Understanding and Following Retaining Wall Guidelines

What is the purpose of a retaining wall? A retaining wall holds soil back, ultimately retaining the earth in place. Retaining walls serve many purposes and are commonly used for earth shoring applications such as roads and bridge approaches, elevated decks and parking structures or even to terrace a slope or a hillside for greater use or stability. Let’s look at the different types of retaining walls, their applications, and the best practices for installing and using them properly.

Retaining Wall Types and Their Applications

There isn’t just one standard retaining wall design. Each wall type has different applications and advantages. These different types include:

Gravity Retaining Walls: This type of wall is often shorter than 4 feet tall but can go as high as 10 feet tall, and it uses its own weight to hold back the soil behind it. These walls use large concrete blocks that interlock and their weight is used to resist and hold back the earth. You also see these types of walls used on smaller scale projects such as for landscaping and terracing a property around a structure. These walls can be constructed of precast blocks, but are often a traditional concrete wall.

Sheet Piling Retaining Wall: This wall type consists of steel panels or planks that interlock together as they are often vibrated into place. Large equipment is required for this type of earth retention and often use where large excavations will be needed for construction. Sheet Piling holds soil back around an excavation needed to install below grade construction such as a basement or underground parking garage. Other applications might include seawalls, roadway and bridge construction.. A sheet piling wall’s height often determines whether it’s needed to be an anchored retaining wall. The taller the shoring wall being or the deeper the excavation alongside the wall, the more anchors or tie backs that may be required to secure the earth retention wall.

Segmental Walls: A segmental wall can be up to 40 feet tall and works the way a gravity wall does, but on a larger scale. It consists of modular, dry-stacked, precast concrete blocks that interlock without mortar between them. This wall type conforms to any shape, straight or curved. Because of this versatility, It has both residential and commercial applications.

Cantilever Walls: This wall type is built in an inverted T shape with mortared masonry or reinforced concrete. The wall’s foundation or footing extends beneath the base of the wall. dThe walls footing is longer on the slope side, also known as the heel, which sits underneath the soil that the wall holds back. The wall’s shorter part, or toe, juts out in front of the wall for stabilization. This wall type works best for deep excavations under 18 feet.

Counterfort Walls: This wall is similar to a cantilever wall because it also has a heel and a toe beneath the wall and the soil. However, this wall type also uses concrete webs called counterforts to reinforce it, and it’s usually taller than a cantilever wall at around 20 to 40 feet.

Panel Walls: Panel walls often consist of concrete panels reinforced with steel. Posts connect each panel to the others. These walls work best in tight commercial spaces with heavy loads, such as highway ramps.

Retaining Wall Guidelines and Best Practices

If you want the strongest retaining wall system for your project, it’s best to follow these guidelines and best practices:

Consider the soil you’re working with: Sandy, dry soils fit best behind retaining walls because they drain water well. Avoid building retaining walls around moist or wet soils such as clay because they won’t easily drain the water they absorb. You should explore the soil characteristics at your project’s site to determine what type of retaining wall will work best. oad-bearing soil factors to consider include stress parameters, load-bearing capacity, and friction angles (how the soil resists movement).

Examine your retaining wall’s location: When you choose a location for your wall, you have to consider many factors. For example, will the wall run near any utility lines or storm water management systems? Does it sit near property lines? The location of these facility components significantly affects where you put your wall and what type of retaining wall will work best.

Consider the land profile and topography: If your wall cuts into a hillside, you’ll have to manage and contend with any excess soil during construction of the retaining wall. Consider how the lay of the land influences the retaining wall’s shape. Should it be straight or curved? Also consider whether parking lots or buildings will be on the site located above or behind the wall. These factors help shape your retaining wall installation.

Install Your Retaining Wall Today With Intech

If your construction project requires a retaining wall, reach out to Intech Anchoring Systems today. We know what retaining walls require, and we’ll help assist you with the selection of the right wall type for your residential or commercial project.

Tim Comb


Tim is the President of Intech Anchoring and has 25 years of experience in the Civil Engineering and Geostructural Industry. Tim has developed extensive industry knowledge by working to support the needs of specialty contractors at each and every business level. Tim’s diverse industry background has given him exposure to a wide variety civil construction projects, ranging from the simplest residential applications to the most complex commercial and industrial projects. Coupled with a highly skilled and educated team, Tim focuses on providing the highest quality products and solutions to Intech Anchoring’s customers in order to consistently exceed expectations.