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retaining wall types

Types of Retaining Walls: Which One is Right for You?

Retaining walls are an important tool if you want to add beauty and functionality to your landscape. They are also useful in creating outdoor living spaces, diverting water runoff, providing privacy and reducing soil erosion. But when it’s time to get started, it can be overwhelming to determine which wall type is best for your specific needs.

To make the decision easier, let’s examine the different types of retaining walls and their benefits. From modular blocks for versatile design to timber walls that blend in with the environment, we’ll help you determine which retaining wall type is right for you.

Types of Retaining Walls

blockwork retaining walls

Retaining walls are essential structures designed to hold back soil in areas with varying terrains. Depending on the specific requirements and conditions of a site, different types of retaining walls are employed. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the most common types:

Gravity Retaining Wall

Gravity retaining walls depend on their sheer weight to counteract the pressure from the soil they’re retaining. They are typically constructed from heavy materials like concrete or stone.


  • Simplicity: Their construction is straightforward without the need for specialized equipment.
  • Flexibility: Suitable for a variety of soil types and conditions.


  • Space Consumption: They require a broad base, consuming more space.
  • Height Limitation: Not ideal for very tall structures due to stability concerns.

Cantilever Retaining Wall

These walls, made of reinforced concrete, have a shape resembling an inverted T. They utilize the weight of the retained soil for stability.


  • Economical: Uses less material than gravity walls.
  • Versatility: Can be designed for various terrains and heights.


  • Complex Design: Requires detailed engineering and design.
  • Maintenance: Potential for cracks which need regular checking and repair.

Sheet Piling Retaining Wall

Ideal for spaces with limited width, these walls are thin barriers of steel, wood, or vinyl driven into the ground, primarily used in softer soils.


  • Space-saving: Thin design is perfect for tight spaces.
  • Quick Installation: Especially when using lightweight materials.


  • Durability: Susceptible to corrosion or rot, depending on the material.
  • Limitation: Not suitable for areas with hard soils.

Anchored Retaining Wall

This type can be a combination of other walls but reinforced with cables or stays anchored into the soil or rock behind them.


  • Enhanced Strength: Anchors provide additional support, making the wall more robust.
  • Versatility: Can be used in various challenging terrains and conditions.


  • Installation Complexity: Requires drilling for anchors, adding to the construction process.
  • Maintenance: Anchors might need periodic checking and adjustment.

Gabion Retaining Walls

Gabions are mesh cages filled with rocks or concrete. These cages, when stacked, form a wall.


  • Natural Aesthetics: Blends well with natural surroundings.
  • Drainage: The gaps between the stones ensure excellent drainage, reducing hydrostatic pressures.


  • Bulkiness: Can appear large and intrusive in some landscapes.
  • Maintenance: Over time, the mesh can corrode, requiring repair or replacement.

Reinforced Soil or Geogrid Retaining Walls

In this type, layers of soil are reinforced with geogrids, enhancing the wall’s strength.


  • Adaptability: Can be designed to fit various landscapes and heights.
  • Strength: The combination of soil and geogrids offers superior strength.


  • Expertise Required: Building these walls requires specialized knowledge.
  • Cost: The materials, especially geogrids, can be more expensive than traditional wall materials.

Materials Used in Retaining Walls Construction

Hampton Grey Concrete Sleepers

Wooden Walls

Wooden walls are a popular choice for those seeking a natural and rustic appearance for their retaining walls. They blend seamlessly with garden landscapes and can be treated to resist decay and pests. However, while they offer a warm and organic feel, wooden walls may not be as durable as other materials, especially when exposed to moisture over extended periods. Regular maintenance, such as staining or sealing, can help prolong their lifespan.


Stones are the epitome of ageless beauty and strength. They’ve been used since ancient civilizations to build structures that stand the test of time. When used in retaining walls, stones offer a unique blend of aesthetics and functionality. They can be arranged in various patterns, creating a bespoke look for every project. The natural variations in stone colors and textures make each wall distinct. However, building with stones requires a skilled hand to ensure stability and longevity.


Blocks represent the modern evolution of retaining wall materials. They are manufactured in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, catering to diverse design preferences. The interlocking designs of many blocks make installation straightforward, even for those without extensive construction experience. While they offer flexibility and ease of use, some might find their uniform appearance less appealing than the natural irregularities of stones or wood.


Concrete is synonymous with strength and durability. When used in retaining walls, it provides a robust barrier capable of withstanding significant pressures from soil and water. Pre-made concrete panels or slabs can be used, making the construction process faster. However, working with concrete might require specialized tools and expertise, especially if customization is desired. Despite its strength, concrete can be molded and textured to mimic other materials, offering a balance between function and aesthetics.

Concrete Sleepers

Concrete sleepers combine the strength of concrete with design versatility. These reinforced structures are designed to resist weathering, making them ideal for areas exposed to varying environmental conditions. The added advantage of concrete sleepers is their ability to be designed with unique patterns, textures, and finishes, allowing homeowners and designers to achieve a specific look while benefiting from the material’s durability.

For high-quality concrete sleepers, you may check out our website where we offer such, as well as durable retaining wall steel posts. Our product range includes Standard 40MPA Concrete Sleepers, Heavy Duty 50MPA Concrete Sleepers, Premium Range Concrete Sleepers, and Concrete Under Fence Plinths.

Wallstones and Mortar

Wallstones and mortar harken back to traditional construction methods. Wallstones, cut from materials like granite or limestone, exude a timeless charm. Mortar, acting as a binding agent, ensures that the stones stay in place, creating a solid structure. While wallstones offer a blend of old-world charm and modern stability, they require meticulous installation. Each stone must be placed with precision, and the mortar must be mixed to the right consistency. The result, however, is a wall that not only looks beautiful but also stands strong against the elements.

Ideas and Design Considerations for Retaining Walls

When planning your retaining wall, design elements play a pivotal role in the wall’s efficacy and longevity. Here’s a breakdown of key considerations for different wall materials:

Concrete Blocks

Concrete blocks, when paired with mortar, offer enhanced structural integrity. Capping the walls serves a dual purpose: it aesthetically elevates the design and acts as a barrier against water seepage. For added stability, you can opt for interlocking concrete blocks, which lock together, providing an extra layer of security.

Wooden Walls

Wooden walls exude a natural charm, seamlessly blending with outdoor spaces. While they’re anchored using steel rods, it’s essential to monitor them for potential warping. This warping can result from fluctuating humidity and temperature levels. Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure their longevity.

Stone Walls

Stone walls, when constructed meticulously, promise durability. It’s vital to select adequately sized stones to prevent future settling and potential gaps. Ensuring the rocks are firmly bonded with mortar will guarantee years of reliable service.

Essential Tips for All Wall Types

Regardless of the wall material you choose, ensuring proper drainage is paramount. A well-thought-out design incorporating layers of filters and multiple drainage outlets will safeguard the wall’s health in the long run.

Once your retaining wall is up and sturdy, the next step is to beautify the surrounding landscape. This could involve selecting the right plants, adding decorative lighting, or incorporating other design elements. The goal is to create a cohesive and captivating outdoor space. We’ll delve deeper into these finishing touches in the subsequent section.

Landscaping Walls and Cost of Retaining Walls

Once you’ve settled on a design for your retaining wall, the next step is to decide on the landscaping that will accompany it. The landscaping choices can influence the overall cost, especially if you opt for intricate or high-end materials.

Wall Purpose and Landscaping

The purpose and size of the wall dictate the type of landscaping suitable:

  • Water Features: For walls surrounding pools or other water elements, opt for plants and shrubs that thrive in moist conditions. These add a splash of color and texture to the area.
  • Garden Walls: If the wall borders a garden or yard, drought-resistant plants might be the ideal choice.
  • Steep Grades: For walls on steep terrains, consider integrating terraces. These terraced sections can house flower beds and foliage, ensuring they remain secure without sliding down the slope.

Cost Implications

The cost of constructing a retaining wall can fluctuate based on several factors:

  • Integration with Other Projects: Retaining walls often complement larger landscaping endeavors like patios. They need to harmonize with the existing landscape and might require diverse materials ranging from lumber to brick or stone.
  • Size and Complexity: As the wall’s dimensions, height, or intricacy increase, so do labor demands, subsequently driving up the construction costs.

Making the Right Choice

Whether you’re envisioning a small retaining wall to enhance your landscape’s aesthetics or a grand structure made of treated timbers and stones, your choices will be governed by your budget and practical needs. To ensure you select the most fitting retaining wall type, it’s advisable to consult seasoned contractors. They can provide insights based on their experience with similar projects in your locality, taking into account the local climate and soil conditions.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions with Explanations

Are there specific retaining walls designed for unique functions?

Certainly! There are several specialised retaining walls tailored for distinct purposes:

  • Sheet Piling Walls: These are particularly effective in halting water or soil movement, especially in areas adjacent to water bodies.
  • Cantilevered Walls: Often employed to support deep excavations or stabilize steep inclines.
  • Gravity Walls: Preferred for extensive projects, these walls depend on their own mass for stability.
  • Reinforced Soil Walls & MSE Wall Systems: These are chosen when there’s a need for augmented strength and support.

What considerations are crucial when choosing a retaining wall type?

Several aspects should guide your decision:

  • Location & Function: Is the wall near a water source or a flood-prone zone? Materials like concrete, which don’t absorb moisture, might be more suitable than timber in such cases.
  • Budget: Different materials come with varied costs. For instance, stone walls tend to be pricier than their timber counterparts.
  • Maintenance: Some walls, like dry-stacked gravity walls, might need frequent inspections and occasional restacking.
  • Aesthetics: The wall’s appearance and how it integrates into the overall landscape is vital. If visual appeal is a priority, materials like timber or stone might be more fitting than pre-fabricated concrete blocks.

Which material is predominantly used for retaining walls?

Concrete stands out as the most popular choice for retaining walls. Its appeal lies in:

  • Versatility: Concrete can be molded into any desired shape, facilitating intricate designs that are both visually appealing and functional.
  • Durability: With a considerable lifespan, concrete resists various weather conditions, making it perfect for outdoor setups.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: When compared to alternatives like brick or stone, concrete is often more budget-friendly, rendering it a practical choice for retaining wall construction.
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