Pool Retaining Walls For Sloped Yards: Pros/Cons, How to Build Them & More

Written by Michael Dean
August 10, 2023

retaining walls

If your yard is on a slope, you may have written off the prospect of having a pool a long time ago. But a retaining wall can fix all of your problems! Building a retaining wall in your sloped yard can essentially turn your backyard into a flat, pool-ready surface. 

In this article, I will discuss how to build a pool retaining wall for a sloped yard. I will also go over some pros and cons of retaining walls and the different types. Let’s dive in!

Main Takeaways

  • If you have a yard that slopes more than 2 feet, you will need a retaining wall to build a pool.
  • Retaining walls that are more than 4 feet tall are legally required to have a structural engineer to access the job.
  • The most common retaining wall materials are poured concrete, wood, and natural stone.
  • It costs between $5,000 and $20,000 to install a pool retaining wall.

Can You Build a Pool on a Slope?

The idea of having a pool in your sloped backyard may seem like an impossible dream, but while it will require a lot of money and hard work, it is possible to build a pool on a slope. With the help of a retaining wall and knowledgeable professionals, you can reshape your backyard to fit a pool. 

How to Use Retaining Walls for Pools in Sloped Yards

Most yards are not perfectly flat. Many backyards have a 2 to 3-foot slope from one end to the other. That said, this kind of slope does not usually call for a retaining wall to build a pool. Some yards, however, may be built on a hill and will have a significant slope. Installing a pool in a majorly sloped yard (4 feet or more) is a significant undertaking and requires a retaining wall to hold the earth in place.

Using a retaining wall to flatten out your sloped yard is a major project; in many cases, you’ll need to employ a professional. Installing a retaining wall can be relatively simple, but most projects are large-scale landscaping projects. So, depending on the scale of your retaining wall, it might be required by law to hire an engineer for the job.

So, What is a Retaining Wall Used For?

Essentially, you use a retaining wall to hold back the earth at either the high point, low point, or some point in the middle of your sloped yard. Installing a retaining wall allows you to flatten out a space to put a swimming pool in your yard that would otherwise not be possible. 

How to Build a Pool on a Small Slope

Not all slopes need a full-on retaining wall. As I mentioned, many yards have minor slopes. These generally only require a bit of basic landscaping and reshaping to level out. If the slope in your backyard is minor, you can simply level out your yard by adding dirt to the lower parts of your yard, essentially building it up to be completely level. This is a relatively simple process and won’t usually require the help of a professional. But remember, leveling a slope in your yard for a pool is only possible if you have a very slight slope. Generally, less than 2 feet is the cut-off for needing a retaining wall.

How Much Do Retaining Walls For Pools Cost?

Pool retaining walls can vary in cost dramatically depending on the size of retaining wall you need, how high it needs to be, how sloped your yard is, and whether or not you need to hire an engineer. Retaining walls cost around $23 per square foot on average, but this price can skyrocket to more than double that depending on your circumstances.

As I mentioned, building a retaining wall for a pool is no small feat, and the cost reflects that. Most pool owners can expect to pay an absolute minimum of $5,000 for a small retaining wall and up to well over $20,000 for a more major project.

How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Landscaping Engineer?

Another major cost you will need to consider for your pool retaining wall is the cost of a landscaping or structural engineer. An engineer is usually required if your retaining wall exceeds 4 feet in height. Hiring a structural engineer is pricey, but it may be a legal requirement, and it will ensure that your retaining wall is built safely and securely.

On average, you should expect to pay between $500 to $3,000 for a structural engineer to sign off on your pool retaining wall.

Can You Install a Pool Retaining Wall DIY?

Installing a retaining wall is a VERY difficult, time-consuming, and complex process. While it is possible to DIY small, simple pool retaining walls, I highly recommend hiring an experienced professional for most projects. There are several reasons for this.

  • You’ll likely need heavy equipment. More often than not, retaining walls require a lot of excavation, which generally requires heavy machinery such as diggers. These can be expensive to rent and complicated to use properly if you do not have any experience.
  • Building a retaining wall is HARD work. Retaining wall installation is not an easy job. This project will involve lots of digging, moving dirt, concrete pouring, and more. 
  • Doing it wrong can be dangerous and costly. There are lots of important calculations necessary to ensure you build a safe retaining wall. If you DIY, you’ll have to research local building codes and inspect the erosion and runoff patterns. Unless you are confident in your abilities, this is best left to a professional.

Where Should You Install Your Retaining Wall?

This is the million-dollar question. And unfortunately, I cannot give you a super clear answer. This is because the ideal place to build your retaining wall depends on the severity of the slope in your yard and other factors, such as drainage. You should consult a professional to get an idea of the best place to put your pool retaining wall.

Types of Retaining Walls

There are several different designs you can choose from when building a retaining wall for your sloped yard. Here are some of the most popular types.

  • Gravity retaining walls. Gravity walls use their sheer weight to hold soil behind them, which means they need to be constructed with heavy materials like stone or concrete.
  • Crib retaining walls. These are a type of gravity wall but use a grid-like structure made with pre-cast concrete and filled with crushed stone. These walls are typically good for supporting planters but not suitable for holding back a ton of soil.
  • Gabion retaining walls. These walls are held together with mesh and filled with large stones. Typically used when erosion is a big concern.
  • Cantilever retaining walls. These walls are very strong because of their design to create leverage, having a base slab that slides underneath the soil.
  • Counterfort walls. These are pretty similar to cantilever walls but require additional support on the backside of the wall.

Common Retaining Wall Materials

There are several options when it comes to materials for retaining walls. Some of the most common are wood, prefab concrete blocks, and natural stone. Other options include poured concrete, brick, and stone veneer. Wood and prefab concrete block walls are relatively easy to design and install, while natural stone retaining walls take more work and knowledge.

Features that will impact your choice of retaining wall material include cost, strength, and durability:

  • Cheapest: Wood
  • Most durable: Poured concrete
  • Strongest: Poured concrete

Poured Concrete

The best retaining wall option for pools on slopes is poured concrete. This is definitely a pricier option, but its sheer strength ensures that your pool and yard are safe and secure.

Poured concrete is a rigid wall made around a rebar frame. It forms a T-shape in the ground, with concrete and rebar extending forward and back of the wall underground. It must be poured into a frame made to be the negative of the desired style.


  • One of the strongest materials used in retaining wall building
  • Can be made into any shape and style that can be molded
  • Might be required by your structural engineer if building taller retaining walls
  • Modern, sleek design


  • Designing the molds usually requires a landscape architect or a structural engineer
  • Cracks are difficult to patch and can affect the strength and integrity of the entire wall. So, it is important to hire a reputable contractor for the job.
  • The concrete base can interfere with drainage in the area around the wall.


Wood-based retaining walls are another option for pools built on slopes. That said, wood should really only be used for small retaining walls holding back a smaller amount of dirt. If you are building a pool on a large slope, I recommend going with a stronger option.

Wooden retaining walls are made from waterproof planks or timbers, sometimes using rebar for support. Deadman anchors hold taller walls to the slope and prevent bowing outward. Poured concrete is sometimes used to create a base that rebar is anchored in before attaching the planks or logs.


  • Wood is one of the most attractive choices in natural yards and gardens
  • Wooden retaining walls are relatively easy to install
  • Wooden retaining walls that are properly installed and made from the right wood can last 20 years
  • Wooden walls are the most cost-effective option compared to some of the other choices
  • Building materials for plank walls weigh less and are easier to transport than concrete or stone


  • Does not usually last as long as other types of materials
  • Generally cannot be used for retaining walls that are more than 4 feet high
  • Susceptible to rotting in areas with a lot of rain or water flow
  • The material for timber walls is heavy and can be unwieldy to handle
  • Cannot be used to make curved walls

Natural Stone

Natural stone retaining walls look the best around your pool, but they can be complicated to build and are not generally as strong as concrete.

Natural stone walls are made of rock in its original shape or cut into blocks. Walls made from rocks retaining their original shape are generally broken into two categories by size: rubble walls and boulder walls. These walls typically do not use a base, although they may be laid on a layer of gravel.


  • Attractive and natural in appearance
  • Some are heavy enough to hold back a significant amount of weight
  • Uncut stone is typically a relatively cheap building material
  • Can be used to make curved designs
  • Certain designs have extremely good natural drainage


  • Can be difficult to assemble properly and may require experts to build
  • Building materials for stone walls are heavy – even small rocks can weigh a lot, and boulders may weigh hundreds of pounds
  • Uncut stone walls are time-consuming projects because each rock must be individually chosen and placed
  • Cut stone pieces can be expensive
  • May not control water flow or drain well
  • Walls over about 3 feet require specialist engineering in most cases
  • Walls made of smaller stones cannot usually hold back a lot of weight

Build Your Dream Pool On Your Sloped Yard!

So, there you have it! Having a sloped yard doesn’t necessarily mean your swimming pool dreams are ruined! But keep in mind that building a retaining wall is a massive undertaking that will take time, calculations, and, likely, the help of professionals. It will definitely cost you to flatten out an area for your pool, but all the effort will be worth it once your pool is built, and you can enjoy the sparkling water!

If you need specialized help building a retaining wall for your sloped yard, feel free to reach out to me, I am always here to help.

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