Help choose retaining wall material

waltbscOctober 9, 2011

I would like some opinions on retaining wall material. WeâÂÂve had 23 treeâÂÂs (Bradford pear and pine) and numerous old shrubs removed in the past two months. WeâÂÂve started planting new material and will finish the front yard and plantings along the fence in a few weeks.

IâÂÂm torn on what material to use for the wall. Do we go with the manufactured blocks that seem to last for years without worry of cracking??? WeâÂÂre not thrilled with the look but once everything is planted around the pool and mature a couple years will you really see it? I have two friends in the landscape industry (one with engineering degree) that will install the wall so it will be built correctly. The highest point is 41â and my friend said he would still like to use a couple layers of geogrid just becauseâ¦..

I like the look of stucco and stone but do these walls last as long as the manufactured blocks? I know itâÂÂs all about installation but this is where I would have to find someone since I donâÂÂt know anyone that would build this type of wall. IâÂÂm guessing as long as a liner is used behind the cinder block that would help with moisture issueâ¦rebar should help with stability, etcâ¦

And then there is classic brick which I think may fit our landscape best but is it âÂÂold school??? Too much since our house is brick??? I would face the same issue as the stucco wall since this would be applied to the block.

We may be adding additional decking as the plan shows but that will happen later next year. If youâÂÂre wondering about the blue paint, that was not usâ¦haha WeâÂÂve been here since May 2010 and we think blue was the previous owners favorite color but that too will be changed.

What do you think?

Front right after tree/shrub removal

When we moved in



The plan

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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

wonderfully formal brick house. great traditional bones.

You're not going to get a thumbs up from me in regards to using pre cast concrete block retaining wall systems. I'm terribly biased and admit it readily.
I appreciate why they are used : They require little skill to set up once the foudation and first course is set and they are wayyyyyyy cheaper than a stone masonry wall. To my eye though, they scream commercial construction.

The cost of a stucco wall, depending on how you frame and build it is a tad bit more expensive that the engineered blocks. You might consider it and cap it with a nice brick bullnose and brick molding.

I'm going to sound like a broken record and mention that it would be a very good value for you to get a landscape designer on board to help you with the hardscape layout of the newly extended patio areas, walls, drainage , and any additional outdoor amenities such as the outdoor bbq area and fire ring.

Preparing a master plan will greatly help you clarify your installation costs so that you can understand if you can do this all in one phase or over a period of time .
It will help you develop an attack plan and help you narrow down and choose your finish materials.

As a precurser, I would recommend a book by Taunton Press called "Outdoor Kitchens that Work" - ( exclaimer - I have about a dozen or so projects in this book but I still think it is a great resource and reference book ) It will help you with spatial planning aroung the bbq grill, the pool, the wall, space required for lounge chairs, dining and firepit area.

It has a ton of photos of differnt types of finishes in regards to walls.

Here is a link that might be useful:;feat=directlink

    Bookmark   October 10, 2011 at 4:09PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

No opinion on the type of wall, I'm afraid, but curious why you kept the shrubs close to the front of the house. The one magnolia looks a bit close to me but I can see why you'd keep that, but I'm not sure I would compound the error by putting another tree (the redbud) that close to the house.

Karin L

    Bookmark   October 10, 2011 at 8:41PM
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Stucco and stone flat out does not go with the house nor with the natural wood background looking away from the house. Nor does the concrete prefab block for that matter.
Next to the house, in the back yard I would carry on the formal theme of the front with the more manicured look. Looking away from the house you could go a lot less formal as you already have the wooded backdrop to tie into. Boulders coming down the hill with plantings and no real wall at all would fit. If you used brick to match the house then you are back to the more formal look, if that is what you want.
I would cover up the cyclone fence with more plantings to mimic the other side of the yard for privacy as well as backdrop.
What ever wall material you choose I would leave some planting area in front of it to keep it from looking so sanitary/commercial.

Here is a link that might be useful: rock wall

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 6:59AM
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In my opinion, the manufactured block retaining wall systems have a look that leans toward institutional/commercial. I would not consider it the best look for your home. I love brick, but brick everything (unless highly detailed,integrated or coordinated) can give a "governmental-ish" look. I could see certain stucco/stone combinations working, but they would have to be done exactly perfectly. Stucco is not my favorite. It's higher maintenance long term and, again, the details must be perfect or it can look cheap. I don't think you can do better than stone or simulated stone (some of which is so good that, with proper application, one cannot tell the difference.) For looks alone you can't beat quality stone. But please, no "pasted on" looking "flagstone". That looks horrible....there are ways to ruin everything. There's no problem with durability with real stone. There's ways' to build a sturdy block wall and face it with simulated so that would not be an issue either.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 5:30PM
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Maybe stating the obvious but budget is the element that will decide this question. Lego blocks will serve the purpose and cost the least and also look fugly. A custom designed solution like Michelle shows will serve the purpose, will look 'of a piece' with its surroundings and will cost more.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 6:25PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Disclaimer: I-am-not-a-pro. And I have no idea how this would compare with the cost of anything else that's been mentioned.

I think building the wall of red brick to match the house would be a bit much, even if mostly covered by foliage.

You already have brick with mortar (on the house) and a plain-color concrete area around the pool. Rather than add a new color, I would want the wall to be a fairly close match for the concrete in color.

I would look for manufactured "bricks" made for walls -- something designed to look like sandstone. So that no one even thinks about cinder blocks, choose something with a size about halfway between house bricks and cinder blocks (say 5-6" x 10-12" or so). To tie in with the house brick and the concrete pool surround, choose a product with sharper edges rather than a tumbled texture.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 7:06PM
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Hi everyone - Thanks for the responses, much appreciated!

karinl - About the shrubs...we couldn't bring ourselves to tear out more shrubs. There were six pine, three bradford pear and four wax myrtles that were removed from the front. Two tree's fell on the center bed and bed to the right under the maple taking out 10 camelia's in shrub form that had been here for 13 years according to the neighbor..we've only been here 1 1/2 years. The shrubs are 2-3' from the foundation and the tree in the alcove is around 10'. The holly's have been cut back and boxwood trimmed up..looks much better now.

The cyclone is definitely an eyesore and we've been living with it for two months now but there were many tree's in the back along with overgrown azalea's, holly's and some mystery shrubs. We had someone with a backhoe come in and dig everything up...we should have our privacy back in a few weeks. I found some nice Little Gems 10-12' and ligustrums are 5' so we'll have a good start.

About the wall, we won't be choosing any SRW block and are leaning towards brick or brick/stucco. I think we'll end up shortening the sides around 10' and just grade the area since it's not that bad.

I have two masons coming this week to provide a quote and I've already got pricing on the brick so we'll see!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 7:58PM
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The brick and stucco as shown should tie into the house very well. The red brick with the white trim on the house and the red brick without to much stucco on the wall is great. It seems as though your wall will be a lot lower than many of those shown in the pics. About 4 foot? You may have to make some elevation changes in the ground to pull off this design.
For something a little less costly you could also go the red brick with a white precast concrete or limestone cap. The columns could have some white precast ornamentals on top.
Don,t forget to have this built structurally correct. Brick masons usually don't have the knowledge required for this. The wall will have a lot of pressure behind it from both dirt and water.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2011 at 6:42AM
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The wall is 41" at the highest point. I talked to Mason #1 in length last night and he recommends building the wall with 8" block, using rebar and filling the blocks with concrete for stability, all on a 1' footer. He will then face the block with brick and cap as we wish. I will have my landscape friends come in and take care of the drainage, backfill, etc... He has built many walls and has been in the masonry business for 30 years.

I haven't had much luck finding precast concrete caps at a decent price. I was quoted $30 ft at the brick company. I do like the look of the white caps but I will need to find better pricing to make that happen. If not, it will be capped with a solid brick header.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2011 at 8:04AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

That's exactly how we would build it.

Novascapes, the masonry trade has a different opinion than yours in regards to brick masons not having the knowledge for hydrostatic pressure and correct engineering techniques. Just look around at most of the brick buildings and walls that have been surviving since the 18th century. I think they kinda know how to structrually build a wall, and if they didn't they wouldn't have been able to pass the modern day masonry contractors test to obtain their license.
- deviant deziner, a forth generation mason.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2011 at 12:05PM
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brick with colums.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 7:43PM
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We are building our retaining wall soon. We are using the ugly cinder block for the wall structure but we are going to cover it with a smooth stucco and cap it off with pre cast. It was a way to cut the cost but maintain the integrity of the wall.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 2:33PM
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