By Adrianna Noton
Homes nestled against a hillside or built on a slope often have yard areas that are ideal for building retaining walls. Designed to enhance the landscaping and prevent serious erosion, these attractive barriers can totally change the visual impact of a yard, giving it depth and appeal. With a wide variety of materials and unlimited design opportunities, a wall can create individual spaces and pathways that are not only attractive, but functional.
While these walls can be made of nearly any material strong enough to withstand the forces of nature, precast concrete stones are one of the most popular choices. They do not require mortar, making them easier to assemble on site. Since the pieces interlock, the final assembly is able to hold back soil and moisture without buckling. They are, however, limited to around three feet in height.
Masonry blocks are also very popular. Because of their solidity and weight, they are one of the most widely used materials in landscape construction. The blocks require mortar to hold the individual pieces together, but once built, masonry works well in areas with wet climates. These blocks look good with little or no ornamentation, but the design possibilities are limitless.
Other popular materials include keystone blocks, often designed specifically for this type of use. They are relatively lightweight, and rely on their interlocking properties to remain intact. Segmented concrete blocks work similarly, and do not require construction skills with mortar. They are available in a variety of colors and shapes, and give the yard a sophisticated look.
The most versatile material is called manufactured block, because it can be made to order. It comes in many natural-looking shades, shapes, and styles, and can be made to mimic other natural materials such as river stone or even wood. In many areas, landscapers enjoy using real stones of various shapes and sizes, stacked together randomly to create a barrier that looks natural.
If you decide to make this a do-it yourself project, have a cohesive and logical plan in mind ahead of time. Do not assume things will somehow fall into place without forethought or accurate measurements. It can be very important to create a sketch that accurately reflects where you want the curves to be, the location of any stairs, and where the corners will connect with the house.
Even if you are not an accomplished artist, this will establish a rough estimate of the materials needed, including specially ordered styles or colors. The measurements you choose can also actually determine which materials will work best on your property, because taller retainers require specific engineering. Without planning and knowledge of what is needed, construction can become an expensive frustration.
If managing the materials, placement, foundations and dealing with other construction requirements seems too complicated, then speak to a landscaping professional who has past experience building retaining walls, and has pictures of his or her work. The extra cost involved will more than pay for itself in saved time, money, and the final product. The end result will very likely be a professional-looking job that will be enjoyed for years to come.
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