Whether you’re a SoCal local or one of the millions of tourists that spend time in Los Angeles, there will come a time where you will marvel at how home builders laugh in the face of topographical challenges. If it’s a prime spot for real estate, there’s a home going there, regardless of the terrain.
This challenge is one of the reasons Southern California properties can be so uniquely beautiful. Slopes add to the charm, but they can also present significant difficulty in using as much space as you can on a small lot. This challenge often leads to retaining wall construction.
Los Angeles Rules for Retaining Wall Construction
With one simple online investigative search on the topic of building retaining walls in Los Angeles, you will quickly realize that there are a lot of rules about building retaining walls on Southern California properties.
Reading through municipal documents can be dizzying and it will be evident that you need a retaining wall contractor for your Los Angeles property’s grade challenges.
Anytime there needs to be a wall constructed that is over 4 ft. tall (including the blocks below the surface), you will need a permit for a retaining wall. Large wall projects will need to involve an engineer to make sure the proper measures are being taken to meet codes.
Cost Impacting Challenges of Retaining Wall Construction in Los Angeles
Space is often limited. Many Southern California property owners want to spread out with flat surfaces as far as they can around their home, using every precious square foot. The seemingly easy solution of adding retaining walls and filling the areas in, is not a simple solution as many hope.
Retaining Wall Height & Length
The cost of retaining wall construction in Los Angeles can vary drastically. A wall can cost only $5000 or it can cost you over $50,000 in some cases. This often leads property owners to look for alternatives to deal with slopes in yards.
One slight variation could lower retaining wall cost for Los Angeles properties. In some cases, the height of walls may not need to be as high as one would suspect if walls are added, even designed in tiered levels or with the additions of sloped landscape beds placed beside them.
Here are some ballpark prices for retaining walls*:
- Small 20 foot segmental wall – stone wall 18 inches tall – best to no so good condition – $2,200-$2,700
- 20 ‘ 6 foot fence wall not retaining – $4,300-$4800 (w/ sand stucco finish, no cap)
- 20’ 3’ retaining level dirt – $3,200-$3,700 (w/ sand stucco finish, no cap)
- 20’ 3 retaining 2 to 1 slope – $3,500-$4,000 (w/ sand stucco finish, no cap)
- 20 8’ retaining 2 to 1 – $6,500-$7,000 (w/ sand stucco finish, no cap)
Limited Horizontal Space
However, space is still very limited. Spreading out enough may mean you end up on your neighbor’s property or into the street, a situation municipalities won’t allow.
Property owners commonly don’t understand what needs to happen underneath the surface of a retaining wall. In order to properly anchor a retaining wall and give it the proper footing, more native soil has to be disturbed than you may anticipate.
Some spots are extremely hard to get to. In order to be the most cost-effective, wall footings need excavated with equipment. These pieces of machinery will also need room to turn around and places to dump piles of debris and base material. The poorer the access, the more retaining wall cost could go up for your Los Angeles property.
Likewise, steep slopes to the work area will drive up costs or make a retaining wall project impossible to execute. It won’t matter that there is plenty of room in the backyard if there is an unsafe slope to traverse on the way there.
Existing Soil Structure
If only we had X-ray vision. Unfortunately conditions could become very rocky once excavation is begun. Large boulders may require larger equipment or even explosive blasting to remove. Soil problems like these could cause your project costs to rise or even not allow it to be performed.
Materials for Los Angeles Retaining Walls
The overwhelming majority of retaining walls we install in Southern California are smaller walls made from manufactured concrete blocks. There are 2 primary applications:
Masonry Retaining Walls
Some projects use concrete blocks much like a mason uses for the foundation of homes. These materials are laid in a similar fashion with rebar supports added for additional supports.
These walls then are most often covered with stone veneer to match existing architecture of homes or other elements of the landscape design.
Interlocking Concrete Block Retaining Walls
Manufacturers of paving stones also make wall blocks that match very nicely with their products or can be used on other areas of your property. These types of walls typically are the most cost-effective of retaining wall options you will find and are extremely durable if installed properly.
These walls are topped with cap stone that is glued fast for a slight overhang.
Frequently Overlooked Items
Be careful that you are using a retaining wall company in Los Angeles that has installed walls for many years and knows the best practices. If walls are improperly installed, it can cause many problems that will show up years down the line.
The soil behind walls will retain water. There needs to be a plan to move that water so it doesn’t force the wall and make it lean or fall over. Drainage solutions should be installed in the ground around your retaining walls, directing it elsewhere.
There are all sorts of crazy things we’ve seen as a result of improper installation, even with wall blocks being set upside down from the way the manufacturer intended. Some walls lean or aren’t level when you back up a good distance and look at them. These are all the result of using a landscaper that may not have much experience with this type of specialized construction.
Should Pacific Pavingstone Install Retaining Walls for You?
Unlike some companies that say they offer retaining wall construction services, we don’t get ourselves into situations where we will bite off more than we can chew. There are some retaining wall companies in Los Angeles that solely specialize in installing only walls. In fact, they are gifted at designing and installing huge walls, 15-20 ft. and higher! That’s all they do and they sure do it quickly. However, your project may require other elements that they may not be equally gifted at. Keep that in mind.
Pacific Pavingstone has installed a lot of retaining walls in the Los Angeles area. Most of the walls we install on residential properties don’t get to a massive scale. There are a lot of creative landscape design solutions that can keep the cost of retaining wall construction down on your property. Some of these solutions you may not have even thought of, will end up looking better than an immense wall, and save you some money in the long run.
Finding a knowledgeable, and properly-insured retaining wall contractor in Los Angeles is very important. Many problems could end up coming back on you as the homeowner if you make a poor choice. We’d love to talk to you about your project and show you why you can trust us with your property.
Check out some pictures of retaining walls on projects we’ve completed.
*Prices are estimates for educational purposes only, and not direct quotes.