3 Keys To A Successful Retaining Wall Project

The Pittsburgh area has retaining walls all over the place. At a glance, a typical wall might look like a simple block of stones or timber. But in reality, there is a lot of work that a retaining wall contractor has to do to ensure that these systems are properly installed. Only a well-engineered wall can wage its ongoing battle with the forces of nature that we combat here in southwestern PA.

“Cheap” contractors generally cut corners either on purpose to increase their profits or do not have the expertise required, so their labor cost is lower. You get the job done at a lower price, but at what cost?

Here are 3 keys to make sure you have a successfully completed wall project.

1. Have it built right

All steps of building a retaining wall need to be followed to the letter. Hiring a contractor based on price is asking for trouble.

Well-built retaining walls begin with landscape fabric, backfill, gravel and a drainpipe. If, for example, the backfill is added at the end the wall might not compact thoroughly. It is therefore important that all principles are followed from the start to the end of the project to ensure long-term success. In most cases DIYs are unable to follow the correct guidelines only to end up constructing “half-baked” walls that eventually collapse. That introduces danger to residential and commercial properties.


2. Tiny details matter a lot

All retaining walls should lean into the hill at a particular angle and height. Timber walls for instance should always be tied to the hillside using strong anchors. Other types of walls may require web-like tiebacks or geo-grids. Only a pro will be in a position to adhere to all these guidelines at every step of the way. Remember, retaining walls have to wage the battle of massive forces of nature and therefore need to be properly fitted and fastened to stand the test of time.


3. Getting the right wall for your situation is critical

Timber walls are relatively easier and cheaper to install. Their main downside is that they are not as long-lived as concrete ones. Also, timber components are a bit difficult to manage.

Inter-locking concrete block systems have has the benefit of being extremely strong and durable. On the downside, they require metal pins to bind everything  together and can be a challenge to line-up evenly.

Poured concrete walls are generally the strongest and most durable type of wall that can be built. However, concrete walls cost more per square face foot installed than the others.

This cannot be overstated…it is important that all rules for wall construction are followed very closely. The number of blocks, tiebacks and pins needs to be calculated correctly and there is no room for cutting back to save some money. In addition, when stacking blocks, small pebbles and irregular layers need to be taken into account.


All of this may seem overwhelming (and it can be), that is why we recommend hiring an experienced and professional retaining wall contractor. When you are ready to plan your project, give us a call at 412-203-4698 so we can give you a free estimate!

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