3 Things to Know Before Installing a Retaining Wall, by EP Henry

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A retaining wall can add beauty to an outdoor space, but its true purpose is more functional.

A retaining wall can add beauty to an outdoor space, but its true purpose is more functional. Holding back earth is the primary purpose of a retaining wall. This can be for erosion control or slope stabilization. Retaining walls also can expand usable yard space in a sloping property or create visual interest and function by tiering gardens. Before starting a project, homeowners should be aware of some unique challenges of installing a retaining wall versus a basic garden wall. This isn’t a weekend do-it-yourself project.

Jon Calle, Vice President of Construction at pickeringvalley.com [Pickering Valley Landscape __title__ ] in Elverson, PA, has been installing retaining walls for decades. Jon gave EP Henry 3 key points homeowners should know when considering a retaining wall project.

1. Know what type of wall you need: garden wall or retaining wall?
Jon notes that a retaining wall differs significantly from a simple 1- to 3-foot-high garden wall. “A retaining wall is generally viewed as a taller structure, over 4 feet, having an engineered design,” he said. “[It is] used to more substantially hold back earth when widening a residential driveway or increasing a useable rear yard space.” Jon also cited using retaining walls for creating level spaces for parking lots, roadways, buildings and other commercial and civic structures.

2. Professional design and municipal permits are usually necessary and need to be taken into overall cost considerations
There are two steps in the design process. “The first is the line drawn on the plan showing the envisioned intent. This can be done by the owner, contractor, or a designer,” Jon said. “The line shows straight, curves, and corners along with elevation points.” After a general idea is captured, a professional constructs an engineered drawing. "This is where all the components are combined into a structural system to ensure the retaining wall is built to last. This drawing can only be done by a knowledgeable engineer that can stamp the plan and provide supporting calculations.” Experienced landscaping companies know which permits local municipalities require. Jon said that getting permits can take up to a few months and cost 10% - 15% or more of the total project cost. Walls that are built to last require professional skill sets. EP Henry can help you find an experienced expert in your area.

3. Materials matter.
What a retaining wall finally looks like is only part of the project. “Materials that drive retaining wall design and construction are, first, the obvious block and cap seen as the finished product,” Jon said. “They should be chosen for both structural and aesthetic reasons.” But what goes behind those blocks and caps is equally important. “Hidden components like aggregate, drain pipes, Geogrid, and backfill soil are used to create the wall.” If installed incorrectly with subpar materials, a retaining wall may fail.

Jon talked about some advantages of Segmental Retaining Wall system, a manufactured, complete system for building retaining walls. “Segmental Retaining Wall units come in a range of sizes. In most cases, they are in the 50-90 lb range, so they can be easily hand transported into tight areas on a property with minimal equipment needs. Other systems can require bigger equipment needs,” he said. “The fully-integrated color can be solid, two-toned or even a tri-blend, whereas other systems may require a post construction stain. That adds a step and also the potential for needing staining again.”

A properly installed retaining wall should last a lifetime. And when used to extend your yard for something like a pool deck, patio or gardens, it can provide a lifetime of enjoyment.

About EPHenry®

EP Henry®, the oldest American family-owned and operated manufacturer of unit concrete products in North America, provides the highest quality and broadest product offerings in Hardscaping(™). Based in Woodbury, New Jersey, EP Henry manufactures a wide range of paving stone and retaining wall products, including permeable pavers which are a best management practice (BMP) for stormwater management. EP Henry also offers beautiful patio pavers, outdoor kitchen kits, garden wall solutions and more. For more information on EP Henry Hardscaping products, visit EPHenry.com or call 800-44-HENRY (800-444-3679).

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Jennifer Caviness
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