The Function of Residential Stone Retaining Walls

Paradoxically, residential stone retaining walls are such a fixture of the landscape around Omaha and elsewhere in Nebraska that it’s easy to miss them. If you’ve ever wondered whether you need a retaining wall for your home and how best to build one, Breaking Ground has answers.

How Retaining Walls Work: the Why, and the How

Retaining walls get their name because they retain earth and water, preventing soil erosion and controlling drainage on land with a slope. Beyond this, a properly designed and constructed retaining wall can also increase the amount of usable land on your property, since the walls can be deployed in such a way that you can create level areas for construction and landscaping. Smaller walls can even be used to create terraces that subdivide level areas, bringing depth and character to your property. As an added bonus, a retaining wall near a pool, fire feature, or patio can even provide extra seating so you get more enjoyment from the area.

How to Know if You Need a Retaining Wall

There are three chief reasons to build a retaining wall.

Control Erosion

A retaining wall controls erosion in two ways. The most obvious is that it holds back soil, keeping it from going downhill. The other way is by controlling the angle of the slope behind the wall.

Dealing With Soil Stress

In some parts of the country, retaining walls are a hedge against soil fault lines and seismic activity, especially when your home is downhill from the fault. Nebraska isn’t especially prone to earthquakes (usually), but that isn’t the only kind of earth movement that can cause soil erosion; if your home is downhill from a road or highway, the constant traffic can lead to a similar effect over time.

Protecting Foundations and Structures

Gravity tends to have its way even when erosion is well-controlled. Hills can slide, putting pressure on foundations from above and undermining them from below. In time, this can lead to severe foundation and structural damage.

Retaining Wall Design

A well-designed residential exterior stone wall is a perfect balance of form and function. On the one hand, your retaining wall should look attractive and fit the context of your home and design sensibility. On the other, form ought not to come at the expense of function, since your retaining wall is protecting your home. Because of this, the type of retaining wall, its construction, materials used, and accompanying drainage solutions need to be carefully evaluated ahead of time.

Retaining Wall Materials

A typical retaining wall is built using one of three types of material. Timber can be attractive, and is inexpensive; however, it’s also the least durable option since timber can be prone to warping, insect infestation, and rot. Poured concrete is also popular, but can seem drab and utilitarian. The final option is natural or manufactured stone, which is as durable as it is visually indelible.

Building a Retaining Wall in Omaha Nebraska

A quick Google search — perhaps even the same search that led you to Breaking Ground Landscaping — will unearth several DIY tips and tutorials for building a retaining wall. Our advice? Ignore them.

We say this because even if you’re doing it yourself, a retaining wall is an investment; no doubt, it’s one you’d like to last. And in order to work properly, your retaining wall will require a few important things that the average do-it-yourselfer simply doesn’t have:

  • Design experience to ensure a retaining wall that looks like an organic extension of your landscaping and existing architecture.
    Engineering experience that ensures function that matches form, as well as quality that will last for years to come.
  • Quality workmanship, using only the highest quality products from Watkins Concrete Block, a trusted Nebraska stone and concrete supplier.

This is one instance when “good enough” isn’t quite good enough. Done right, your retaining walls will be protecting your home and property. Done wrong, as too often happens on DIY projects, the money you saved in the short term could be wiped out in the blink of an eye, leaving extensive damage and expensive residential stone wall exterior repairs in its wake. Call Breaking Ground for a retaining wall design consultation instead!

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