Glossary of Terms for Retaining Walls
Resource guide for retaining wall definitions

Base - Batter - Bench cut - PLAY BALL?

NO! These are terms used in the retaining wall industry.

Sound confusing?

To some people it probably does, but these and other terms used by contractors, engineers and block manufacturers are defined here.

Most are fairly common or straightforward, others like efflorescence and overturning can sound frightening but are not so bad after all.

Aggregate - Inert material as in sand, gravel or slag.

Backfill - Material used to replace that which was excavated behind the wall.  It may consist of soil or "clean" aggregate.  Drainage concerns and wall type will determine the type and quantity of backfill material.


Base - The excavated area of the ground in which base material is placed, compacted and leveled on which the base course of the retaining wall block is placed.  Syn: Leveling Pad

Base Course - The first row of blocks placed on top of the leveling pad where the top of the block is at or below grade.  Some walls may have more than one course of blocks below grade

Base Material - Usually 3/4" aggregate with fines used to create a level area for the first base course.

Batter - The angle, measured in degrees, created from the setback of a segmental retaining wall block.  It is the angle measured using a plumb line from the toe to the top of the wall and the face of the wall.

Bench Cut - A horizontal cut across a slope.

Beveled Face - The laterally exposed areas of the retaining wall block are angled and not flat.

Column - Vertical pillar at the end, corner or middle portion of the retaining wall.  Can be used independently also.  Adds support to the wall.

Compaction - Compressing the material used in the base and backfill areas of a retaining wall.  Compaction is important in wall construction, with each course being backfilled and compacted to a 95% proctor.

Course - A horizontal layer or row of retaining wall blocks.

Crest Slope - The angle of soil above the wall.

Efflorescence - A whitish substance that can naturally occur on all concrete products.  The condition will usually disappear over time with weathering.  It comes from lime deposits within the concrete.

Face of Wall - See Wall Face

Fines - Smaller particles of aggregate.

Foundation Soil - The supporting material for the leveling pad (base) of a retaining wall.

Free Standing Wall - One which does not retain anything.  It is double-sided.  For aesthetic value.

Geogrid - A polypropylene or polyethylene material formed in a grid-like pattern used for soil reinforcement, synthetically made.

Grade - Ground level.

Gravity Wall - A segmental retaining wall that uses the setback and weight of the block to resist the soil pressures.  Geosynthetic reinforcement is not required on a gravity wall.

Leveling Pad - The excavated area of the ground in which base material is placed, compacted and leveled on which the base course of the retaining wall block is placed.  Syn: Base

Overturning - External lateral pressure on a retaining wall in which the soil mass rotates at the base of the wall creating an external stability failure.

Permeable Soil - Soil that allows water to pass through at an appreciable rate or unrestricted.

Proctor - The determination process for the moisture-density relationship in compacted soils.  Generally 95% is the goal.

Slope - Angle of soil, usually expressed in a ratio such as 3:1 (3 feet horizontal and 1 foot vertical).  See also Toe Slope and Crest Slope

Straight Face - The exposed surface of the retaining wall block is flat and not angled or beveled.

Surcharge - A force or pressure exerted on top of a segmental retaining wall. (SRW).  May consist of a road, parking lot, building foundation or machinery/equipment.

Swale - A ditch or depression in the soil at the top of the retaining wall used to divert water to another location away from the wall.

Toe Slope - The angle of soil in front of and at the base of the wall.

Wall Face - The exposed area of a retaining wall with a degree of batter. 




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Richmond, Virginia - Revised: 08 Aug 2008 crt