know

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With spring well underway, it’s time to start thinking about sprucing up the yard and maybe tackling some of those big outdoor projects you’ve been meaning to do. One way to enhance both your curb appeal and your backyard is to build stone retaining walls around the house or fence. This not only creates planting beds for all the flowers and shrubs you love, it also adds more visual interest by drawing the eye to different levels in your yard.

Although it’s common to use cement blocks or wood to create a retaining wall, natural stone is incredibly durable looks more visually striking because of the stone’s natural variations and unique colors and textures. Granite is one of the most popular stones to use because of its strength and ability to withstand moisture and temperature changes, though it can be a bit expensive. Limestone is a cheaper option that only looks expensive, thanks to the stone’s beautiful coloring and unique texture. However, limestone should only be used for low walls because it’s not as strong as granite and is prone to degredation. If you’re looking to create a more rustic, homey feel, consider the humble cobblestone. Available in tons of sizes and shapes, the unique rounded edges create a lot of visual texture in your yard, and many people love how varied the stones look when installed. Plus, cobblestones are likely to “patina” over time and even grow moss, enhancing the cottage, lost-in-the-forest look so many homeowners love! If you’re looking to create a more rustic, homey feel, consider the humble cobblestone. Available in tons of sizes and shapes, the unique rounded edges create a lot of visual texture, and many people love how varied the stones look when installed. Plus, cobblestones are likely to “patina” over time and even grow moss, enhancing the cottage, lost-in-the-forest look so many homeowners love!

The great thing about hardscaping with natural stone is that the material can be cut to any size or shape, which gives you a lot of freedom to create exactly the right look for your yard. Many people like clean, simple look of regularly-sized square or rectangular blocks, while others like rough, natural look of stacked stones. The latter, especially when the stones are cut very thin, is also a great way to introduce a lot of color to your yard. Stones like granite, limestone, and cobblestones all come in a ton of different hues and when cut thin, layering the different colors creates a lot of variation that isn’t too overwhelming to the eye because how the colors seem to blend together from a distance.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to size your stone in proportion to the overall height and length of the wall. Unsurprisingly, smaller, shorter walls work well with smaller blocks or thin slabs, while longer walls look best with larger blocks, which can either be regular or irregular in shape and overall size.

Finally, think about the overall shape of the wall. Do you want it to be straight and angular? Curvy? Or should there be multiple tiers? These are really important considerations that can affect the natural stone you select: as we said above, long, high or tiered walls will need a bigger, sturdier stone like granite in order to maintain its structural integrity over time.

There are a couple of incredibly important structural elements you need to make sure of before you begin work on your natural stone retaining wall. First, know that not only will the stones need to withstand their own weight, they’ll also be dealing with the weight of the soil the wall will be retaining. In order to create a sturdy wall, you’ll need to begin with a rock-solid base. To do this, you or your contractor will need to dig a 5-6” trench and fill it with compacted gravel, which will allow the stone to adjust to temperature and weather fluctuations and also allow water from behind the wall to drain out and away from your home or fence.

After the trench is dug and filled, the first layer of stones should be laid about 1-2” into the ground and must be checked — and rechecked! — to make sure that it is perfectly level. Otherwise, none of the stones placed on top of this first row will be level and the weight of the stones may end up being distributed unevenly, leading to a wall that is likely to fall.

Your retaining wall also must have a way to drain water, and often the gravel base won’t be enough depending on the size of the wall. The easiest method is to have spaces in the wall to fit the openings of PVC pipes, which will allow water to drain away. Just make sure the pipes are sloped down and away from the house or fence. Otherwise, you’ll end up with water damage you definitely don’t want to deal with!

Finally, remember to backfill with soil after each layer of the wall is completed, rather than all at once at the end. This will allow the soil to settle evenly and will also allow for even pressure against the wall itself. The wall will be holding up quite a bit of weight (soil is very heavy!), so ensuring this weight is distributed evenly will help guarantee that your wall won’t become structurally unsound over time.

Although stone retaining walls may look simple, they are actually many important considerations that need to be made in order to make sure you have a beautiful and safe wall for years to come. Whether you’re looking to build a stately, multi-tiered granite wall or a small limestone planter, using natural stone will ensure that your wall is gorgeous and sturdy for many years to come.