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If you have slopes on your property then you know they can be a headache. Not only can they leave you with washouts during storms, but can also be a nuisance to mow or pull weeds. Steep slopes can make you feel as though you can’t fully utilize your yard.

This can be frustrating to say the least.

Fortunately, there are solutions out there. Grading and a retaining wall at your Alexandria or Arlington, VA home could make it possible to get more use out of your property—all while eliminating those headaches such as trying to mow on a hill. You can stop worrying about every rainstorm creating a mudslide in your backyard and start spending more time actually enjoying the space.

While you may have seen retaining walls on other properties, you might not have any clue what’s involved or how much they cost. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide on everything you need to know about this hardscape feature.

Considerations for Building a Retaining Wall in Alexandria or Arlington, VA

While retaining walls are almost always added to a property for functional purposes, sometimes homeowners do choose to add them as purely decorative additions. Of course, when built properly, a retaining wall can be both functional and aesthetically beneficial.

There are actually many ways to get creative with retaining walls and to, therefore, make them an aesthetically appealing addition to your property. If you’ve searched for retaining walls ideas online, then you know that there are many different looks and features that can make a wall an exciting feature. We’ll get more into material choices in a bit (which will obviously have a big impact on the overall look) but there’s more to it than that. There are also retaining walls with steps, with railings, which are made for seating, and even those which incorporate lights. Don’t feel as though you have to be limited to a plain, boring wall.retaining wall built with stacked stone

Another consideration to take into account is the retaining wall’s height. One thing that a lot of people don’t think about when considering a retaining wall project is that there may be guidelines to adhere to. Homeowners want a 4- or 5-foot wall but don’t realize that there are added expenses and red tape as it gets taller. That’s because different localities have different requirements regarding height.

For instance, in Fairfax County, VA, anything that is below 3 feet would not require a permit and can be built right away. However, anything that is built above 3 feet will require going through the permitting process and may even need to be signed off on by an engineer.

We have worked on projects like that when the homeowner really wanted a tall wall. However, we have also been able to make suggestions, such as building two shorter walls to terrace the areas by having them “step down.” This can achieve the same goal as one big wall.  

Retaining Walls Cost Expectations and Materials

The material that your retaining wall is built from will dramatically impact the cost of the project. Retaining walls cost varies drastically depending upon numerous factors such as:

  • Materials used
  • Site accessibility
  • Wall length and height
  • Backfill and drainage needed

It’s really difficult to merely state a cost per cubic foot since site conditions will fluctuate so much. A retaining wall project could literally range from $2,000 to $100,000+. However, one of the factors actually in your control is are the materials selected. There are 3 key choices when it comes to retaining wall materials, each costing a bit more than the last.

Least Expensive: Timber

A timber (or wood) retaining wall is the least expensive option. While it’s not going to be your most attractive option, it will do the functional job that you need it to do.retaining wall built with treated wood

Homeowners often opt for timber if the wall is in an area of their property that’s not in prime view. If it’s a wall that will hardly ever be seen, perhaps on the side of the property, then you may not care about how it looks so much as it’s stopping erosion. The downside to timber is that it’s a material which will eventually deteriorate and need to be replaced. If you’re not staying in your home for more than 5 to 10 years or you’re on a really tight budget, you may be able to overlook this downside.

Mid-Range Option: Segmental Block

This is easily the most popular choice for retaining walls. It’s a man-made material that falls in the middle range in terms of cost, more than timber but less than natural stone. Segmental block comes in a variety of colors and textures, giving you a lot of options for customization. You can make a highly attractive wall out of segmental block which will also serve your functional needs. Unlike timber, segmental block will not deteriorate and will stand the test of time.retaining wall built with segmental blocks

Most Expensive Option: Natural Stone

Natural stone is the most expensive of the retaining wall material choices. Natural stone is gorgeous and one-of-a-kind. It would easily be considered the most aesthetically appealing option and will add value to your home. Even so, it’s cost makes it prohibitive for some budgets.retaining wall built with natural stone

Retaining Wall Companies in Alexandria, Arlington, and Springfield, VA

If you’re interested in going forward with a retaining wall, then you may be searching for retaining wall companies or landscapers online. It’s important for you to recognize that not all retaining wall companies are created equal. What separates a good hardscaping company from a hack is a company that doesn’t cut corners and builds the wall the right way. stacked retaining wall in front yard in Arlington, VA

Unfortunately, it’s actually quite difficult to identify if a company has cut corners. The best way to know that a company isn’t going to build your wall the right way is if they offer a very low price for the work. Unscrupulous contractors might fail to excavate your foundation properly or fail to install drainage, and this can shave as much of a third off the cost of a project. But it will also set your retaining wall up for failure.

When water behind the wall can’t properly drain, it’s going to build pressure behind the retaining wall. This is eventually going to cause it to lean. On top of that, if your foundation is weak or it lacks footing, it’s not going to be able to sustain that lean and will eventually fall. At the very least, you’re out your investment in the wall and have to start over from scratch (using a reputable company this time). At the most, the falling wall could injure someone on your property—which is devastating in and of itself. But it also sets you up for a serious liability. Since it’s your property, you’ll be liable if someone gets hurt.

For these reasons, it’s important that you choose a company who you feel is going to build your wall properly from the get-go. Even if that means paying a little bit more, it will be worth the investment in a wall that will stand the test of time. When built properly, your retaining wall should never lean or fall. This is important for aesthetics, too. A retaining wall isn’t going to add value or appeal to your property if it fails.

Experience Matters

brick retaining wall in front yardFinding the best company for your project means choosing a company that has a lot of experience building retaining walls. The truth is, not every company does. Some landscaping companies might think it’s a simple enough job (even if they haven’t done them before) but the fact is, a retaining wall is actually one of the most complicated hardscape elements you can add outside your home. The importance of constructing it right so that it functions properly is absolutely critical.  

At Kingstowne, we have built hundreds of retaining walls over the years. That means we not only have a lot of retaining walls ideas on how to make them more aesthetically appealing and unique for your property, but we also know how to build them right so that you can feel confident your wall won’t begin to structurally fail as time goes on.

With a project as important as this one—which is intended to make your yard more functional—you deserve that peace of mind. 

If you’re looking for some guidance on adding a retaining wall, request a consultation, get your customized plan, and relax knowing you’re in good hands.

Request a Landscape Consultation

Krisjan Berzins - Owner, CEO

Since 1997, Krisjan has led the Kingstowne team with one simple philosophy, treat every customer like the “only” customer. His passionate pursuit of impeccable customer service has resulted in 24 successful years and a thriving company with over 85 employees, helping thousands of homeowners in the Alexandria, Arlington, and Springfield, VA area get what they want -- a worry-free property they can be proud of.