The bigger the project is

The bigger the project is

Homes: Retaining walls require planning

Probably the most popular reason to build a retaining wall is to increase usable yard space.

  • Nov. 1, 2014 10:00 a.m.

Retaining walls are common in the Lower Mainland when it comes to containing gardens and lawns, in large part, because of our region’s rolling geography and sometimes-steep grades of land.

The downside of sitting on top of a hill is that it sometimes leaves you with nothing more than a significant drop-off when you step out the door.

Probably the most popular reason to build a retaining wall is to increase usable yard space, and to add to the overall landscape design of your yard.

Terraced hills with retaining walls and leveling out yard areas that allows enjoyment for kids and guests.

Retaining walls can be substantial undertakings and you’ll want to consider hiring a contractor or landscaper – experienced in building retaining walls – to do this major job for you.

Plan ahead before starting your project. The bigger the project is, the more you’ll have to consider your wall’s ability to hold back soil and rock that is piled up behind it.

That means solidifying and fortifying foundations, making sure you’re using proper building materials and procedures, and acquiring the proper building permits from city hall.

But we don’t all live in mansions and smaller retaining walls are typically used in landscaping to create some depth and perspective in gardens and landscaping.

When it comes to the aesthetic retaining walls, interlocking concrete landscaping stones are the most popular materials for these smaller projects, and are well within the grasp of a determined homeowner.

Keep in mind, however, that any professional landscaper would be more than happy to design your retaining wall and do the grunt work of building it for you if the project sounds like it’s a little out of your league, or liking, to tackle.

According to Home Depot, landscape blocks are among the best ways to build garden retaining walls in a long time.

“Made of precast concrete, they have textured faces that make them look a lot more like stone than concrete,” the Home Depot website says on building these aesthetic walls.

“They require neither footing nor mortar, and stacking them automatically creates a wall that leans into the hillside for strength.”

Two major types exist: lipped and pinned.

The ones with lips work best for this project.

The ones with fiberglass pins are used for large structural walls that require engineers and earthmoving equipment.

Solid landscape blocks are durable and can easily be cut into smaller pieces to offset courses as you build your wall.

The home-maintenance and renovation specialist retail chain recommends wall builders: build and level a trench, lay the first layer of blocks, lay the second course, lay the third courser and some drain pipe, then lay the capstones.

And don’t forget to talk to the good people at city hall. They will advise you on whether or not you will need a building permit to construct your retaining wall.

Building a retaining wall without proper permits can result in municipal directives to tear the wall down at your own cost.

So it’s best to check first.

The Maple Ridge city hall website says, “A retaining wall is defined as any structure over 0.5 of a metre in height at any point along its length.”

To apply for a retaining wall permit from city hall, builders will need:

• two site plans (in metric) showing wall location(s), length of wall, top of wall and bottom of wall elevations at various points along its length, including the highest point along the wall, distance between consecutive tiers of walls, distance from any property lines, and the location of any storm water/rainwater infiltration systems;

• walls over  one metre in height, or tiered walls less than three metres apart, will require two copies of a sealed wall design supplied by a structural and/or geotechnical engineer plus copies of liability insurance and Schedule B.

For walls under 1.0m that are located on properties with a geotechnical covenant registered against it or on properties that may have geotechnical concerns we will require a geotechnical engineer to comment on the impact of the walls on the site.

No matter what the size of your retaining wall project may be, it is wise to get advice and expertise of a landscape designer so you get the best possible results. There’s a wealth of landscaping books, landscaping websites and computer software to draw expertise from.

Drive through neighborhoods or visiting nurseries helps give you ideas for how to creatively design your retaining wall and the landscaping that will go with it.

For a larger project, either for landscaping reasons or to address more practical concerns, get at least three bids from different contractors to ensure that you get the best design and price possible.


– By Kevin Gillies, a freelance writer for Black Press.