Retaining walls are an excellent way to xeriscape your yard, and they serve both decorative and practical purposes that can help you justify the retaining wall cost that comes with the initial installation and maintenance price tag. If you have issues with soil erosion or drainage, a property with a lot of hills and valleys, or landscaping on different levels, a retaining wall can be a valuable addition to your yard. You can get them in several heights and lengths, and you can control your retaining wall cost better because you get several different materials to choose from when you shop.
The good news is that your retaining wall cost doesn’t have to blow your budget, and it can add a beautiful look to your yard or garden once all is said and done. On average, you’ll spend between $3,000 and $9,000 to build a retaining wall. This works out to right around $5,500 for a concrete block-style retaining wall that is four feet high by twenty five feet long and fully reinforced and installed. If you’re handy, you could attempt this project on your own, but it’s always a good idea to get a professional to ensure that your retaining wall withstands the elements without bowing or cracking.
Per square foot, your retaining wall cost can easily fluctuate between $3.00 to $40.00 per square foot. Wall blocks have a price range between $10.00 and $15.00 a square foot. If you’re not afraid to drive your retaining wall cost up a bit, you can get poured, precast concrete for between $20.00 and $25.00 a square foot. Wood is right in the middle at $15.00 to $25.00 a square foot. The size of the wall and the materials you choose to use are the biggest factors in getting an accurate estimate.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll outline the biggest cost factors in detail. This way, you can look at your yard, get an approximate size, and use it to estimate what budget you need to set for your retaining wall cost. It’ll also give you a baseline to compare products to see which ones are more feasible.
A well-built retaining wall can easily withstand different weather conditions without having a problem, and they work very well when you use them along pathways or hills. Retaining Wall – Winter Morning by Doug Zwick / CC BY-NC 2.0
Types of Retaining Walls and Price Points
One of the very first things you want to decide is which type of retaining wall you want. A company can build your retaining wall in a few different ways, and they’ll take any special needs your landscaping has, soil types, and the material you pick out into consideration. Anyone you bring it to help you build it may recommend one building technique over another, and you can get the finish and look you want without going over your set retaining wall cost.
You can get an anchored wall out of any type of material. This type of wall is actually a hybrid of a reinforced and gravity wall that you can use to support other types of walls. The retaining wall cost to construct and install it ranges from $10.00 to $30.00 for every square foot.
This wall comes made out of blocks or stone, or you can have it made out of concrete. This is a reinforced style retaining wall that comes with steel bars embedded inside it to help it withstand the elements longer. It works well alongside raised garden beds, and you can build it slightly taller than other types. You’ll pay between $20.00 and $25.00 a square foot.
This is a gravity retaining wall style that comes built from concrete that the company will reinforce. It uses a grid pattern in the construction that allows water to pass through to drain much better than a fully solid wall will. Per square foot, your retaining wall cost will fluctuate from $25.00 to $30.00.
At the base, this is a type of wall that is essentially a cantilever-style wall with sections or wings that go in different directions along the sides. This is a great choice to frame in sections of your landscaping or put around pool areas. They use concrete or masonry that gets reinforced with steel bars, and this can push your retaining wall cost up by $20.00 to $25.00 a square foot.
You can make this type of wall from any type of material like railroad ties or stacked stone, and this gives you a great degree of flexibility. It uses mass and weight to help hold any eroding soil back, and it works best in areas that need short walls. You’ll have to reinforce this wall if you want to build it up higher, and it can cost anywhere from $10.00 to $30.00 a square foot to build.
You can create a hybrid wall out of any material as well. It works well to blend two types of walls like a gravity wall and a cantilevered wall. If your wall needs more support, you’d ask about a hybrid setup to ensure it lasts without bowing. Per square foot, this retaining wall costs $10.00 to $30.00.
These are the least decorative types of retaining walls available, and they utilize an aggregate and soil that you’ll compact very tightly to help hold back any soil. This wall doesn’t use concrete, stones, or blocks, but they will still cost between $20.00 and $25.00 a square foot. They’re best in areas of your yard that a lot of people don’t see.
Reinforced walls and cantilevered walls are the same thing. You can use concrete or masonry to build it, and it usually has a concrete slab along the bottom for support. You’ll embed steel bars inside this wall to make it more stable, and you’ll pay between $20.00 and $25.00 a square foot.
This is a good choice for your retaining wall if you have a tight space that needs a thinner wall. You can easily create it out of steel, wood, or vinyl. You make it by driving a thin wall into the ground, and this will only leave a small section of wall visible. Since this is a smaller option, your retaining wall cost will vary from $10.00 to $20.00 a square foot.
Retaining walls can come in several styles and sizes, but you’ll usually have to a surveys and permits for anything over four feet high, so plan for a low wall or make sure you increase your budget. French Retaining Walls by Lucas Arrrgh / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Materials and Price Points for Retaining Walls
You can choose from a huge range of materials for your retaining wall. The type of wall can dictate which one you choose, so it’s always best to pick out a type first before you get to the materials. The height of the wall will also factor into your retaining wall cost and the material you choose. There can be cosmetic differences to consider too.
We’ve made a list of the most common materials that are readily available. Depending on the wall, you may be able to combine one or more materials into your retaining wall cost. This can give you more support in all or specific areas, and the following costs don’t include labor.
You’ll need to use an aggregate if you want to create a rammed earth wall. You can use earth, gabion, gravel, or soil and compress it. This is usually a tight mix of soil or stone to help hold your final product together much better. If you plan to use a bigger material, you shouldn’t mix aggregate in. The retaining wall cost for this material will vary from $20.00 to $25.00 a square foot.
Brick retaining walls make excellent walkway edging. You can create a segmented or interlocking wall, and this gives you a classic look. You can use brick as mortared, dry stack, or reinforced. It works well with tiered walls, and it’s great for having taller walls. Brick does have some restrictions on the size, color, and shape, but it’ll increase your retaining wall cost by $20.00 to $25.00 a square foot.
Concrete or cinder blocks allow you to create a segmented or interlocking wall that is reinforced or dry stacked. This can be a very decorative and attractive wall, and you can choose from many textures, colors, and shapes to create an eye-catching design. If you want to create a tiered wall, concrete is a solid choice. Walls that go higher than four feet can get away with concrete too. You’ll pay between $20.00 and $25.00 a square foot for concrete.
Metal is usually the last thing you think of when it comes to a natural landscape design. However, it works well as an efficient and long-lasting wall. It’s also cost-effective, and a retaining wall cost for metal materials is between $3.00 and $4.00 a square foot. Aluminum, Corten steel, and steel are all popular, and they’re all resistant to water damage. They have a high strength and durability factor associated with them, and you can find them in plate and corrugated form.
Earth or Chalk
This is a sustainable and natural retaining wall choice, and the material you choose and your style can impact your retaining wall cost. For earth, you’ll pay between $3.00 and $25.00 a square foot. Rammed earth walls and compressed earth blocks use chalk, lime, earth, or gravel that come fortified with sand or clay. Compressed earth blocks can cost between $3.00 to $7.00 a square foot, and this works out to $0.50 and $1.00 a block. Rammed earth is more expensive at $23.00 to $27.00 a square foot.
If you live in an area that tends to shift, paying $4.00 to $10.00 per square foot for a gabion wall is a great choice. It can move and adapt as the soil shifts instead of tumbling or cracking. It uses wire mesh cages or wire in the construction, and this costs between $30.00 and $40.00 per cubic yard. You add durable filler material inside like stones, crushed concrete, or wood pieces. The filler type will dictate your retaining wall cost because installation is very straightforward.
You can stamp and shape poured concrete into a host of patterns, and you can also use it to create unique or beautifully curved walls around your hot tub enclosure. It works best for short walls, and you shouldn’t use it if you need your retaining wall to go higher than four feet. It’s also a great addition to your patio or pool area, and your retaining wall cost will fluctuate between $20.00 and $25.00 a square foot.
You can use boulders, flat stones, or stone veneer to create this type of retaining wall, and these choices give you better control over your retaining wall cost. It’s versatile, and you can easily create decorative walls, tiered walls, and taller structures. You can have contemporary or rustic designs, and you can reinforce it or dry stack it. Depending on the stone you pick out, it’ll cost between $20.00 and $75.00 a square foot.
This is a wall covering that will make your retaining wall look like it’s natural stone. It reduces your retaining wall cost to $3.00 to $12.00 a square foot, and natural stone veneer costs between $11.00 to $15.00 a square foot. You can come up with several unique looks with this material, and they look almost as natural as real stone. For the core, you can use poured concrete or concrete blocks to make your wall stable.
Wood walls are very popular to create a rustic or natural look. You can stack the wood to create a wall, and it looks nice stacked in an offset pattern. The wood is much thicker than vinyl for your wall, and this means it’s a great base for a tiered wall. You can’t use it for walls that get higher than four feet or it’ll get structurally unstable. Expect to pay between $10.00 and $15.00 a square foot for this material.
This is a very inexpensive material to choose for your retaining wall, and it’s great for sheet piling. The thinness allows you to have a wall in a tight area where space is at a premium. However, you won’t get a lot of decorative options to choose from, and you don’t want to use it on very tall or reinforced structures. The retaining wall cost for this material is between $10.00 and $15.00 a square foot.
On average, wood timber material will increase your retaining wall costs by $15.00 to $25.00 a square foot. They have a natural appearance that makes them nice to put around your garden layout, and it’s easy to obtain. There are several varieties, and this is where the price fluctuations come in. Wood is susceptible to water damage and rot, and you have to put pest control, waterproofing, and drainage features in place to help it last longer. You shouldn’t bring the wall up over four feet to keep it stable.
Building a retaining wall can be a very labor-intensive project, and it’s important that you bring in a contractor if you’re not sure what you’re doing to ensure you get a structurally-sound wall that will last for decades with minimal maintenance. Building the retaining wall by Washington State Dept of Transportation / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Cost to Install Your Retaining Wall
Once you pick out a material, know the approximate size, and choose a wall type, you have to figure out installation costs to get a rounded retaining wall cost total. Since the cost can fluctuate so widely, each project can have unique costs. The length and height of the wall are two of the biggest factors to consider, and you’ll usually price both labor and materials by square foot. Some of the height can be below ground, and you’ll need to add this to your retaining wall cost.
If your wall has curves or is straight, if you have stairs built into it, and how it meets the surrounding landscape will influence your total costs. The soil type you have in your space will factor in because heavier clay-based soil will require heavy equipment to break through it, and you’ll have to think about removal to help it drain better.
It’s also important to think about the amount of leveling and digging a company has to do for your retaining wall costs to be accurate. They’ll have to backfill, add gravel, and consider any other landscaping around it. They way the company constructs the wall and the wall’s style are important, and this is why you’ll typically get a slightly more broad estimate when you contact companies until they can get to the site and get a good feel for what you want.
Finally, the labor costs per hour will influence your total retaining wall cost. The average labor rate per hour ranges from $50.00 to $60.00, and your location will play a role. However, it’s easy to drive your labor rates up very fast. If you want a wall over four feet tall, this will increase the price. How difficult your site access points are is another consideration. If they have to take apart a fence or gate to get to the site, this can take time. You’ll find yourself adding on several hours at $50.00 to $60.00 an hour. If they have to remove dirt and dispose of it somewhere else, this will push up your costs too.
Cost to Repair a Retaining Wall
It’s essential that you take steps to repair your retaining wall as soon as you notice issues to prevent catastrophic failure. Your walls will age, and the material can slowly start to fail. Wood tie backs can start to rot, or your draining system can get clogged and cause water to saturate the soil. Poor construction can cause the wall to buckle or fall. When it fails, it can fall and allow the soil to erode unless you pay out the retaining wall cost to fix it.
Every repair you have done to your retaining wall will have a different price point because the issues could tie to your wall’s quality, the soil it’s in, or the construction. Simple repairs can drive your retaining wall cost up by around $150. If you have to excavate and add in a new drainage line, you’ll pay roughly $75 a linear foot. Adding tie backs to make the wall more structurally stable can cost as much as $200 to $300 per tie back. Other common issues include:
- Bowing or Leaning – $200 to $300 per tie back
- Crumbling or Cracks – $100 to $300 per crack
- Foundation Issues – $40.00 to $300
- Inadequate or Blocked Drainage – $75 a linear foot
- Soil Oversaturation – $40.00 to $75 a linear foot
- Wall Shifting – $200 to $300 a tie back
If you have other miscellaneous repair costs, you can expect to pay around $1.00 per square foot. This includes any specific tools you need to fix it, and it also includes additional materials you could use to fix or strengthen the wall.
It’s easier to take time to do routine repairs and maintenance to your retaining walls than it is to wait for it to fail and replace it all over again. At least once or twice a year, look at your retaining walls and address any issues you see. Done by Christine / CC BY-SA 2.0
Retaining Wall Replacement Prices
If your wall fails and there’s no fixing it, you have to figure out the retaining wall cost associated with replacing it. No one wants to consider this, but it’s a problem you may face after several years or if you neglect the routine maintenance. Generally speaking, your retaining wall cost to replace it is the same to build a brand new one. However, you’ll have to budget for demolishing the existing wall and preparing the site for a new one.
If an older wall has to come down, the age or the original construction are the two biggest culprits. They may have to recompact the soil, or they may find that you have clay-based soil that has to be excavated and drains added. The company will also have to tear down the old wall and get rid of the debris, and this can add $20.00 to $30.00 per square foot to your retaining wall cost. For a grand total, this brings your retaining wall costs for replacement between $60.00 to $70.00 a square foot.
Find Retaining Wall Cost Quotes Near You
If you’re ready to figure out your retaining wall and build new or replace a failing wall, use this resource to find professionals in your area:
Frequently Asked Questions
Asking questions when you approach contractors to build your new retaining wall can help ensure you get the best prices with high-quality results. New Torrens Retaining Wall by Michael Coghlan / CC BY-SA 2.0
1. Do you need a permit to build a retaining wall?
Yes. Most cities or municipalities require you to have a permit in place before you begin building your new wall if it’s over four feet tall, so you should factor this into your retaining wall cost. On average, these permits range between $500 and $1,000. The total cost will depend on the length and height of the wall.
2. How do you estimate the square footage of your wall before you build it?
This is a relatively simple process. You’ll measure the length of wherever you want to put your wall. Figure out how high you want it to be and multiply the length by the height. This will give you a rough square footage estimate to work with.
3. How deep should the retaining wall’s footing go?
The general rule for figuring out how deep you should put the footing is to sink it at least ⅓ of the wall’s total height. So, if the wall is three feet tall, it should be at least a foot underground to give it enough stability to not bow or crumble.
4. What is the average lifespan for a retaining wall?
If you’re trying to justify your initial retaining wall cost, look at the lifespan. They can usually last between 40 and 100 years and up. How well you maintain them and the material you choose to use will influence how long they last.
5. How high can you make your retaining wall?
Generally speaking, anything under four feet is good to go without having a structural engineer survey the land. However, you can easily go higher if you want to add permits and the engineer’s hourly charges to your retaining wall cost.
You now know the biggest factors that will go into figuring out your retaining wall cost, and you can take this guide and see which ones apply to your situation. Once you start making decisions, it gets easier to get a clear retaining wall cost estimate, and you should call a few local companies to see which ones give you the best estimates for the work you require. If you get it right, you’ll have a beautiful addition to your home that can easily last for decades.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.