Retaining walls serve a very practical purpose; battling gravity on your sloping landscape. They help manage erosion of sloped areas by offsetting the lateral force of the slope. If you live up in the hills or mountains, you might have these walls already. If you’re building on sloped land, you’ll need to invest in retaining walls. If you’re converting your basement and want a private entrance, a retaining wall will be essential to providing safe and sturdy access. While they are a necessary landscaping structure, this doesn’t mean they have to be a visual blight on your property. When it comes to choice, these are our top picks for retaining wall materials and why we love them.

Brick
Timeless. Not just because it’s a classic facade, but natural clay bricks are solid. There’s a reason The Commodores decided to name their hit “Brick House”. Brick structures are some of the most durable around. Brick tends to be on the expensive side of material, but they can weather any storm, need very little upkeep, and once they’re up, they’re pretty much up for life. Your life, at least. Beauty and strength is what you can expect out of this material.

Stone Veneer
In some material cases, the strength can limit how high you can build a retaining wall. Not for stone veneer. These engineered materials have a solid core, providing extra strength, with customization options that can fit your needs and vision. A variety of colors and textures means you can do almost anything. You may not be able to exactly match the look of your home’s facing material, but you can certainly compliment it quite well. Another more expensive option, but if you need walls higher than four feet, it will be worth the investment.

Boulders/Dry Stone
If you want a truly natural look and material, then look no further than the dry stone or boulder. Exactly what you think they are, these massive rocks can be arranged to fit your needs with a rustic aesthetic. They’re a less expensive material, but their size/weight, and water issues means you’ll need to invest in professional help. Without a good drainage system, these structures are very vulnerable to water damage. Just stacked on top of each other, controlling water flow is difficult, and if enough water builds up, it can destroy the structural integrity.

Concrete: Bricks Or Poured
Concrete is a fairly standard building material. With blocks you can create curves and play with design a little more, they are limited to a 4 foot height, however. Poured concrete tends to be stronger than the blocks, and while they create a sleek look – and can be finished with stucco or tiles – the installation has to be precise and perfect for optimal structural integrity. Poured concrete is also more susceptible to cracking. While it seems inexpensive, the amount of work it takes to build a concrete wall drives up the price a bit. But there is lots of flexibility with design.

Wood
Nothing says nature like real wood. It’s a very versatile material in terms of looks; it goes with pretty much anything. But similar to concrete, it has its limitations. While a strong material, it can only truly withstand a retaining wall of up to 4 feet. It also has to be carefully treated and maintained to be able to last any length of time. Water and termite damage makes it probably the most vulnerable material, and there are only so many design elements you can include in its structure. However, it’s a fairly inexpensive material, lightweight and easy to dismantle and repurpose. But with proper waterproofing and preservatives, you can expect a good 20 years out of your small walls.

Gabion
The word itself is rooted in the Italian gabbia, in English – cage. That’s what this is. A strong wire cage that’s filled with rocks. Not boulder sized rocks, but not pebbles either. These walls work very well along waterfronts and rivers. They actually look like riverbed rocks. But it isn’t their look that makes them work well along the water’s edge. These structures are very flexible and capable of moving with the earth. You need hardly any skill to create one of these. Your biggest problem is going to be the wire cage. Water and metal = rust. But if you’re looking for a very green material and a rough and tough look, here it is.