What do I need to consider before planning a retaining wall?

Retaining walls have been used for years in order to retain soil, but when cleverly designed they can provide a range of other functions.

Perhaps you would like create different levels and structure in your yard, defining distinctive and functional multi-use spaces, or maybe you want to control the flow of rainwater better.

Whatever your reason for investing in a retaining wall, our team of Landscaping experts have outlined below some things to consider before planning a retaining wall.

Do I need permits and engineering?

The purpose of a retaining wall is to retain your soil and garden, so it is vital that it is constructed properly. If your retaining wall is going to be over a metre in height it will require a permit, engineering and soil testing to ensure it stands the test of time under different weather conditions and landscaping functions.

Before beginning construction, you will also need to check the location of your services such as power, water and gas to ensure you don’t damage any of them in the excavation process. Most of your services are located in your front yard, but you should always check with Dial Before You Dig before commencing any landscaping project.

In Melbourne, if your retaining wall is designed to sit close to the boundary of your property, or is being installed over an easement, you will also need a special permit from your local council.

At Creative Image Landscapes, we know it can be tricky to decipher all the drawing, rules, and permits so we organise any required engineering and permits on your behalf. This way you can feel comfortably knowing you are completely covered, without lifting a finger.

Is drainage important?

Drainage may not be the first thing that comes to mind when planning your new retaining wall, but it is by far the most important factor to consider.

If you don’t arrange proper drainage before or after installing your retaining wall, you can have water pooling issues, water damage to the retaining wall and surrounding elements, and your retaining wall can even lean or buckle under the excessive pressure.

Be sure to check with your local landscaper that they have a drainage and membrane plan before beginning any retaining wall project.

What are the most popular material options in Melbourne?

Timber sleepers:

Timber sleepers are traditionally the retaining wall material of choice, with the timber initially used for old railways years ago.

Nowadays, there are a range of hardwoods or treated pine sleepers to choose from, as well as different stains to suit the aesthetic of your landscaping.

The timber sleepers are supported by either strong galvanised steel or vertical timber posts, depending on your design requirements and style preferences.

The galvanised steel has durability benefits, often outlasting the timber posts, but with completely different appearance, your selection of post material really depends on the desired look you would like to achieve.

Timber sleepers are the most budget friendly option of all the materials and are usually used when the retaining wall is not a main feature of your outdoor space.

Concrete sleepers

Concrete sleepers are often selected for their durability, generally lasting a lifetime. The concrete is pre-cast to come in a range of styles, created to mimic the look of natural timber, smooth slate, aged stone and industrial concrete. These are installed similarly to timber, with galvanised steel posts. Concrete sleepers can provide some advantages in terms of budget, as they do not require as much waterproofing as the other materials.

Concrete masonry blocks

Concrete masonry blocks are available in a range of sizes, colours and textures. Like concrete they are an extremely durable material, and are installed with strengthening reinforcements. These blocks are designed to be stacked, so there is no need for posts with this material. Although these blocks are generally used in commercial landscaping due to their robust aesthetic, they can be used masterfully in residential applications.

Stone cladding

Stone cladding boasts the most aesthetic flexibility of all the materials used for retaining walls, delivery the biggest visual impact. This is due to the different shapes, shades and sizes of the pieces of loose stone, creating endless design outcomes.

There are various types of stone cladding includes slate, granite, limestone, sandstone and travertine, which can all be used to create a striking retaining wall feature. The stone is generally cladded onto a concrete wall using a special adhesive and there is no need for timber or steel posts. Its versatile nature also allows for creating consistency throughout your outdoor space, with the ability to use the same stone for elements such as outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and paving.

Rendered wall

Built from blocks, the rendered retaining wall can be rendered and finished with different textures and colours.

In summary

Timber and concrete sleeper retaining walls

  • Best where they are not really going to be seen
  • Tight access (can be built in narrow spaces) and also take up less room than block walls etc
  • Cheaper alternative than other retaining wall options
  • Quick and cost affective to build

Rendered retaining walls

  • Constructed of concrete blocks laid on a concrete footing that are core filled on completion, so they can be used structural purposes eg support a slab, a pool fence installed on, structures to be built to.
  • Perfect to tie in with house exterior/ render etc
  • More of a feature

Stone cladding walls

  • Constructed exactly the same way as rendered retaining walls, except one has render on it and one has stone.
  • More of a feature statement

Do I need a landscaper to construct my retaining wall?

It may seem simple to construct a timber retaining wall, however a professional landscaper has years of experience navigating issues they have come across and crafting their trade, potentially saving you from a nightmare down the track.

It is common for a professional landscaper to come across DIY retaining walls tilting and falling over due to incorrect depth of post holes, no waterproofing or drainage and lack of engineering planning in general. The pressure of the weight of the embankment can cause serious problems, and at times can even cause damage to the stability of your home, so it can pay to call in the experts.

Sometimes DIY projects don’t go as planned, so it is best to select a qualified landscaper with professional equipment and insurance so you know your family and property are protected in the rare case of a mishap.

Landscapers not only extensively know the do’s and don’ts of retaining walls, but they have invested years of building relationships with suppliers, often sourcing products that aren’t available to the public at the same prices. They can also recommend design ideas to make your retaining wall a masterpiece, such as the addition and placement of lighting and protruding benches or seating.

If you choose a Master Landscaper you know your landscaper is always up to date with the latest trends, laws and techniques to create a safe, long-lasting and stunning retaining wall for your backyard.  At Creative Image Landscapes we also manage all aspects of your design, planning, engineering and permits to make the best use of your space and provide a hassle-free solution for your brand-new retaining wall.

Retaining walls can be an attractive and practical addition to your backyard, but there are so many things to consider before beginning construction. If you would like some assistance in planning your new retaining wall for your Melbourne home, please contact our team of experienced landscapers for some ideas!

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