What is a cantilever retaining wall?

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Retaining walls are not only nice to look at. Aside from having them installed on your property, for landscaping purposes, they are also useful in keeping the soil in your area to prevent them from getting displaced, and can also be used as a boundary marker between two properties. 

There are many types of retaining walls, such as the gravity wall, piling wall, anchor wall, and cantilever wall. Each of them is made with different materials and has different purposes. One variant would be used only for decoration, while some are used for building a wall that will be used to carry heavy loads, such as the cantilever retaining wall. 

All about cantilever retaining walls

As mentioned above, each type of retaining wall is better suited for projects with a specific purpose. Cantilever retaining walls are very helpful in supporting heavy loads. The following are the important information about cantilever, such as its appearance, its function, and how they are commonly installed. 

What does a cantilever retaining wall look like?

A cantilever retaining wall can be easily distinguished from the other types of retaining wall. Compared to the others that have a standard appearance of a wall that is constructed by just having a face, meaning it only has one part which is the wall itself, cantilever retaining walls are comprised of several parts. 

Here are the parts of a cantilever retaining wall:






  1. Stem – The stem is the vertical or upright part that is usually seen on the surface of the ground. The main purpose of the stem is to “retain” the soil or water in their place and keep them from being transported to other areas, especially to places that are located on the lower ground when the area is sloped, or on to the side that is beyond the property that it should stay. The stem of a cantilevered retaining wall is usually different as it is not just straight or two-dimensional. Instead of just looking proportional or straight on the entire surface, it can also taper off and be shaped more like a triangular prism with a three-dimensional form. 
  2. Base slab– The base is the support of the stem that is not usually seen from the surface, as it is usually placed below the ground directly under the stem. The base slab can be constructed differently and may have a different appearance as it will depend on how it will be used. For example, if the cantilever is supposed to support a sloping ground, the base slab may have a slanting position. 

There are two parts of a base slab:

  1. Toe slab – The toe slab is often placed at the front of the stem installed under the ground, as it functions to keep the soil pressure in place when it is acting in an upward motion.
  2. Heel slab - The heel slab is often placed at the back of the stem installed under the ground, and is supposed to keep the backfill in check while also acting as the horizontal support of the cantilever wall.
Materials used for constructing a cantilever wall

Unlike other types of retaining walls, a cantilever wall is constructed mainly to perform a higher function. This would mean that this specific type of retaining wall can carry a weight that is around a couple of tons and is absolutely expected to be rigid and durable for a long time. Retaining walls can be constructed using various materials such as stone, brick, and concrete, and this can be the case when the walls will only for decoration purposes, or if they will not be expected to carry heavy loads.

However, when we are talking about cantilever walls, using the most stable, durable, and strong material is absolutely crucial and necessary. When a cantilever retaining wall is constructed, the material that will be used should be able to carry the pressure that comes from the soil or water that it is supposed to retain and support.

Because of this reason, the mainly used materials used for building this retaining wall are the following:

  1. RC or Reinforced Concrete

As was mentioned above, stability and durability are very important for a cantilever retaining wall. One of the materials that fit the need is reinforced concrete, as it is able to carry a heavier load and is also able to withstand more extreme temperature and humidity, which is crucial for an exterior wall. Reinforced concrete is also proven to be able to resist the pressure that comes from the sliding or overturning of soil and backfill of the area that it is installed in. 

  1. Steel

Steel is often used to make the slab of a cantilever retaining wall when it is expected to carry a heavier load than average. Because steel is known to have a higher capacity to support both tensile and tension stress, they are utilized and combined with concrete. Using steel on a retaining wall can make it less bulky, however, they can be very expensive, which is why it is rare to see a wall that is mainly constructed with one. By placing steel that is “sandwiched” inside a reinforced concrete wall, this will result in a structure that is able to carry and support tons of weight.  

What are the factors that determine the expected load of a wall?

Knowing how much weight a retaining wall can carry is important as this will determine whether there should be any adjustments in its size or if another type of wall should be installed. The load that it can support would depend on several factors, such as the weight of the backfill, the material used, the height of the wall, and other important data, such as the soil that surrounds the area. This is the reason why structural engineers are required to do the plan for building cantilever walls, as it can be dangerous when done haphazardly.

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