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Poured retaining walls with elaborate curves require complex formwork and will drive up cost for a wall.

The total cost to have a concrete retaining wall installed will be a combination of material and labor prices. For a basic wall you can expect to pay between $30 and $60 per square foot. If you add a decorative finish, curves, steps, lighting or other upgrades, the cost will rise.

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What factors influence the cost of a concrete wall?

  • Curves - The more curves in a wall, the more complex the formwork must be. Complicated formwork drives material and labor costs up.
  • Reinforcement - If additional reinforcement is needed because of earthquake risk or other factors, cost for materials and labor will rise.
  • Height - A taller wall requires more concrete, thus increasing your material costs. Furthermore, Tom Ralston, owner of Tom Ralston Concrete in Santa Cruz, CA, points out that a wall that is over 4 feet will have to be poured in two phases - footings and then wall. This will cause labor costs to rise.
  • Length - A longer wall requires more concrete which means material costs will increase. A longer wall also means more work for the crew when it comes to digging footings, this could lead to increased labor costs.
  • Decorative Finish - A simple unfinished wall will be the most affordable option. However, adding texture or color to the surface of the wall will greatly improve its appearance. Along with this improved appearance will come higher costs for both materials and labor.
  • Engineering - If the wall is crucial to the stability of a home or other structure it is wise to seek the expertise of an engineer. Fees for specialty engineering can add a significant amount of cost to the project.
  • Many other factors will influence the cost of your wall. These include location, access, soil conditions, moisture levels and many more. The best way to get an idea of what a wall will cost is to have a few contractors out to give you bids that take into account the unique factors present on your property.

For Ralston, $60-$85 per square foot is the average cost he charges depending on the degree of difficulty, especially for hillsides. For walls below 4 feet, he says his prices are often competitive with finished block.

A block wall has to be stuccoed or finished with veneer, while a concrete wall does not need an added finish. If the concrete mix was integrally colored, all you need to do is remove the forms. This can be an area where concrete has a cost advantage over other retaining wall materials. Furthermore, concrete walls can be stamped to look like stone at a much lower price than a natural stone wall.

Protecting Your InvestmentHiring a contractor who is experienced with pouring concrete walls will ensure that you get a quality product that will last for years. When constructing a concrete wall it is imperative that the forms be built properly, or else the end result could have waves or bulges that make it appear sloppy.

Waterproofing and drainage are also important elements of wall construction that Ralston stresses as essential. He warns that without the proper waterproofing, moisture could move through the wall and discolor the finished surface. Without the proper drainage, hydrostatic pressure could build up behind the wall and cause it to lean outwards.

Fixing these problems can be quite costly and may even lead to demolishing the existing wall and re-pouring fresh concrete with the proper construction methods. To avoid maintenance issues, costly repairs or complete replacement, shop around for a contractor with proven experience in building concrete retaining walls.