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How We Design and Build Retaining Walls

Retaining walls are a great way to level out a yard with slopes and hills. They make for a nice aesthetic and give sloped properties more functionality.

Retaining walls require an experienced touch while designing and building them to ensure they're properly designed allowing for the conditions that they will be facing. Failure to build a retaining wall properly almost always results in a failed wall that falls over from weight and the soil and water behind it.

Our 11 step retaining wall build process has allowed us to build retaining walls that don't fail. Using these steps, our staff understand the importance of each step and how they function, which allows us to create some pretty amazing walls!

This is a diagram of the different retaining wall components. Each part of the process is vital to build a proper wall that will last and won't fail!

How a Retaining Wall is Built
Retaining Wall Diagram

Our 11 Step Process to Retaining Wall Installation

1. Planning and Design

In the planning phase, we asses the ground conditions, look at the elevations and design the retaining wall to allow for proper drainage and functionality. Some questions we always ask are:

  • Where should the retaining wall go?

  • How far should it extend?

  • What are we trying to accomplish with the retaining wall?

  • What is its main function?

  • How will the wall affect water drainage?

  • And more

During the planning process, we call "call before you dig" to check for buried lines. Depending on the project, we may need to bring on an engineer to ensure the wall is sufficiently built to ensure it doesn't fail.

2. Layout and Ground Preparations

Ground prep is a crucial step to the installation process. We first lay out the wall area on the ground using proper measurements with ground paint. From here we start the initial preparations. We use a laser level to ensure the wall is installed at the proper elevations and stake the ground to show depths and wall measurements.

3. Excavation and Hauling Soil

Once the layout is complete, we begin excavation for the base. Excavation depth varies from project to project, smaller retaining walls only require a 6 inch base, larger walls can require 12 inches or more. Some soil conditions require more base as well. Soil is then hauled away if applicable.

4. Amend and Compact Soil

We amend and compact the soil to ensure the base is given proper soil conditions and consistency. This crucial step is often forgot or left out. We ensure this step is completed with each project. We lay some crushed gravel and compact it into the soil to ensure the ground is compacted to spec.

5. Install Geotextile

Geotextile is installed to ensure the base layer doesn't mix with the soil. This crucial material will be a key factor in your wall lasting the years to come. Geotextile is a fabric that allows for water penetration but prevents solid materials from passing through.

6. Base Installation

The base is installed at this stage, during it's installation, we compact it regularly with added water to ensure an even and properly compacted base. The base is minimum 6 inches deep and will often be thicker for larger walls.

7. Final Grading

We give the base a final grade, using levels and string lines we ensure the base is even and will allow for a straight, level wall while also allowing for water drainage.

8. Drainage

Drainage is the most crucial step in all retaining walls. Failure to provide adequate drainage will result in a failed wall, often times within a year or two. With a combination of clean stone, drainage pipes and base placement, we can ensure the water doesn't get trapped behind the wall leading to failure. The clean stone installed behind the stack stones is often the same width as the height of the stack stone wall.

9. Stacking Stones

Stones are stacked and cut into place. Walls are installed level to ensure the weight is distributed evenly. If the wall isn't installed level, the weight could eventually force an area out of place, leading to failure. Stones are glued and/or pinned in place to give them added strength.

10. Added Precautions

As an added precaution, geogrid (a grid sheet material) is used on some walls to help keep the wall from shifting. Geogrid is installed under the stack stones and run into the clean gravel behind the wall. Geogrid is typically only installed on retaining walls more than 3-4ft tall.

11. Finishing

The geotextile is folded over the clean gravel to ensure soil doesn't leach into the clean gravel. From here we add soil and finish the project with sod or a garden bed on top. We also touch up the base of the wall area. At the bottom of the wall, the ground typically goes half way up the first stone to help prevent shifting and give a clean look.

Retaining walls are a common feature that are poorly built. Often times the builder doesn't understand the importance of a proper foundation and adding proper drainage. Failed Retaining walls are something we come across often. Using these techniques has allowed us to build walls that don't fail and last the test of time; and Manitoba winters.

We've taken the proper training and education to ensure our walls are built to last. We continually update our education and ensure staff are trained to provide the best possible product.

Interested in learning how we build paver patios, walkways and driveways?

Learn more HERE

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