Concrete retaining wall, Bellingham WA resized 600
This concrete retaining wall in Bellingham uses exposed aggregate concrete for a different look.

Do you live on a hilly or sloped property? Undulating lots certainly are common in Whatcom County.

One way to regain yard space for playing, relaxing, parking or many other uses is to install one or more retaining walls to help level out the property.

Exactly what type of retaining wall you install depends on various factors, including site topography and the look and style you’d like to maintain. The two main styles of retaining walls — stacked stone and cast concrete — offer various benefits. Gabion walls and wood walls also have their place, but in this post we’ll look specifically at what stacked stone and cast concrete would bring to the project. We’ll also look at the factors you’ll want to consider when deciding between these two styles.

Strength. Both stacked stone and poured-in-place concrete (also referred to as cast concrete) walls are strong enough for various applications. However, properly mixed and poured concrete has the potential to be much stronger than a typical stacked stone wall, especially if reinforcing steel is used within the concrete. Retaining walls must be strong enough to withstand not only the gravity load pushing down into the ground, but also the lateral forces of the backfill pushing on the wall from the side. Here in the Pacific Northwest, where frequent rains keep the soil full of water for much of the year, a retaining wall that’s 4 feet tall and 15 feet long will need to withstand up to 20 tons of soil pressure. Of course, the taller the wall, the greater the forces. That’s one reason it’s recommended to hire a professional contractor to build retaining walls that are more than 4 feet high.

Stacked stone retaining walls often need to be tiered to reach desired heights.

Space. The 4-foot limitation for stacked stone walls leads to another consideration — the amount of space that will be required for the retaining wall system. On larger slopes, a tiered approach — with several levels of shorter retaining walls spaced a few feet from each other — can be aesthetically pleasing. Tiered walls also take up more space, however; one 6- or 8-foot cast concrete wall can mean recouping a dozen feet or more of yard space over using stacked stone.

Tiered concrete retaining wall

Speed. Cast concrete retaining walls can be much faster to put in place than stacked-stone walls, but often that consideration is less of an issue on smaller projects. There are many factors to the speed of any job, of course, but a good concrete contractor won’t take long to build forms for a concrete retaining wall and pour the concrete into place. If speed isn’t an issue, and you really want to do the project yourself, you might consider the stacked stone approach — just be careful to consider wall height, drainage and other design issues.

Look. Both stacked stone and poured-in-place walls can take on a variety of appearances, depending on your needs desires as a homeowner. When considering the type of retaining wall you want on your property, it’s a good idea to consult examples online that can serve as models for your contractor. It also would be wise to talk with your contractor about ideas you may not have considered. Keep in mind that while block styles abound, cast concrete offers a variety of interesting styles as well.

If you’re ready to talk with a professional about recovering valuable yard space by installing a retaining wall somewhere in Whatcom County or Skagit County, give our concrete experts a call or send us a note online.