Whether you're building a small retaining wall yourself or hiring a contractor to undertake a larger project, any retaining wall design starts by choosing the appropriate materials. The pavers you select for your wall will ultimately influence its appearance, strength, and longevity. If you're building the wall yourself, the pavers can also greatly affect the difficulty and effort of the installation.
The good news is that there are no right or wrong answers, and the best pavers for your wall will depend on your tastes, budget, and application. However, some guidelines are useful when making your selection. These three tips will help you evaluate your paver options to select the best one for your new retaining wall.
1. Consider Drainage
The most common paver option for retaining walls are stone, brick, and concrete, and the type of material will impact your retaining wall's drainage system. Remember that all retaining walls require drainage. Hydrostatic pressure will inevitably weaken and destroy any wall that lacks proper drainage, no matter how well constructed it happens to be.
The most important consideration for drainage is whether you're using a mortar or mortar-free wall. Brick masonry walls typically require mortar, which impedes water drainage. These walls require special drainage channels (known as weep holes) to allow water through. On the other hand, mortar-free (or "dry stacked") paver walls will naturally allow water to pass through.
2. Don't Ignore Interlocking Systems
If you're approaching your retaining wall as a do-it-yourself project, you'll want to strongly consider options that simplify installation and minimize the likelihood of errors. While a retaining wall may seem like a relatively simple project, a lot can go wrong. It's also possible to build a reasonably strong and functional wall that looks less than ideal due to installation mistakes.
Interlocking retaining wall pavers are special products that can help simplify installation and help you avoid these mistakes. Even if you're hiring a contractor to build your retaining wall, these products can ultimately lower your costs by reducing the time required for installation. If there's an interlocking system that fits your budget and meets your aesthetic requirements, it's worth considering.
3. Focus on Appearance
Material choice for small, residential retaining walls often depends on personal preference. While there are notable differences between different types of retaining wall pavers, most materials will function well and provide years of service in these applications. As a result, you have more freedom to choose a paver that meets your particular aesthetic requirements.
If in doubt, work with a contractor in your area to help select a retaining wall paver option that fits your budget and requirements. It's particularly important to take this approach if you're building a larger wall or need to install your wall on difficult terrain. In these cases, an expert can help you find the right balance between pavers that meet your functional and aesthetic needs.