Seattle Retaining Wall: The Hills, Valleys, and Water of Puget Sound

by Marcus Pickett

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Seattle might just be the retaining wall capital of the United States. If you've ever toured the Seattle Underground or know about the city's history, you know simply building the city took quite a bit of architectural innovation. Sixty major re-grading projects took place before the turn of the 20th century that included moving 50 million tons of Earth, generally by lopping off the tops of hills and throwing it into low-lying areas or Puget Sound itself. Still, you can't just throw dirt around and expect it to stay. Retaining walls are the stone and/or concrete barriers that keep downtown Seattle and other low-lying areas from eroding and collapsing into Puget Sound.

Retaining Walls for Seattle Homes
Commercial and civic retaining walls may maintain the largest alteration to an urban terrain in history, but you don't need to renovate the Columbia Center or own a lakeside home to need the services of a retaining wall in Seattle. The seven (or so) hills of Seattle create a number of different residential slopes that can create structural hazards and make various landscaping features impossible. A little re-grading of your own can fix that, and installing a retaining wall is often an integral part of leveling your property. Whether you need to protect the stability of your home's foundation or want to create a level gardening or recreational area, a Seattle retaining wall contractor can get the job done.

Even homeowners who live in fairly level and stable areas often install a retaining wall for nothing more than looks. A stone wall can be a beautiful outdoor addition to your home. Of course, your project specifications may be more rigid for functional retaining walls, but don't think of your project as a drag so much as an opportunity.

Seattle Retaining Wall Installation
It's hard to estimate how much your retaining wall will cost or how long it will take to build simply because both are directly proportional to the size of your wall. Small, decorative walls can run as little as a few hundred dollars, take a single day to build, and are uncommon in Seattle where larger, functional walls are the norm. Smaller walls also have the option of being constructed from wood or other lighter materials. A decent-sized retaining wall may cost $5,000 and take a week or two to complete. Larger, more complicated walls can cost $15,000 or more and take several weeks. These walls are also almost exclusively stone or concrete.

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Seattle Retaining Wall Contractors
Few homeowners have extensive knowledge of retaining walls. Holding back tons of Earth is a lot more complicated than just stacking rocks. Any retaining wall of note will also need a building permit that your contractor can hopefully secure for you. It may seem like a nuisance, but you don't want to inadvertently divert a bunch of rainwater and run-off onto your neighbor's property.

It may take some time and discussion to figure out the general design of your wall. Choosing a stone and mortar design and color can be as fun as it is challenging, but make sure you and your contractor are on the same page. This is not the type of project you want to do twice, but it's also a project where you can't simply point to a tradeshow exhibit and say, this is what I want. Here's the feedback we got from two Seattle homeowners who spent $15,000 and $7,000, respectively, on their retaining wall installation:

"Have a well-defined scope and budget in hand. Have everything in writing and signed, including a damage or schedule clause for non-performance. Watch this contractor every day, and communicate, communicate, communicate!"

"Be clear what you want done and how. Ensure what you talked about gets written down. Don't assume the contractor 'heard' what you said."

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.