If your property has a significant slope and you’re looking to create some flat space, you’re going to need a retaining wall. Deciding what type of wall is required is the first step, as there are a lot of options depending on the required height, looks and soil type among others. If you’re simply planning to create a decorative flat area for landscaping (i.e. a raised flower bed), armor stone or patio stones are a good option to hold back the earth, and are fairly simple to build – however, if you’re planning a basement walk-up or other structural type of retaining wall, you’ll need engineered drawings and a building permit.
Retaining walls do just that – retain soil or stone. This means that the wall must be built or anchored in such a way that it will resist the pressure of the soil pushing against it. This is done by anchoring material vertically into the ground with footings or posts, anchoring material horizontally with a ‘deadman’ (a cross created with lumber to anchor into the soil), or by creating a stepped wall.
Retaining walls can be built out of poured concrete, cinder block, pressure treated lumber, steel, and many other materials – be sure to choose the right material for your specific needs. Also be sure to provide for drainage behind the wall, as frost will penetrate through the wall and into the soil – proper drainage with ¾” clear gravel and a weeping tile to remove water will assist to prevent the wall from buckling during the freeze thaw cycle.
The options for design and construction of a retaining wall are almost limitless. Pick up a book on landscaping, do some research and do some retaining of your own!