Retaining Wall Materials

Retaining walls can be built with various materials and for various purposes. For both home and business owners, retaining walls improve properties by creating usable flat surfaces and preventing soil erosion on sloping grounds. If you’re planning a retaining wall for your home or business there are many options to consider.

Retaining walls can be made from various materials, including natural stone, concrete, cinder blocks, concrete blocks or wood. Paint, stucco, brick or a stone veneer may be used to give concrete or cinder block walls an improved finish to blend in with the surrounding environment or natural landscape.

Poured Concrete Retaining Walls

Poured concrete is probably the most durable and flexible of all the retaining wall materials. It normally has a relatively thin stem, so it requires minimal horizontal space. Typically a poured concrete wall depends in part on the weight of the retained soil to give it the strength that it requires.

Concrete retaining walls are very versatile and can be dressed up to look like natural stone walls, blending in with the landscape, or designed to match the surrounding structures.

Xpress Engineering offers concrete retaining wall designs for cantilever retaining walls.

Poured concrete retaining wall with concrete steps
Interlocking blocks for retaining walls

Interlocking Block Retaining Walls

Some types of interlocking retaining wall blocks include voids for reinforcement. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and they rely on weight and design for their strength. Used in many landscape projects because of their versatility, this type of concrete block can be used to accommodate angles and curved walls to match most modern landscape designs.

Xpress Engineering offers block retaining wall designs for cinder blocks and CMU’s, including interlocking blocks that include voids for reinforcement.

Cinder Block (CMU) Retaining Walls

Cinder block walls are relatively easy to install because they are large but lightweight, being hollow. Cinder blocks are a type of CMU’s (Concrete Masonry Units). Like other types of CMU’s, they are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, normally laid with mortar to hold them in place.

Reinforcing steel is usually cemented into the hollow cinder block or CMU spaces to provide strength and durability the wall needs to withstand the force of tons of soil stacked behind it.
Xpress Engineering offers block retaining wall designs for cinder blocks and CMU’s.

Cinder block retaining wall under construction
Retaining wall using pressure treated wood

Wood Retaining Walls

Wood retaining walls look great in gardens. The natural warmth of wood blends in well with natural surroundings. These wall materials are not as durable as poured concrete, cinder blocks or other types of CMU’s and may seriously limit your wall’s height. However, wood retaining walls are relatively easy to install, cost-effective, and the materials can be found at most local home centers.

For this reason, many homeowners install small garden terrace walls as a DIY project. It is best to use wood only where the soil drainage is good and the wall itself does not come into direct contact with the soil. A layer of gravel should normally form the foundation of the wall.
Xpress Engineering offers designs for cantilever retaining walls using various types of wood.

Stacked Concrete Block Walls

Typically made from solid concrete blocks, stacked block retaining walls often feature various colors, patterns and textures. The weight of these “gravity walls” may give them sufficient lateral strength to support the retained weight of the soil behind them – within limits.

Stacked blocks are held together without mortar. However, joints may be staggered to increase the durability and strength of the wall to some extent. However for many situations a concrete or reinforced CMU wall may be a better choice, especially where there are strength and durability considerations.

Currently Xpress Engineering does not offer standard engineering designs for stacked concrete block retaining walls. However, feel free to call us to discuss your needs and we can very likely provide recommendations or a quote.

Large stacked block retaining wall
Wall built with solid concrete blocks

Solid Concrete Block Retaining Walls

Solid concrete blocks are heavier and may be stronger than cinder blocks. However, they do not include voids to allow for rebar reinforcement. The blocks themselves are quite durable, may require less maintenance, they are weather and fire-resistant and are generally quite attractive. However, the lack of voids within concrete blocks limits the ability to reinforce them adequately for some applications.

Currently Xpress Engineering does not offer standard engineering designs for solid concrete block walls. However, please feel free to call us to discuss your needs and we can very likely provide recommendations or a quote.

Pressure Treated Wood Retaining Walls

Wood is not as durable as other retaining wall materials. although some hardwoods, like cedar and redwood, may stand up reasonably well to weather conditions and boring insects particularly in milder climates.

When it comes to wood retaining walls, the best retaining wall material is pressure treated wood. Mills treat hardwood materials by injecting chemicals under pressure into the timber lengths. These chemicals prevent rot and insect infestations, extending the useful life of pressure treated wood.

Timber Retaining Walls

The internet is full of timber retaining wall ideas. They are often used for small garden DIY projects and can create lovely spaces in the garden along with terraces and raised beds.

The choice of timber for a retaining wall should consider that most timber is prone to rot and insect infestation, thereby limiting their useful life. As a result, your wall may need to be rebuilt sooner than you would prefer.

Railroad Tie Retaining Walls

Railroad ties offer a natural material that can be used for creating garden terraces for flower or herb gardens. Construction of terraces from railroad ties can transform a yard, creating planters and landscape spaces while adding a certain style to the property.

However, actual railroad ties can be very difficult to work with and are treated with creosote oil. Dangerous chemicals from railroad ties can leak into gardens or children’s play areas. As a result, you may want to consider using pressure treated wood or other materials as an alternative.
Xpress Engineering does not offer designs for retaining walls using railroad ties.

Other Types of Retaining Walls

Brick Retaining Walls

Though more expensive per square foot than cinder or cement blocks, and generally offering less strength and stability vs. concrete or CMU retaining walls, brick retaining walls can add a pleasing aesthetic when used appropriately.
Xpress Engineering does not offer designs for retaining walls built with bricks.

Stone/Boulder Retaining Walls

Perhaps one of the most beautiful retaining wall materials, stones and boulders often blend in well with the natural surroundings. They can be used to create curved walls, and ground contact is not a problem. Stone also provides a natural drainage system.

It isn’t as simple as it may seem to build a stone and boulder retaining wall so expert advice is recommended.
Xpress Engineering does not offer designs for retaining walls built with stones or boulders.

Professional Engineering Retaining Wall Design – Fast and Affordable

Whichever material you choose for your retaining wall, keep in mind that most local building codes require an engineering design for retaining walls of four feet or more in height. Even for shorter walls, a design from a trained structural engineer is highly recommended to insure the security and longevity of your wall.

We can provide a certified engineer design for you within 24 hours (M-F) for just $350. Submit your Design Request here, or contact us if you have any questions or unique requirements.