Retaining Wall Materials 101

retaining wall materials

Retaining Wall Materials 101

At the core, a retaining wall is a structure that retains soil behind it. However, it’s not necessarily that simple. Yes, retaining walls hold soil laterally, and are often used to separate varying elevations. This is, of course, an alternative to having a slope, which may either be undesirable or cause drainage issues. 

That being said, there is actually quite a bit of engineering that goes into building retaining walls. Think about how traditional walls work—they are supporting a vertical weight. This allows gravity to work in the wall’s favor, anchoring it downward. But that’s not how retaining walls operate. They must support a lateral weight that is working to push outward. 

There are actually several techniques that are commonly used to support this weight and maintain the retaining wall structure. 

  1. Anchored wall 
  2. Cantilever 
  3. Counterfort
  4. Gravity Wall 
  5. Piling Wall 

There are certainly variations of these techniques, involving slight changes as to how they operate and are built. These approaches are all formidable ways to create a durable and long-lasting retaining wall. 

Why Build a Retaining Wall? 

Well, there are several reasons or scenarios that could call for installing a retaining wall. Some properties could simply benefit from the aesthetic appeal of a beautiful retaining wall, while others actually need these structures to protect their property from environmental damages. Here are some of the most popular reasons why you may want or need a retaining wall on your property. 

  • If you have little room for gardening, retaining walls allow for a nice level area to add plantings or floral life.
  • If your property is on a hill, retaining walls give you room to install a patio with the wall on the edge.
  • If your property sits at the bottom of a hill, it can protect against flooding and eventual erosion.
  • If you have a walkout basement, retaining walls protect the entrance to your basement, if lined up properly.
  • If you need to level an area so that you can add a pool to your property.
  • If you have slopes that are too steep for mowing, you can install retaining walls so that you don’t have to worry about grass on that area.

Or perhaps you just really like the look and feel of retaining walls. Maybe you just want an elevated garden or place to entertain guests, friends, and family. Whatever the reason, you’re going to need to pick out a retaining wall material that fits your aesthetic and feel. 

There are several retaining wall materials that you can choose from, all with their own unique benefits, price tags, and styles. 

Common Retaining Wall Materials You Can Choose From 

Brick Retaining Wall

brick retaining wall

Perhaps the most popular style for retaining walls is brick. It’s warm, sleek, and perfect for more traditional-style homes. There are actually quite a few upsides to utilizing brick for your retaining walls.  Not only is brick a solid structural material, but it also stands up extremely well to the elements. Brick doesn’t wear down with moisture and isn’t flammable. 

Other benefits include: 

Green: Brick is an eco-friendly option for retaining walls because it’s made out of shale and clay, which are both extremely common and not harmful to produce. 

Maintenance Friendly: If you’re worried about making constant repairs or painting, you won’t have to with brick. Because it’s so durable and retains color, you’ll be able to spend less time preserving your retaining wall. 

Although brick is a great building material for retaining walls, there are some potential negatives we should discuss. Brick isn’t cheap, so it’s not necessarily a “budget option.” It’s also fairly limited in color selection. There are definitely choices available, but not as many compared with other materials. 

Concrete Retaining Wall

stone retaining wall

Concrete is a style that doesn’t get enough love. It has such a unique and modern look, while also providing an extremely durable structure to work with. There’s a lot you can do with concrete, making it one of the most diverse materials on the market for retaining walls. It’s easy to install and has been known to last for nearly a century. 

Other benefits include: 

Wide variety: Concrete blocks are essentially shaped however you need, allowing for various shapes and sizes that you can use to create a unique look. 

Simple Cleaning: You can get away with cleaning concrete blocks once or twice a year. 

Nontoxic: Concrete is a non-toxic material that doesn’t introduce any sort of chemicals or allergens to your property. 

One issue you may face with concrete retaining walls is how difficult they can be to remove. Dismantling concrete is no small chore, especially compared to alternative materials. 

Boulder Retaining Walls

boulder retaining wall

Boulders probably offer the most pronounced look and feel out of any retaining wall material. That’s pretty obviously due to their massive size—but also because using boulders as building materials is as old as time. Depending on the look and feel you’re going for, you can have your boulders shaped and refined, making them a perfect option for almost any type of home. 

Other benefits include: 

Durability: This is probably an obvious one, but boulders are extremely durable. All it takes is a quick Google search to see just how long boulder structures have lasted since the beginning of humankind. 

Countless Choices: Boulders come in almost an endless array of sizes, colors, and shapes. So, finding the right selection for your home is not a difficult task. 

While boulder retaining walls are sturdy and diverse, there are some roadblocks for some homeowners. If you have a smaller yard, boulders may not look right. If you don’t have somewhere local to source your boulders, the transportation costs will eat away at your wallet. Also, boulders are naturally what they are. Meaning, you get what you get and there isn’t a lot you can do to alter them. 


If your property could benefit from a retaining wall, the experts at KG Landscape can help. Give us a call at 763-568-7251 or use our quick quote system to get in contact with us today.