Expert Tips for Selecting the Right Material for Your Retaining Wall

Author: Touré Foster

Posted in: Retaining Walls

Retaining Wall Material – Natural Stone, Concrete Blocks, Wood Timbers

The retaining wall has grown in popularity over the years as a way to transform the landscape of homes. Often they are used to stabilize earth while providing a beautiful addition to your landscaping. Whenever you start the process of building a retaining wall, one of the big decisions that you face is how to choose the type of retaining wall material that is right for your project. There is a variety of different materials available that may be the best for your project. In order to decide, you will need to take into consideration:

  • Your total budget
  • The purpose of the wall
  • The overall look

In addition to considering these factors, you should have a basic understanding of how we build a retaining wall. Both of these will help you make your final decision. This is important, regardless of whether you choose concrete blocks, wood timbers or natural stone.

Reasons to Install Retaining Walls

There are several good reasons to install a retaining wall on your property. Not only are they functional, they are also aesthetically pleasing. Here are some of the benefits of retaining walls:

  • Remove undesirable slopes
  • Change the flow of water and prevent flooding
  • Prevents erosion and helps maintain yard
  • Can protect property or other structures (such as pools)

Types of Retaining Wall Material

Retaining walls can be made out of many types of materials. Here we’re going to look at four types of materials that cover the range from basic to rustic, simple to time-intensive.

  • Cinder block
  • Concrete blocks
  • Wood timbers
  • Natural Stone

Each of these retaining walls have their own place. Some are more functional, some are more decorative, but all are excellent choices under the right circumstances.

Cinder Block

One of the most common types of retaining walls is the cinder block retaining wall. The biggest difference from between cinder and concrete (though they are often confused) is that Concrete blocks contain aggregates (a mixture of substances) with their Portland cement base. Cinder blocks do not include aggregates (with Portland cement base) but instead include cinder ashes. Cinder blocks are lighter than concrete and are hollow but are still strong and very easy to work with.


Concrete blocks are very popular when it comes to building retaining walls. These blocks give you a very diverse range of styles, shapes. They also come in a uniform package that is relatively easy to install. One of the top reasons that this type of material is chosen is because it is relatively inexpensive. Plus they can be used to create curved walls.

The most common size of concrete walls is about 4 feet high. If you need to build a wall higher than 4 feet tall, you should consider a different type of material. Concrete blocks lack footings and do not have the strength to build a safe and secure wall that is any taller than that.

Concrete retaining walls have become popular over the years due to this reliability. They are built on gravel bases and secured with pins after being stacked. This allows for a small amount of flexibility as the ground shifts, while still maintaining strength.

In regards to drainage, concrete walls create an ideal drainage environment, as you can modify them in any way necessary.

Wood Timbers

Wooden walls have seen a drop in popularity due to the increasing availability of alternatives, and the higher maintenance and shorter replacement times. However, if you have a rustic or old fashioned looking house this might be the right option for you, as the timber will accent well. It is also a cheaper alternative to its stone counterparts.

Many homeowners choose a retaining wall made of wood timbers for many of the same reasons as natural stone. Under the right settings, timber walls can blend perfectly into your landscape. It has a more natural look than some other materials. In addition to this natural look, timber walls have a fairly low cost and are very easy to construct.

When installing a timber retaining wall, the main concern is water. Because it is made of wood, proper drainage is needed so that it does not accumulate. Furthermore, the timbers should be properly sealed to help prevent rot and damage. With the proper care and professional installation, a wood timber retaining wall can look great for many years to come.

Natural Stone

Natural stone retaining wall

Natural stone is by far the most natural choice for creating a retaining wall of any type. This type of wall creates a very rustic, colonial or country feel for your yard and garden. Though it is typically more expensive than a concrete block wall, their natural beauty is worth the extra expense.

Natural stone walls is one of the more time-intensive types of retaining walls. Loose stone or “dry stack” walls don’t use mortar in the wall itself. However, it’s more complicated than just stacking rocks.

First a footer is put into place and then larger rocks are placed as steps or back-slanted before the face in front is stacked with loose rocks. Finding the right rocks and in the quantity to have a perfect fit means a lot of time and effort, but the payoff is a natural and beautiful looking retaining wall.

Drainage can be an issue with natural stone. The contractor that builds the wall must install the proper drainage system. If they don’t do it correctly, you run the risk of water accumulation wearing at the integrity of the wall.

Which type of retaining wall material will you choose?

Whether you choose one of the popular materials above, or decide to go with other retaining wall material options such as stone veneer, it is important to focus on drainage and the overall function of the wall itself. Combine this with a great look, and you can use retaining walls for a number of purposes around your landscaping to help enhance your home’s beauty and improve its function.

No matter what type of size retaining wall you want, here at New England Enterprises in Marlborough, MA, we’re experts in building walls. From concrete, to cinder, to natural stone, and wooden, we’ve got the tools and experience to build what you are looking for, on budget. Contact us to learn more and get a consultation on the job, including a detailed plan on your project and an estimation of cost.