How does a gravity retaining wall work?

(919) 420 - 3620

If you want to add a structure to your property that is both functional and appealing, you may want to look into having a retaining wall installed.

However, if it is confusing to choose which design will fit your needs, allow the leading installers in Denver to explain one of the most common types we call a “gravity retaining wall.”

What is a retaining wall?

In its essence, a retaining wall is a structure that is usually designed to support and “retain” the soil in a particular area. Its purpose is mainly to protect the area from erosion and prevent accidents such as landslides after heavy rainfall.

There are many types of retaining walls. Aside from the most common which are gravity walls, you may hear about other designs that are called anchor, cantilever, and pile retaining walls. For this guide, we will focus on gravity walls, their benefits, and how they differ from other wall designs.





Definition and Benefits

“Gravity retaining walls are the walls which use their own weight to resist the lateral earth pressures.” - S. Talatahari

A gravity retaining wall is considered to be the standard type of wall that is installed in both residential and commercial properties.

According to the National Concrete Masonry Association, “the stability of the gravity-type retaining wall depends mainly on its weight, the required thickness at the base increases with height of backfill or wall height.” (1) This means that contrary to other designs, a gravity wall does not often have additional supports or reinforcements to increase its stability. Instead, it relies on its own “gravity” which uses its own weight and is built to retain soil in a particular area.

Advantages of a gravity retaining wall

1.     It is functional

Gravity retaining walls are perfect for projects that do not need to support tons of heavy soil. If you need a wall for your garden, to segment an area, or to make your yard more appealing, it is plenty enough to install one on your property.




2.     It is budget-friendly

Since gravity walls are much simpler to install, you will not need a lot of materials and equipment to have one in your yard. Hence, the costs of DIY-ing or even hiring a professional contractor will not bear holes in your pockets.

3.     You can choose from a variety of materials

There are plenty of materials you can choose from to use for your wall. Aside from concrete, you can even use wood, brick, and stones for a charming effect.

How a gravity retaining wall works

The concept of how a gravity wall works is actually simple. It is essentially a structure that holds in the soil in a specific area, to “cage” it. As a result, the soil will not be easily washed off due to external reasons such as strong winds, rains, foot traffic, and more.

Do you ever notice standing water on your property? This may be a sign that you need a retaining wall on your lawn. Since it is possible that the earth in your area is receding or eroding in other places, it could also be more than a cosmetic issue that will eventually cause problems with your foundation.

How much does it cost to have a retaining wall installed?

When you are planning to have a retaining wall built, there are some things you need to take into account. One of these is the permits. Most places and cities in the United States require a permit before you are allowed to build a wall, even if it is on your property. Some places will only require a permit if the wall you are constructing will reach a certain height. To avoid any problems, it would be best to ask your contractor and your local municipality if you will need to secure a permit before starting a project. Permits may cost around $20 to $100, and will increase if you need to get some demolition done as well.

The cost of having a retaining wall installed in your property is usually computed by square foot. Depending on the material you will use, cinder blocks usually cost around $10 to $15 per square foot while concrete costs around $25. There are also other materials that will be necessary depending on the project. If your walls are expected to carry heavy soil, you will need to include some reinforcements on the masonry unit you will use. Of course, if you are hiring a contractor, you will also need to add labor to the total expense.

Why drainage is necessary

For most wall installations, including a functioning drainage system is crucial to make the wall last. Just look at it this way: if a retaining wall is designed to keep soil in a particular area, other elements such as water would also find their way inside the retained space. As a result, the wall will need to hold back heavier amounts of debris in its location, damaging the wall’s material. When there is appropriate drainage, the water will be transported to another location instead of being an additional burden to the structure.

It is also important to remember that in order for a gravity wall to work its best, the recommended wall height should not exceed 3 feet. The reason for this lies in the fact that since gravity walls do not have additional support, building a tall wall may cause it to crumble and fail in just a short amount of time.

Comparison to other wall designs

Wondering if a gravity wall will be enough for your landscaping needs or if you should choose another design? Here are the main differences between a gravity retaining wall and other types of wall designs.

Gravity wall vs. Cantilever wall

A cantilever wall is essentially a gravity wall that is equipped with additional supports. Also, it is made of two parts, a stem and a base slab, which are designed to keep the structure sturdy against various types of pressure from the earth.

Gravity wall vs. Anchor wall

An anchor wall is equipped with “anchors” and tiebacks. For projects that require a structure that will hold tons of soil, an anchor retaining wall will be a better option.

Gravity wall vs. Piling wall

A pile retaining wall is often made with lumber which is flexible for both long-term and short-term use. For construction projects that need covering or retaining structures in a short period of time, pile walls are a better choice than gravity walls.

Ready to install a durable wall on your property?

No matter how a wall is designed to last, the way it is installed will still be extremely important.

Building a gravity retaining wall in your backyard on your own is possible. However, if you need the assistance of experts who can help you with the careful design and installation of your wall, do not hesitate to reach out to the Denver Retaining Wall Pros.


  1. Concrete Masonry Gravity Retaining Walls | NCMA

Our Office
4030 Wake Forest Road Suite 300 #2

Raleigh, NC 27609

Reach Us At
(919) 420 - 3620

Call With Questions

Email Us At

Write To Us With Any Questions

google maps create map