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Types of Retaining Walls

Concrete and Masonry
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Retaining walls block off sloped inclines and help create flat surfaces for building homes and other structures. If a retaining wall is built incorrectly, then structural damage can cause the wall to rupture. To ensure long-term functionality across a number of applications, several different types of retaining walls have been developed over the years.

Gravity Walls

Gravity retaining walls rely solely on the mass of the wall itself to brace against the weight of soil behind it. Standard gravity walls are typically reserved for heights of no more than four feet. To successfully hold back the surrounding soil and rock, the gravity wall's weight and friction must exceed the force of the earth. For added integrity, the base of these walls is thicker than the peak.

Battering also helps improve structural integrity. "Battering" refers to a backwards slant in the wall. Gravity walls are not ideal at great heights, given that the base of the structure must be at least one half as deep as the total height of the wall.

Cantilever Walls

Cantilever walls are retaining walls primarily used for taller structures. Unlike gravity walls, they incorporate a uniform thickness throughout, and utilize the use of a thick footer to improve load-bearing capabilities. In cases where additional load-bearing is necessary, a buttress may be added to the front of the wall and/or a counterfort installed in the rear.

Of main consideration when building a cantilever wall is the width of the footer. Additionally, steel reinforcement ensures tipping does not occur. Cantilever walls require fewer materials than a gravity wall, and therefore may be more cost effective.

Sheet Pile

Sheet pile walls are simple retaining walls that are sufficient for soft soil applications. The wall consists of planks fabricated from wood, steel or vinyl, which are pressed through the ground. A considerable below-ground depth is required to ensure integrity, with a common rule of thumb being two-thirds of each plank under ground to one-third above ground. For larger sheet pile walls, the inclusion of tie-back anchors may be necessary. Anchors are cables or stays that are fastened to the rock or soil behind the wall.


Soil-nailed walls incorporate steel-reinforced bars to improve the load-bearing qualities of the wall. These bars are inserted vertically into the wall and grouted into place. Precast concrete panels often incorporate pre-drilled holes for the insertion of such reinforcement bars.

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