Do I Need a Retaining Wall?

A retaining wall is a specially designed exterior wall with the main function of containing a mass of earth from sliding downwards, in most cases on a slope. The retaining wall uses both its mass and other design features to withstand the pressure from the earth and the water within. 

Whether or not you need a retaining wall depends on whether the functions it plays can satisfy your needs, the feasibility of putting up and maintaining a retaining wall in terms of costs, and whether the pros of putting up one outweigh the cons. This article looks at all three aspects and helps you determine whether indeed you need a retaining wall.


Soil management; This is the primary function of a retaining wall, containing soil in one place. When the earth is on a slope, it tends to fall downwards under the forces of gravity just like any other form of matter. A retaining wall uses both its mass and design techniques to contain the soil. Mass retaining walls for instance rely on their mass to anchor them firmly to withstand the forces from the earth.

Cantilever retaining walls use design techniques like the wall’s shoe specially designed to anchor it to the ground. Butrerss retaining walls rely on buttresses for support. Soil management helps when it comes to controlling soil erosion so that rainwater doesn’t easily wash down the earth. This can come in handy when practicing agriculture.

Addition of functional space; By containing the earth, retaining walls are able to flatten the earth above and generate functional space both in front and behind the retaining wall. The earth can now be selfly used for construction or gardening without the fear of downward sloping earth. This can be done during site preparations prior to a construction project. In his way, a retaining wall makes a site more useful and functional thus increasing its worth.

Aesthetics; Gabions—another type of retaining wall—are very attractive and can be used for landscaping purposes in addition to the primary function of soil retention. Gabions are retaining walls constructed using rock and boulders put in one place and tied together using a wire mess. They are beautiful especially when clean colorful rocks are used.

Drainage; Retaining walls can also be used for drainage purposes. Gabions for instance are porous and can easily allow water to sip through while still retaining the soil. This improves the drainage characteristics of the retained earth and further controls soil erosion. Other types of retaining walls like mass retaining walls are also installed with pipes that drain the extra water from the soils.

Feasibility; In this case, one needs to look at the costs involved in construction and maintenance. Different types of retaining walls cost differently in terms of construction costs and maintenance. The size and scale of the construction project also play a role when it comes to cost estimates. For cost estimates, one needs to consult a professional engineer or quantity surveyor. However, a good start would be to understand what entails the construction and maintenance of a retaining wall. Below are links that can guide you in that regard.

Read about retaining wall construction by clicking here. Read about retaining wall maintenance by clicking here.

Pros and cons


Retaining walls increase a property’s value. This can be attributed to the increased functional space created by the retaining wall as well as improvements in the drainage qualities of the earth.

Safety; By reducing the risks of sliding earth, the retaining wall makes a potential site safer for activities like construction. Holding the soil in that area firm increases the site’s load-bearing capacity.

Flood risk control; By improving drainage quality and mitigating risks of soil erosion, a retaining wall is a good medium for flood risk control.


The setup costs for a retaining wall are relatively high in terms of material and labor. It’s even worse if the wall is for a steep slope and requires a high wall. This can be remedied by considering sustainable retaining all options that use easily accessible materials like rammed earth retaining walls.

Read about sustainable retaining walls by clicking here.

Maintenance costs: The maintenance activities involved for a retaining wall can also mean to be costly. It requires an engineer to make regular inspections and site potential risks of failure and costly corrective measures.

Failure of a retaining wall can be catastrophic. It can cause tremendous loss, damage, and harm to the people below and above especially if it’s a big wall and failure occur drastically.


The final decision of whether or not you need a retaining wall depends on whether its functions sufficiently serve your needs or solve your problems, whether construction and maintenance of one are financially possible and whether the pros outweigh the cons.

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