Retaining Walls

Retaining walls have many purposes in the home garden. Whether you instal a retaining wall to create new levels in your garden, make a flat lawn area where there was once a sloping section or create a clear boundary, the design principles are the same.

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Retaining Walls

Retaining walls have many purposes in the home garden.  Whether you instal a retaining wall to create new levels in your garden, make a flat lawn area where there was once a sloping section or create a clear boundary, the design principles are the same.

A Retaining Wall Must:

  • Support the lateral load or pressure of the soil behind it and any additional loads expected upon that space 
  • Prevent water build-up behind or below the wall, which will increase the lateral pressure and reduce the wall’s bearing capacity and resistance to sliding.

Reasons You Would Build a Retaining Wall:

  • Plant seed or lay ready-made lawn for a new grass area in your garden.
  • Plant some flowers, beds or hedging.
  • Create different sections in your garden and partition them with light fencing or trellis.
  • Create a secondary outdoor area for entertaining or activities. 

Gravity Walls and Cantilever Walls

Gravity Walls

A  gravity wall is a retaining wall that relies on its weight to withstand the pressure of the soil behind it. Gravity walls can be built with timber, concrete or stone and are the most common retaining walls used in domestic gardens.

Cantilever Walls

Cantilever walls are usually made with poured concrete and are secured by deeply grounded foundational pillars. A cantilever wall must be professionally designed and engineered as its purpose is to hold back a significant amount of soil and often at a height. 

"New Zealand gardeners love their timber retaining walls. They are a cost-effective option for the simple garden wall, built with treated pine posts and rails."

SCOTT MACKAY – ON THE TOOLS DIRECTOR, FOLIUM LANDSCAPING


Types of Retaining Walls

  • Timber Retaining Walls

A cost-effective and timeless choice, a timber retaining wall can enhance your outdoor space and help deal with complex landscapes. Wood retaining walls are popular in domestic gardens.

  • Stone Retaining Walls

A long-lasting and practical solution, a stone retaining wall is the perfect option for any garden and are ideal in driveways.

  • Keystone Block Retaining Walls

Another robust choice that provides endless options, keystone walls are ideal for driveway boundary lines.

Timber Retaining Walls

New Zealand gardeners love their timber retaining walls. They are a cost-effective option for the simple garden wall, built with treated pine posts and rails. 

Timber retaining walls add interest and can help to turn tricky garden areas or sloping sections into functional or usable spaces.

Wooden walls are relatively easy to build and add to the natural aesthetic of your garden. Timber walls can be stained or left to weather over time. 

Advantages Of Timber

Building a timber retaining wall provides a great combination of strength, affordability, and aesthetics.

Timber is also a DIY-friendly choice. Provided you have access to the correct tools. You can tackle the project over a weekend.

"Building a timber retaining wall provides a great combination of strength, affordability, and aesthetics."


JARED BELLINGHAM – ON THE TOOLS DIRECTOR, FOLIUM LANDSCAPING

Things to consider when installing a retaining wall

As with everything to do with landscaping and construction, ensuring you get the foundations right from the outset is critical.

Before you get stuck into your project, you must consider the following:

Consider the ground

Before you can begin, you must assess the ground you are planning to build on. A sloped section may require pre-earthworks or require that you change your plan. If earthworks are necessary, this will add to the cost of your project.

Drainage plan

Ensuring adequate drainage behind your retaining wall is critical to its success. Without it, you will compromise the wall’s integrity which, ultimately, will pose a real risk. Inadequate drainage will water-log the footings and lead to the wall’s collapse.

Check consent requirements

A retaining wall over 1.5 m in height will require building consent. You will also require consent if your wall is within 1.5 m of a driveway or building. 

Designing retaining walls 

If your wall requires building or resource consent, it must be designed by a registered engineer. Concrete and masonry walls can be designed following New Zealand standards. Still, we suggest you have the design inspected by a structural engineer as an extra layer of insurance.

Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP)

According to the AUP rural zoning rules, any retaining wall that exceeds 1.5m in height is considered a building. Therefore, all requirements under the AUP relating to a building apply to a retaining wall that exceeds 1.5m in height.

Jump in this link to access Auckland Council’s Retaining Wall Guide 

Respect The Boundary

The wall and everything related to it, including drainage and fill, must exist within a shared boundary line. Anything that infringes the boundary can be deemed illegal and result in a costly legal battle with your neighbour. Taking the time to plan your project will avoid this issue altogether.

Think about additional features

If you plan to incorporate fencing or planting elements, you will need to plan for these extras at the beginning. Anything outside the basic construction project requires allowances that will impact how you tackle the project.

Drainage is Essential

Retaining walls must be constructed with drainage in behind and backfilled with scoria or free-draining gravel.

Ensuring adequate drainage behind your retaining wall is critical to its success. Without it, you will compromise the wall’s integrity which, ultimately, will pose a real risk. 

Inadequate drainage will create a build-up of water behind the wall, water-log the footings, undermine its weight-bearing ability and lead to its collapse. 

Failure to install good drainage behind your retaining wall can create a run-off of water that can impact other parts of your property and, worse still, your home. Before starting your project, take the time to research your options or discuss with an expert to avoid a costly and stressful disaster. 

"A retaining wall over 1.5 m in height will require building consent. You will also require consent if your wall is within 1.5 m of a driveway or building."


SCOTT MACKAY – ON THE TOOLS DIRECTOR, FOLIUM LANDSCAPING


Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a retaining wall cost?

In today’s climate, the equation of increased demand and short supply results in a volatile market and much uncertainty surrounding the cost of building materials, except the certainty that they are on the rise. 

Jump on this handy online retaining wall calculator to gain a real-time estimate for your project.

Do retaining walls need council approval?

A retaining wall over 1.5 m in height will require a building consent. You will also require consent if your wall is within 1.5 m of a driveway or building. 

Can you build a retaining wall on a boundary?

Any retaining wall that encroaches a boundary line must have the approval of the affected party. If your neighbour agrees to your proposal, the retaining wall must become the new boundary fence despite being over the official boundary.


"Ensuring adequate drainage behind your retaining wall is critical to its success. Without it, you will compromise the wall’s integrity which, ultimately, will pose a real risk."

JARED BELLINGHAM – ON THE TOOLS DIRECTOR, FOLIUM LANDSCAPING


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Outdoor living is an inherent part of life in New Zealand. We love our outdoor spaces. We can't live without them; our love for them inspires creative landscaping solutions. We’re a team of North Shore Landscapers who are passionate about delivering innovative gardens and working to the highest standards.
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