If you’re looking for a way to spruce up your outdoor area, whether just renovating or adding in a brand new garden, you should consider building a gabion retaining wall. These walls have easy installation and can be the perfect addition to your outdoor living space for many reasons.
Gabion retaining walls are easy to design and build and customize to fit your unique design for your space. Comparatively speaking, they tend to run a lot cheaper than other standard walls or fences and can even be DIY’d with ease—something you could hardly do with a traditional brick and mortar wall.
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What A Gabion Retaining Wall Is
The term “gabion” comes from the Italian word “gabbione,” meaning “cage.” They make gabion retaining walls out of wire mesh formed into boxes or baskets and then fill them with rock or stone. These retaining walls help prevent erosion and also stabilize any steep slopes you may have.
These walls have a variety of uses. Not only are they beneficial for the earth, but they’re also aesthetically pleasing and can be great accent pieces for your garden or any other outdoor area in your home. They’re cost-efficient, look great, and quick to build once you get the hang of it.
How It Works
Gabion walls are popular in residential and civil construction, as science has proven they help in earth retention. Stabilizing the earth is important because it helps maintain the safety of different worksites and protects the ecosystem of the area both inside and surrounding the wall.
Gabion walls have easy installation, so even those unskilled in crafting can make, fill, and close the wire baskets. In fact, these retention walls don’t even need a foundation because once they’re filled with rocks, they weigh so much that they anchor themselves down.
The longer the gabion wall sits in the earth, the more it settles into the ground and the stronger it becomes. Gabion retaining walls have a typical lifespan of 50 to 100 years, depending on how much saltwater they’re exposed to. Those closer to the ocean may rust quicker.
Advantages Over A Brick or Stone Wall or Wooden Fence
Gabion walls are more durable than concrete retaining walls. Although concrete is durable, it has a life span and will show wear and tear over time. Gabion walls have higher wear and tear tolerance and can even grow stronger with time.
Gabion walls become reinforced as dirt and other organic matter fills the gaps between the cage and the rocks. Gabion walls are also more flexible than concrete. Concrete walls crack and crumble as the earth moves. Gabion walls move with the earth as it shifts, without reducing the protection they give.
One of the best parts of gabion retaining walls is you don’t have to worry about installing a drainage system. These walls can bleed off hydrostatic pressure thanks to their porous surface. Plus, gabion walls also take less time to construct than other earth retaining methods.
Disadvantages Compared to A Brick or Stone Wall or Wooden Fence
Soil and windblown or water-carried debris may end up in the crevices of the gabion walls. Therefore, gabion walls may end up sprouting vegetation. Gabion walls tend to have an industrial look, and it’s harder to make organic shapes with them.
However, there are multiple fill material options for those who may prefer a more natural look. Additionally, we cannot build gabion walls as high as concrete walls. As we mentioned before, if you live near the coast, your gabion retaining wall may rust more easily as opposed to one that’s more inland.
Another possible disadvantage of gabion retaining walls compared to traditional things like brick, stone, or wood is how difficult it is to get a curved wall. Traditional materials make it extremely easy to get a curved wall for your outdoor area, but gabion walls are less flexible and more difficult to curve.
Aesthetically speaking, it’s possible to seamlessly integrate brick, stone, and wood fences or walls into any kind of decorating style. On the other hand, Gabion walls tend to have a very modern, very industrial feel to them. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you have to be sure that’s the kind of look you’re going for.
Where a Gabion Retaining Wall Can Be Used
Gabion retaining walls are extremely versatile! Obviously, they’re used for outdoor landscaping, but we can utilize them in various ways. Gabion walls are impressive for retention but can also be used as seating walls, accent walls, or decorative walls to add an extra flair to your outdoor area.
They’re great for preserving the land on civil projects that may include construction inside the retaining wall but need to preserve the surrounding area’s earth. They can also make impressive additions to gardens, outdoor seating areas or just make great dividers for whatever space you need them for.
Gabion retaining walls are also a cost-effective solution if you’re trying to redo your outdoor space or garden but don’t want to break the bank. Compared to standard walls and fencing, gabion walls help you save money, especially if you’re going for an industrial look.
How Much a Gabion Retaining Wall Costs
The cost depends on the fill material and wire that’s used. However, gabion walls cost an average of $4 to $40 per square foot, with the wire mesh costing $30 to $40 per cubic yard. Installation is simple and affordable, as even unskilled laborers can install gabion walls.
We’ll crunch the actual numbers in a moment, but these figures alone show that it can be extremely affordable to pitch in some elbow grease and construct your gabion retaining wall. This is a significant cost reduction if you’re a hands-on, DIY type of person.
It’s also not going to be absurdly priced to hire someone to build it either, seeing how much you’ll be saving on materials alone—not to mention how many fewer labor hours the project will entail. Ultimately the choice is yours, but either way, you won’t be spending a fortune on a new gabion retaining wall.
How The Cost Compares to Standard Walls or Fencing
Brick walls cost an average of $14 to $15 per square foot, not including the extra cost for mortar, extra materials, and labor hours. You also have to consider drainage options and the intensive labor involved. The average labor cost per hour for brick is $60 to $90.
Wood wall materials cost an average of $15 to $25 per square foot. Wood wall materials can be cost-effective, but some types will raise the cost significantly. Also, the average labor cost per hour for woodwork is $15 to $75.
Just crunching the numbers alone shows how cost-efficient building a gabion wall can be. If you don’t want to pay anyone for labor, it’s also extremely easy to figure out how to build and install the wall yourself. So not only do you save money, but you can remember the effort that went into your backyard space.
Sizing is a crucial part of any building project. You’ll need to know how tall or thick you want your wall to be before beginning your project, so you know how to construct it accordingly. If you’re looking for a thinner accent wall for your garden, a gabion wall may not be the best choice.
How Tall A Gabion Retaining Wall Can Be
Luckily, gabion walls can reach as high as 30 feet in the air. That means there’s plenty of room for you to play with how tall you actually want the wall to be. If you want more privacy, you can opt for a taller wall. If you want only a small divider, you don’t have to worry about building it up.
How Thick a Gabion Retaining Wall Needs to Be
A gabion retaining wall needs to be at least 12 inches at a bare minimum, so about a foot thick. If you’re looking for any walls or fences thinner than that, then you may need to consider something other than a gabion wall for your outdoor area.
Additionally, you’ll want the larger, thicker baskets on the bottom when building a gabion wall, followed by smaller, thinner baskets on top. This makes sure your wall will have a solid foundation and act as its anchor, as we mentioned before.
Curved vs. Straight Gabion Retaining Walls
Traditionally, gabion retaining walls are straight. They can have an angled curve but are overall pretty much straight shots of walling. This is because we can assemble the mesh and rocks easier if we lay them straight rather than on a curve.
However, just because it’s traditionally done this way doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do it any other way. In fact, it is possible to have a curved gabion wall, but it takes a lot of patience to first make sure the mesh holds a curved shape and then fill in the rocks. Plus, if you don’t put any mesh on top, your guests cannot use the wall for sitting, which is a common use for gabion walls.
Ultimately, it’s up to you if you would rather have your gabion retaining wall be more traditional or curved in nature. That being said, if you want to hire someone to do the project, you’ll need to make sure they’re skilled in warping the mesh before agreeing to let them do the job. That way, you know their skills are up to par.
We’ve already discussed how the materials for gabion retaining walls are already cheaper than that of normal walls or fences, which is why it’s such a cost-efficient project to take on for your outdoor space. However, there are a few materials to keep in mind when choosing what you want to craft your gabion retaining wall out of.
What a Gabion Retaining Wall is Made From
Various gauges and grades of wire mesh are available, but usually, they’re all galvanized. You can choose a thicker mesh for the bottom and a thinner mesh for the top, as we suggested before, but you can also choose the same thickness for the entire wall if you so desire.
What a Gabion Retaining Wall Can Be Filled With
Fill material can vary from attractive stones to logs, industrial-grade stones, broken concrete, or even slag glass. Angular rocks are usually the best fill material for gabion walls because they lock together and make a non-moving unit.
Sometimes, you can fill your gabion walls with colorful landscape glass, creating a unique design. You can even put lights inside the structure behind the glass and see it light up at night. This takes minimal effort and can make a stunning addition to your outdoor area.
There are loads of ways to perfect your gabion retaining wall’s design to make it unique to your outdoor area—whether it’s the backyard, front yard, or anywhere in between. There are tons of different materials you can choose from to make sure your wall fits your vision.
Like we mentioned before, though, these walls tend to be very industrial and modern in nature. If you’re looking for something a little more natural, it may be best to steer away from a gabion retaining wall. Or, if you’re willing to wait, you can see what kind of vegetation begins to grow in the cracks of the rocks in your gabion wall.
Either way, while the overall design of the shape is pretty uniform—square or rectangular—there are loads of ways to customize your gabion retaining wall without losing the structure’s integrity. You’ll have a beautiful accent in your outdoor space without having spent a fortune.
The Bottom Line
If you’re considering installing or building a gabion retaining wall, this may be your sign to do so. The materials aren’t excruciatingly expensive, and you may learn a thing or two about landscaping in the process. Ultimately, it’s up to you what you think will look best for your home, but gabion retaining walls will always be a smart, low-cost investment and are available to order online from a range of suppliers.