Project Challenge: The Existing Leaning Retaining Wall

Many of the customers that call me have a problem!  (No, I am not the problem.) These customers normally need me to help them with a design or construction flaw existing on their property. The customer's ‘pain’ can run the gamut of potential problems: Anything from improper grading and drainage, maintenance, planting design, installation, or improper construction of elements on their property.  I recently met with a new customer in Kernersville who had a VERY big problem.   Her large retaining wall was falling down. The background: Her home was built 20 years ago on a challenging lot sloped to the backyard. In creating a walk-out basement, the builder had to construct a retaining wall. This completely unattractive block and stucco wall ran the length of her long driveway and connected to the corner of the house. It was 1’ in height at the upper part of the drive, ending at 7’ tall when it connects to the house.

The problem (and it appeared was the same problem with similar homes in the neighborhood) was that the existing retaining wall was heaving. When I say heaving – I mean the whole wall was cracked and being heaved onto the existing concrete driveway.  This could have been a potentially dangerous situation, if the wall were to suddenly fail completely. This homeowner did not want to be faced with an urgent situation, so she contacted me. I was there to inspect the wall and come up with ideas on how we could alleviate this situation and create a beautiful and functional wall system. She also hoped this would improve the resale value of her home, which she hoped to put on the market in the spring.

The options: In situations like this, we have several options to replace the retaining wall. In the Triad area, the choices normally are:

·        Pressure Treated Lumber
·        Concrete Segmented Retaining Wall
·        Block Wall veneered with stone or brick

The benefits and detriments of each can be weighed based on the long term goals of the customer. I almost never use the pressure treated lumber option because of several reasons: First the wood product is a natural material still subject to decay. The customer could probably get about 8 years out of this wall before they would begin to see cracking and decay and would need to replace it. Second, I consider the chemicals that are leached directly into the soil from these products to be environmentally dangerous. Third, the cost savings on the wood retaining wall is offset by the future need to replace it. Normally once that option is removed, I move to the concrete segmented retaining wall as a better second option.

Newline Cornerstone Retaining Wall

Newline Cornerstone Retaining Wall

The final option of the concrete block veneered with brick or stone is many times also a great option. The brick and stone creates a beautiful and elegant wall, with great opportunities for retaining the value of the project into the resale value of the home.  I normally select this option depending on the value of the home, the neighborhood and the future plans and goals of the homeowner.

The Final Decision:

I recommended to this homeowner that we use the concrete segmented retaining wall. I made this choice for several reasons:  First, the price point was on target in light of their decision to put the house on the market so soon.  Second, the fluid design of the wall really created a new sense of interest in the area, while still maintaining the strength needed in the wall.
The wall unit we chose was a Newline Segmented Retaining Wall- in the style Cornerstone. They chose a nice neutral tan color to complement the house color.  These wall units are available in the Triad at Marshall Stone in Colfax. They also have a great selection of stone products. You can read more about their products and projects on their blog at:

Check out the final design above. Finally, we added interesting, but cost effective plant material in the area to help showcase the wall, as well as, stage the home for the sale in the spring. The plant material we used were: Dwarf Yaupon Holly, Indian Hawthorne, Dwarf Nandina, Arbovitae, Variegated Liriope, Sky Pencil Holly and Crape Myrtles.

Have a problem? Don’t let your problem area get you down, contact a professional for an assessment. Together we can come up with a solution that is beautiful, functional and cost effective.

About the Author:

Lori Hawkins, RLA, ASLA has been a registered landscape architect and active in the landscape design/build industry for over 25 years. For additional inspiring project pictures, design ideas, or great garden gifts, take a look at these websites: