Stone retaining wall dividing a grassy hill and a brick pathway

What Are the Different Types of Retaining Walls?

No matter if you know a lot or nothing at all about stone wall landscaping, you’ve probably walked past a retaining wall recently. Chances are, you’ve seen one today! A retaining wall is a structure used to support soil to create two (or more!) different “levels” of landscaping. They are often used for public walkways, parks, business properties, and other places where space matters, yet looks are just as important.

Retaining walls are also a popular choice in home landscape design because they allow for multiple levels of terrain without the need for a sloping downgrade. This is fairly obvious from looking at retaining walls of all shapes and sizes. However, did you know that more goes into creating a retaining wall than you might think? There are actually multiple different types of retaining walls. The specific type of wall that outdoor living space contractors build is based on individual property needs, the amount of land being divided, and the effectiveness of the structure. Read on to learn more about the different types of retaining walls.

Gravity Retaining Walls

The most simple type of retaining wall is the gravity retaining wall. This wall does exactly what its name suggests — it uses gravity to hold back soil in one area from going into another. Many gravity retaining walls are built from unmortared stone, stone brick, pavers, brick, or precast concrete. Most gravity retaining walls need a trench or base footer concrete block to be set into the soil, depending on earth pressure and the size of the wall created.

Cantilevered (Reinforced) Retaining Walls

Cantilever retaining walls, also called concrete piles, are held up by the weight of the actual materials used to build the retaining wall rather than the weight of the earth it’s set within. 

Cantilevered walls come in two main types: concrete cantilever and buttressed cantilever.

Concrete Cantilever

Concrete cantilever walls are connected to a foundation, usually a base slab of concrete or another strong material. These are some of the most common types of retaining walls.

Buttressed Cantilever

If you’ve ever seen the Hoover Dam or another large manufactured dam, think of the “rib-like” structures in the middle of the dam — these are buttresses. The buttresses help both hold up the wall itself and hold back whatever it’s dividing (millions of tons of water in the case of the Hoover Dam, hundreds of pounds of soil in your yard in the case of landscaping design). Buttressed cantilever walls are also connected to a foundation but have these additional reinforced concrete supports periodically placed along the retaining wall.

Mechanical Stabilization Retaining Walls

A type of retaining wall you might have driven past recently is a mechanical stabilization retaining wall, also called a mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) retaining wall. This is because these walls are built frequently on highways as part of overpass bridges! In this form of retaining wall, granular soil is used to fill in the wall’s structure, so the earth and the wall are connected and hold one another in place. They are so popular for highway planning applications because they can tolerate soil movement more effectively and don’t require a framework to be built. 

Sheet Piled Retaining Walls

Sheet piling walls, or sheet piled walls, are simple steel, vinyl, wood, or similar “panel” style walls driven into soft dirt around the area where a barrier is needed. The use of this type of wall depends on the quality of the soil or other material because the wall must be at least one-third buried to perform effectively. 

Anchored Retaining Walls

Anchored retaining walls aren’t a style of retaining walls by themselves; instead, they’re a modification of any of the existing retaining wall types. Anchored walls are supported by anchors planted in the ground; sometimes, these are metal bars or cables; sometimes, they are concrete. It all depends on the weight and size restrictions of the property.

Contact Local Landscaping and Hardscaping Pros

Do any of these types of retaining walls sound like the right solution for you? If you’re thinking about changing the look of your property, adding a retaining wall can make a big difference. When you need professional, experienced landscaping and hardscaping, WJA Landscaping is the team to trust! Contact us today, and let us create a property you’re proud to show off.