Ashburn, VA

How Much Does A Retaining Wall Cost To Build?

$2,450 – $6,650 ($35 per sq. ft.)

An average brick retaining wall that is 30 feet long and 4 feet high, without any built-in steps or extra reinforcements, is typically around $4,220. The average homeowner will pay $35 per square foot and spend between $2,450 and $6,650 to build a retaining wall. Get free instant estimates from Retaining Wall Builders near you.

Retaining Wall Cost

An average brick retaining wall that is 30 feet long and 4 feet high, without any built-in steps or extra reinforcements, is typically around $4,220. The average homeowner will pay $35 per square foot and spend between $2,450 and $6,650 to build a retaining wall.

Patio Enclosure Type Cost
National Average Cost $4,220
Minimum Cost $1,400
Maximum Cost $10,000
Average Range $2,450 to $6,650

This pricing guide covers:

  1. Retaining Wall Cost
  2. Labor Cost Estimates
  3. Retaining Wall Cost Estimators
  4. Additional Cost Factors
  5. Replacing An Existing Wall
  6. Calculating Repair Costs
  7. Types Of Retaining Walls
  8. Advantages & Disadvantages
  9. DIY Options
  10. How To Build A Retaining Wall
  11. Finding A Retaining Wall Builder
  12. Retaining Wall Builders Near Me

A retaining wall holds back soil in order to prevent any changes to its structure. Without the wall, the soil could erode or slide. A retaining wall can also:

  • Improve the productive and visual appearance of land.
  • Protect your foundation – by preventing soil from sliding. If there are known fault lines in the area, this is one option to mitigate this risk.
  • Manage water runoff – diverts water away from the home.
  • Create more usable land - creates more usable yard space by converting steep slopes into living spaces.

The average homeowner will pay $35/sq. ft. to build a retaining wall.

Retaining Wall Costs By Materials

When it comes to building your retaining wall and choosing your preferred building materials, you have multiple options. The taller the wall, the more money you’ll have to invest in its foundation. Usually a wall above 4’ will require engineering. Costs below are for wall material alone. On average you can multiply the material cost by 5 to get the installed price.

Retaining Wall Material Average Price
Cinder Block $4–$6/face ft.
Concrete Block $12–$22/face ft.
Modular Concrete Blocks $6–$9/sq. ft.
Poured Concrete $4–$6/sq. ft.
Top Cap Concrete $440–$640 pallet or $54 to $69/face ft.
Wood Timber $5–$14/LF panel
Stone Veneer $3–$5/face ft.
Boulder / Rock $160–$296/ton
Gabion $20–$352 per wire cage
Brick $18–22/sq. ft.
Corten Steel / Metal $98–$147/LF
Rammed Earth $12–$20/cubic yard

Retaining Wall Natural Stone Landscaping Home Garden With Stairs and Retaining Wall

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Cost To Build A Retaining Wall

Cinder Block - $4–$6/face ft.

Pros - Cinder block is lighter than concrete and made of stone or sand aggregate and coal cinders. It’s very strong; durable; low maintenance; quick to install; impervious to rot, insects and fire; and its versatility allows for it to be used to build curved structures.

Cons - Cinder block is laid in trenches and not secured into the ground. For safety and stability reasons, they should not be used to erect a wall structure higher than 4 feet tall. Because of the bare-bones appearance of cinder block, the wall will still need some form of visual enhancement—with a stucco or veneer finish on the exposed surfaces.

Concrete Blocks $12–$22/face ft.

Modular Or interlocking concrete blocks - $6–$9/sq. ft.
Retaining Wall Caps - $440–$640 pallet or $54 to $69/face ft.

Retaining Wall Landscaping And Retaining Wall Residential Home

Pros - Modular concrete blocks like Versa-Lok are designed to connect together in a way not dissimilar to toy bricks. They are available in a wider range of sizes, color choices, and finishes, with a natural stone look, and they can be built into curves. Their locking mechanisms sometimes employ the use of pins, giving the resulting wall more structural integrity and the ability to go higher.

Cons – Coatings on block walls can crack in freeze-thaw cycles. Without footings, you’re limited to a wall under 4’ tall.

Poured Concrete - $4–$6/sq. ft.

Pros - Does not need a finish added in every installation. Color can be added to the mix before pouring into molds. Concrete stamping can make the walls look like natural stone for a lower upfront cost than a retaining wall made from natural stone. Structurally sound for high walls.

Cons – They can crack in freeze-thaw cycles, and it’s difficult to align them perfectly when building unless you use the right form, which can take a long time to build.

Wood Timber - $5–$14/LF panel

Retaining Wall Made of Wood Timber

Pros - A natural look in garden settings. Can be stained to match the yard’s tree colors. Wood is a material that is in ready supply and probably the most affordable retaining wall material. Can be built up to 4’ tall or 5’–6’ with treated railroad ties and/or reinforcing steel rods. Pressure-treated Douglas fir is the best wood for avoiding rot. Quite easy to install.

Cons - Will require maintenance to get the longest life out of it, since it is prone to damage from water and pests like termites. The soil pressure behind it and rot will eventually cause it to fail, but you can slow the process down by placing waterproof sheeting between the soil and the wood fence. With adequate drainage and effective wood treatment, along with the right ongoing pest control treatments, the life of your wood retainer wall can only reach past 20 years, in most cases.

Stone Veneer - $3–$5/sq. ft.

Retaining Wall Ornamental Garden Slate Pathway Garden Wall of Stone

Pros - Stone veneer—or faux stone, as it is also known—can be applied to a range of wall structures for a more attractive finish. Typically available in thicknesses around ⅛ of an inch, real stone is cut from larger slabs. Manufactured stone products are made in molds with added color dyes and surface finishes to complete the look of natural stone. Surface resistant to rot and pests. These can be added to a strong core.

Cons – Design should be done by a professional or it can look out of place. Might not do well in freeze-thaw conditions without deep footings.

Boulder / Rock - $160–$296 per ton

Retaining Wall Closeup Dry Rock and Boulders Stone Wall Built with Natural Flagstones and Wallstones

Pros - Expected to last 100 years or longer. Often only requires minimal onsite adjustments to stack properly. Brings a natural look to your wall, and you can reinforce a drywall look by only mortaring the back half of the stone blocks. Raise planting beds behind the wall for faster root drainage.

Cons - Homeowner may elect to drywall—stagger the boulder sizes to take a departure from a more planned look—although finding/hiring someone to do this could be a challenge and it will be costlier. Transportation and onsite placement can be costly due to their weight. Drainage and water flow control strategy required.

Gabion - $20–$352 per wire cage

Retaining Wall Gabions In The Garden

Pros – A unique look of a rock- or glass-filled cage. Does not require any type of professional installation. A great way to recycle unwanted wall materials like chunks of old concrete.

Cons – Sedimentation. Not great in small spaces because of the need for a wide base. Wire casket might rust. The price of $20–$352 is for the gabion basket, and support posts are also required.

Brick - $18–22/sq. ft.

Pros - Gives a warm, inviting, and structured garden feel. Constructed from readily available clay and shale, brick is very durable and drains well. It either makes up the whole wall enclosing an inner space of grout or concrete (cavity wall), or it’s built around a solid core or CMU block (block core wall) with whole, half, or thin brick.

Cons - The range of available colors is limited. Due to its weight and soil conditions in the installation location, extra precautions may be required in the construction of the foundation.

Corten Steel / Metal - $98–$147/LF

Pros - A popular choice for many designers. An alloy with copper and chromium in the steel, this composition leads to the development of a rusted mix of red, brown, and orange after a few years of exposure. No need for any future painting or maintenance. Can hold back earth without any great thickness of steel. Performs well in a completely vertical installation.

Cons - Not recommended for walls more than 4 or 5 feet tall.

Rammed Earth - $12–$20/cubic yard

Pros - Involves ramming earth into a form to give it structure and boosting it with internal rebar, wood, or even bamboo. Damp materials including silt, gravel, sand, and clay are poured into wood forms and are then tamped down in layers until wall is complete. Carving or mold impressions are often done once formed. Another method is to build rammed earth blocks into a wall.

Cons - Labor is the significant cost factor for rammed earth because of the time it takes to produce the finished product onsite. Premanufactured rammed earth blocks are less expensive because the work has already been done, and they just need to be stacked onsite.

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Cost To Install Different Landscaping Walls

Particular types of walls require a particular type of installation, with some needing an engineer’s help.

Railroad Tie - $15–$35 each

The most popular option, railroad ties (these look like fence posts) don’t require the use of a lot of tools or additional materials. An easy and affordable installation. They are treated to prevent breakdown, but the chemicals used can seep into surrounding soil so they are not recommended for food gardens. Many homeowners are capable of completing the project as a DIY project.

Segmental / Interlocking - $10–$20 per sq. ft.

Requires a bigger range of tools and experience to install. Interlocking blocks help to create a straight and stable wall. It is not prone to rot or decay and won’t require much maintenance.

Criblock - $12–$16 per sq. ft.

Criblock is a type of gravity retaining wall that constructs cells from materials like plastic frames, precast concrete, or timber. It lacks steel reinforcement. The cell structure is designed to facilitate drainage through wall openings so as to ease hydrostatic pressure behind the wall. The drainage outlets can be conveniently placed over built-in flower or vegetable beds.

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Labor Cost Estimates

For this work, your contractor’s hourly rate will vary depending on the level of difficulty involved in the work. Prices below are for independent workers rather than contracting firm prices, which can be double.

Labor Average Cost
Laborer – General $28/hour
Carpenter – Wood $37/hour
Bricklayer $28–39/hour
Cement mason $35/hour
Stonemason $35/hour
Plasterer $29–37/hour
Metalworker $42/hour

You can usually get a better price bid on projects during the winter months when contractors are not as busy. Also, wall material sellers give larger discounts in the late fall/winter season.

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Retaining Wall Cost Estimators

Retaining Wall Cost Calculator

A very simple way of estimating your wall installation cost is to multiply the cost of your wall material by 5, although this brings you only to a starting point in price. Essentially, your wall will consist of two main measurements to make your estimation—the width and the height of the wall.

  1. Wall width x 1 block width = number of columns
  2. Wall height / 1 block’s height = number of rows
  3. A good rule of thumb is to add around 10 % to the number for the height of the wall. That is to accommodate installing at least 10 % of the wall below the surface to add more stability to the structure.

  4. Rows x columns = number of bricks needed.

If the top row is to be completed using a different block, then you just need the number of columns since there is only one row.

To add a buffer for error, bad blocks, and any damage from accidents on site, it might be prudent to add another 10 % to the total number being ordered. If not used, they can be left onsite for any repairs or returned to the vendor.

Gravel Base Cost Calculator

Wall width x at least 6” (for the depth into the ground) x wall depth = gravel needed.

Some installers prefer to mix sand and gravel, and the average cost is $4–$6 per 0.5 cubic foot bag. Sand is around $4.50 for 50lbs

Backfill Gravel Cost Calculator

Depending on the typical climate for your location, your retaining wall should have around 12″ of gravel right behind the entire width and height of your wall to facilitate proper drainage. Multiply the width and height of your retaining wall by 12″ to give the total cubic feet of backfill gravel that will need to be ordered. $4–$6 per 0.5 cubic foot bag

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Additional Retaining Wall Cost Factors

  • Foundation – The retaining wall will need to have some form of foundation built to give it a solid base. In many cases, the process will involve the construction of a foundation that will be tailored in its design and specifically suited to the slope ratio on your property, as well as the soil type and annual rainfall totals for the area. Foundations can include a gravel and sand base and/or concrete slab. Other solutions like a cantilever wall already have a heel slab and a toe slab combined with the vertical stem. Concrete is roughly $3–$6 per square foot.
  • Location – Labor usually costs more when you live close to a metropolitan area, whereas materials can cost more when you live in a more rural location.
  • Curves – the more curves you put into the wall, the more work and materials go into creating the form for it = more cost.
  • Excavation and backfilling – In order to create the new, usable, flat portion of your yard, dirt will have to be removed, and this will sometimes also include removing tree stumps and other large vegetation.  Depending on the size of your property and the size of the retaining wall(s) to be installed, you are likely looking at $500 to $1,000 if all the removed soil is not going to be used as backfill and needs to be hauled away. Excavation costs range between $75–$150 per cubic yard.
  • Type of soil – Soil engineers look at: 1.) Soil cohesion - how well the soil sticks together (especially when wet) and 2.) Friction angle - the soil’s ability to stay firm and not slide away under its own weight. If the native soil is unsuitable to construct a safe retaining wall in, there may be the need to either mix in other elements with the soil or truck in replacement soil. If you have bedrock, excavation prices will increase. Typical prices for soil are $12–$20 per cubic yard with another $30–$160 for delivery costs, depending on your distance from the supplier and the amount.
  • Retaining wall steps or pilasters – Whether added for visual aesthetics or access to the new, usable flat portion of higher ground, costs will vary greatly depending on the materials chosen, the number of steps, their location in the wall, the height of the wall, the degree of design implemented (straight, curved, angled), landing feature, engineering required, etc. Costs start at $300 for each step.
  • Site accessibility – The slope of your property along with the ease with which the contractors can reach your retaining wall location with whatever equipment they need will affect cost. The quicker a contractor is able to get the heavy materials in, build forms on site, and mix and pour concrete onsite, the fewer the labor hours at $28 to $84 per hour you’ll pay for. If you have a narrow walkway to the backyard or a small backyard, you’ll pay more because materials will have to be brought in by hand.
  • Waterproofing and drainage – The first measure toward waterproofing your wall is to provide a barrier of at least 12” of gravel between the wall and the soil. For this barrier to remain effective and not get clogged with soil, install a sheet of landscaping fabric separating the soil and the gravel. Retaining walls in locations that receive high amounts of rainfall every year and have poor draining soils, or a height greater than 4 feet, will also require the installation of a drain pipe. This pipe should be vented to the outside or a lower elevation every 50 feet, and each vent should be clearly marked to avoid obstruction. With costs ranging from $0.50 to $70 per linear foot, this could total anywhere from $180 to $3,500.
  • Engineering – With a severe slope, some uphill structures that need to be protected, poor soil conditions, and/or a range of other factors, it may be necessary to engage with a structural engineer to design the right structural system for your retaining wall. At $100–$150 an hour, the final costs could fall from $500–$1,500, depending on the conditions, size of wall, number of walls, and degree of custom elements like including angled or curved steps in the wall.
  • Earthquake zone – Retaining walls built in earthquake zones will cost more due to the engineering required as well as the additional materials used to create increased structural integrity.
  • Permit – You don’t usually need to get a permit for a wall 4’ tall or less. Any taller and it will cost $50–$250, depending on where you live.

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Replacing An Existing Retaining Wall

There are a wide variety of factors that will influence the cost of replacing an existing retaining wall including the following:

  1. Removal of existing wall
  2. Size and materials of the existing wall
  3. Engineering required in its planning and installation
  4. Reasons for the damage
  5. New buildings uphill or downhill from the wall
  6. Terrain changes uphill or downhill from the wall

Each possible type of work is followed by average price:

Wall Building Task Average Cost
Cast concrete teardown $10/cubic yard
Drainage system $8–$10/LF
Earth grading $0.75–$2/sq. ft.
Engineering services $100–$150 per hour
Equipment $150–$260
Labor $35–$65 per hour
New wall materials $4–$22/sq. ft.

Before any retaining wall is replaced, it may be necessary to hire a Geotech engineer to come and take soil samples, and even drill cores to get down to the bedrock for samples. Extra cost may be incurred if any power, water, or gas lines were installed in the earth being held back by the current wall.

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Calculating Retaining Wall Repair Costs

Repairing a retaining wall can cost as much as replacing the wall would, depending on the reason for the repair. Replacing a few bricks could cost in the region of $200, but if your wall has poor construction or has shifted, then repairing it can cost a lot more.

Root Issue Resulting Damage Solution

DIY or low-quality construction

Wall fails

  • Possible rebuild
  • Dig out behind wall to install anchors

Load exceeds design

Full or partial destruction

  • Foundation repairs
  • Dig out behind wall to install anchors

Inadequate drainage

Wall bulging

  • Uphill soil regrading
  • Install landscape fabric barrier
  • Install drainpipe & weep holes

Inadequate footing implemented

Failure or signs of future failure

  • Increase base or slabs

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Types Of Retaining Walls

Of each type of retaining wall, there will be a range of installation costs because some are simple while others require engineering and the use of more expensive materials.

Gravity retaining walls

Brick, brick masonry, stone—natural stone, limestone, and faux stone.

This type of retaining wall is much thicker and leverages its extreme weight. It’s also designed to take advantage of geometry to perform its task. Concrete gravity walls can be used for installations requiring a wall of up to 9 feet tall, and should be between 50 % –60 % the thickness of the wall height.

Reinforced gravity retaining walls

Concrete cantilever, counter-fort/buttressed, precast concrete, prestressed

For extra strength, reinforced masonry and reinforced concrete walls are spread on foundations and are held firm because of their weight and the internal reinforcement bars.

Reinforced soil walls

Soil nailing, mechanical stabilization, sheet piling

Built using soil reinforcements or geotextiles that are laid in layers within a precise granular fill. Under certain conditions, these are used instead of reinforced concrete as a cost measure, or because the conditions on site necessitate their use, or as an improvement to an existing installation.

Hybrid retaining wall systems

Anchored earth, gabion, tailed gabion

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Advantages Of retaining walls

Retaining walls can protect a building foundation and stop it from shifting or falling when there is a steep incline in your yard space. They can also improve irrigation to landscaping on higher slopes. They can add attractive design features to your landscaping, adding some punctuation around flowerbeds and allowing for certain areas to be featured.

Disadvantages Of Retaining Walls

Before you build a retaining wall, you’ll more than likely need to hire an engineer, due to the complexities that can arise from the local soil properties, pressure, and gravity. A smaller wall in a garden can be straightforward enough for your contractor, but taller walls of the same design offer less support, and any one of a range of different designs or materials may be more suitable. Over time gravity combined with enough rainfall and an inadequate drainage system could contribute to the failure of the wall and the collapse of the soil behind it.

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DIY or Hire A Retaining Wall Builder?

Even building a small wall that’s under 2 feet tall without the right equipment is time consuming. You have to dig a horizontal trench, and it’s also difficult to get it level. Without having an analysis done on the soil and understanding drainage and the impact on the future wall from any nearby structures, you could easily be constructing the wrong type of retaining wall. Because of potential complications from building the wrong foundation, to all the science and engineering that goes into the construction of an effective and safe retaining wall, it is something best left to professionals, especially if you plan on building a high wall.

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How To Build A Retaining Wall

There is a wide range of different possible solutions for a retaining wall, but below are the fundamental elements to build a 3-foot-tall retaining wall using blocks and tops and a gravel base, on top of which you will lay the blocks.

  1. Assess The Property
  2. Plan & Dig Foundation
  3. Build Retaining Wall

Assess The Property

  • Slope ratio - The general rule of thumb for the purposes of safety is that if the slope is greater than 3:1—for every 3 feet of horizontal distance, the elevation drops by 3 feet—an engineer will need to weigh in on the project to ensure this.
  • Exposure to freezing conditions – Freezing water can damage the bonding between the more porous brick and the engineering brick, resulting in either damage to a portion of the wall or the entire wall.
  • Drainage – Without adequate drainage, a buildup of hydrostatic pressure behind the wall will damage the wall. Walls have to be designed in such a way that provides both optimal internal stability as well as external stability.
  • Soil content – As mentioned above, assess soil cohesion and the friction angle of the soil.
  • Nearby structures - The proximity and presence of any uphill structures might place too much pressure on your wall.
  • Underground utilities – Call 811 to check on the locations of all buried utilities including gas, power, and water.

Plan & Dig Foundation

Estimate how many blocks and cubic feet of gravel base to order for the foundation. Think about what to do with the dirt that will be removed, and if it will be used to compact the earth behind the wall. Make sure you have, or can get access to, a range of tools including a rake, shovel, spade, pick ax, bubble levels, hand tamper, rubber mallet, hammer and mason chisel, glue, stakes, and some twine.

Dig the trench for the foundation and also dig out the soil from where the retaining wall is going to be installed. For this example:

  • The trench would be 9” deep into the ground, which would allow for a 6” gravel base foundation.
  • The bottom row of blocks is 3” below the surface (half their height).
  • It will be 20” from front to back.

On the rear of where the wall is going, cut 6” back from where the rear of the bricks will be to allow a barrier of ¾ inch rough rock drain gravel to facilitate drainage. Also, the floor of the base trench should have a slope on it to prevent water pooling and saturating the ground under the base.

Build Retaining Wall

  1. Add Gravel Base – Add a layer of about 2” of gravel base across the entire length of the trench, and once you have raked it to even out that layer, run a hose over it to dampen the gravel and then tamp it down so it is packed as tightly as possible. Install drainage pipes and waterproof sheets. Repeat for two more 2” layers of gravel base, and give it one last run with the hose, along with a final tamp.
  2. Leveling – To best ensure the wall ends up being as straight as possible, drive some stakes in the ground, and using bright twine, mark off the front line of the blocks so you don’t go off track. Next, start laying the blocks, and use your level on each one. If you discover there are adjustments to be made, you can add small amounts of sand (because it is a lot easier than trying to level rough gravel) under the block and tap with a rubber mallet until each first layer block is completely level.
  3. Add structural backfill – When you get to the end of the first layer, add the course gravel in behind the blocks and tamp down with something like a 2 x 4. The first layer will the longest because each block has to be made completely level, but once you are onto the second layer, the blocks can just be laid on top of each other.
  4. Add Capstone – The top layer will need to have each block glued into place, or for extra peace of mind, you could glue down the top two layers.
  5. Add Soil – Now that the construction of the wall is complete, cover half of the bottom block with soil.

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Finding A Retaining Wall Builder

Because of the severity of both legal and financial issues you could face in the event of a retaining wall failure, finding an experienced professional for your retaining wall is very important. Apart from the inconvenience, you may also find yourself with damage to your home or a neighbor’s home. Use the criteria below to look up specialists here on HomeGuide to create your shortlist of contractors to request bids from, and make your final selection from there. Add contractors to your list who have as many of the following characteristics as possible when creating your shortlist:

  • Are A/A+ rated with the Better Business Bureau
  • Have been in business for at least three years
  • Are insured and bonded
  • Licensed (if required in your state)
  • Have great reviews on review sites – like Yelp and Google
  • Offer warranties on labor and parts
  • Can show examples of similar work they have done in the area
  • Communicate clearly and quickly – listen well, answer all your questions clearly, respond to calls and e-mails within an hour or two
  • Give a detailed, easy-to-understand proposal with itemized costs that includes setup and cleanup

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