House & Home

Concrete Retaining Wall Pros and Cons

Posted January 10, 2015

Retaining walls built of stone or brick are the traditional style and usually blend nicely into their surrounding landscape. The question is, though: are these really the best materials for the job today? The purpose of a retaining wall in a residential setting is to “correct” the natural slope of the grounds, leaving a level area for gardening, building a patio, or otherwise enjoying more of your property than you would otherwise be able to. This function calls for a huge amount of strength, endurance, and resistance to the elements. Nowadays, concrete may be the material that best fits the bill. Let’s look at the pros and cons of installing a concrete retaining wall on your land.


Choice. There are three basic types of concrete retaining wall installation: concrete blocks, precast concrete panels, or poured-in-place concrete. This allows you the flexibility to choose the method that’s right for your situation.

Strength. Concrete is extremely strong, which is a vital quality when you’re talking about holding up tons of earth and water. What’s more, after installation, your concrete retaining wall will continue to cure in place, further increasing its strength.

Durability. A concrete wall can stand up to the test of time, often lasting for a century or longer.

Resistance. Do you want a retaining wall that’s fireproof, rot-proof, and rustproof? Concrete’s right for the job. Precast concrete also tends to be exceptionally resistant to road salts and freeze-thaw cycles in harsh winter climates.

Ease of installation. It is usually faster and easier to install a concrete retaining wall compared to other, much more labor-intensive types.

Flexibility. Concrete will allow you to build curves, angles, or staircases into the retaining wall design with a minimum of difficulty.

Good looks. Say goodbye to the boring gray concrete of yesteryear. Today’s concrete offers you a plethora of design and color possibilities. It can be made to look like a variety of materials, such as stone, or it may be faced with a natural stone veneer. There are special stains for coloring concrete to the shade of your choice.

Low maintenance. Low-maintenance concrete walls will require a simple cleaning only once annually, plus occasional inspection for cracks or other evidence of wear and tear. They are easy to patch with mortar.

Eco-friendliness. Concrete walls are non-toxic and do not off-gas allergens or dangerous chemicals. They are constructed out of natural materials, like clay, limestone, fly ash, or slag, which are normally sourced locally or recycled from manufacturing processes.

Affordability. The cost of a concrete retaining wall installation is mid-range, giving you an excellent cost-benefit ratio.


Design demands. A retaining wall built of concrete must be carefully designed, with effective support and adequate drainage. It is not a DIY project.

Challenges of installation. Pouring and casting concrete is generally a task for a qualified and skilled contractor. An experienced professional will have the know-how to avoid cracking or bulging, which will tend to weakening of the structure in future and necessitate complex major repairs. If you are going the precast panel route, special equipment will be necessary to lift and install the heavy panels.

Two limitations. There are a couple of limitations to concrete walls. First, concrete block retaining walls do not have a footing and therefore can be constructed only to a maximum height of four feet, although this is not true of other concrete walls. Second, if you decide you want to change the placement of your wall or the design of your landscape in the future, this kind of retaining wall is complicated to remove. You will need heavy equipment to break it down and haul away the resulting debris.

Laura Firszt writes for

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