Retaining walls are a convenient way to fulfill both the aesthetic and the practical landscaping needs of your yard. But unless you build correctly, you may end up with a wall that begins collapsing before you know it. If you are considering building a retaining wall, read on. This article will outline three tips to ensure you end up with a wall that lasts for years to come.
Limit the height to three feet.
A retaining wall isn't just a wall--it's a wall that is responsible for holding back the large, heavy mass of soil behind it. This soil is commonly known as the failure plane. To put things simply, the taller your wall, the greater the amount of pressure that the failure plane will exert on it.
Therefore, as an amateur, you should limit yourself to a wall height of three feet. Bear in mind that this height doesn't just refer to the visible part of the wall; it should include the bottom layer of foundation as well. Anything taller than three feet will require the kind of engineering know-how that only a professional landscape contractor can bring.
Build on solid ground.
In order for your wall to stand the test of time, it has to be built on firm ground--not simply the top of your lawn. Plan to excavate a base that lies a minimum of 1" below the top layer of soil for every 8" of wall. Once you've calculated this amount, add another four inches to accommodate a 4" layer of patio paver base.
After having dug to the determined depth, the soil will need to be compacted with a soil tamper. If you don't already own this tool, contact a landscaping supply store in your area. Not only may it be possible to rent a tamper and other landscape supplies for the duration of your project, but they will also be able to give you helpful advice about how to use it.
Once you've tamped the soil completely, add your paver base and compact once more. Then, before you begin to lay the bottom layer of wall, use a level to ensure that the base is even. Add more paver base as necessary to get a level base.
Promote drainage with a layer of gravel.
The force exerted on a wall by the failure plane is always greater in regions with harsh winters. You see, when the soil freezes, it will expand. Normally this expansion causes the ground heave upward. But, because a retaining wall offers less resistance than solid earth, it will end up bearing a large proportion of this expansive force.
Fortunately, the damage this expansion would otherwise wreak can be minimized by adding a vertical layer of crushed gravel to the backside of the wall. This will have two beneficial effects. First, it will buffer your wall from damp soil. Second, it will allow excess water to drain out of the failure plane, thus reducing the amount of expansion when freezing weather sets in.
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