Steel Beam Application: Retaining Walls

A retaining wall is a structure that holds (or “retains”) the soil behind it. Though there are many types of materials that can be used to create retaining walls (including concrete blocks, poured concrete, treated timbers, rocks and boulders), the strongest retaining walls are often created using steel beams and/or steel sheet pile.

Gravity Walls vs. Reinforced Walls

Gravity retaining walls are walls that use their own weight to retain the soil. Gravity retaining walls are typically shorter in height and work by locking together into place to create the setback. This setback helps the wall support the pressure from the soils behind it.

On the other hand, reinforced retaining walls use some type of reinforcement, such as steel beams, to give the wall more strength.

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Comparing Materials Used to Create Retaining Walls


Wood is often chosen for retaining walls because its inexpensive. However, the short lifespan of wood makes it a poor choice when compared to other options. As the wood decomposes, the retaining wall will begin to crumble as well, harming the integrity of the usable space.

Stones, Rocks and Boulders

Stones, rocks or boulders can create some of the most appealing retaining walls that will last over time. However, these materials can be expensive and labor intensive.

Cast-In-Place or Mortared Retaining Walls

Both cast-in-place and mortared retaining walls use a mix of veneers, bricks and flagstones, which add texture and style. However, these structures are rigid and do not move and flex as the soil around them changes, meaning they are more likely to crack over time.

Steel Beams

Steel is used in the creation of soldier pile retaining walls, soil nailing retaining walls and gabion walls. Steel is more expensive than timber, but it’s easy to work with, customizable, reliable and long lasting. Steel beam retaining walls are some of the strongest.

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Types of Steel Beam Retaining Walls

Soldier Pile Walls

Soldier pile walls are commonly installed at property lines and to stabilize landslides. They are made using vertical steel beams, which are embedded into holes drilled into the soil. The holes are filled with a concrete grout mix so that the steel beams can cantilever to resist soil pressure. The steel beams are typically spaced at eight feet on center with wood lagging between the beams to support the soil.

Soil Nailing

Soil nailing is commonly used in areas with tight access, or in areas that require a top-down construction method. Soil nailing is done by drilling holes and inserting long steel beams that are pressure grouted into the hillside. The face of the hillside is then sprayed with concrete grout to hold the structure in place.

Gabion Walls

Gabion walls are gravity walls that utilize wired steel baskets, which are filled with quarry spalls (rocks).

Common Sizes for Retaining Wall Steel Beams

Steel beams used for retaining walls come in a wide range of large sizes, including both wide flange piles and H-piles. Some common sizes include:

Wide flange beams

  • W8: W8x18, W8x21, W8x24, W8x28, W8x31, W8x35, W8x40, W8x48, W8x58, W8x67

  • W10: W10x22, W10x26, W10x30, W10x33, W10x39, W10x45, W10x49, W10x54, W10x60, W10x68, W10x77, W10x88, W10x100, W10x112

  • W12: W12x26, W12x30, W12x35, W12x40, W12x45, W12x50, W12x53, W12x58 ,W12x65, W12x72, W12x79, W12x87, W12x96, W12x106, W26x120, W12x136, W12x152, W12x170, W12x190, W12x210, W12x230, W12x252

  • W14: W14x22, W14x26, W14x30, W14x34, W14x38, W14x43, W14x48, W14x53, W14x61, W14x68, W14x74, W14x82, W14x90, W14x99, W14x109, W14x120, W14x132, W14x145, W14x159, W14x176, W14x193, W14x211, W14x233, W14x257, W14x283

  • W16: W16x26, W16x31, W16x36, W16x40, W16x45, W16x50, W16x57, W16x67, W16x77, W16x89, W16x100

  • W18: W18x35, W18x40, W18x46, W18x50, W18x55, W18x60, W18x65, W18x71, W18x76, W18x86, W18x97, W18x106, W18x119, W18x130, W18x143, W18x158, W18x175, W18x192, W18x211, W18x234

  • W21: W21x44, W21x50, W21x57, W21x58, W21x55, W21x62, W21x68, W21x73, W21x83, W21x93, W21x101, W21x111, W21x122, W21x132, W21x147, W21x166, W21x182, W21x201, W21x223, W21x248, W21x275

  • W24: W24x55, W24x62, W24x68, W24x76, W24x84, W24x94, W24x103, W24x204, W24x117, W24x131, W24x146, W24x162, W24x176, W24x192, W24x207, W24x229

  • W27: W27x84, W27x94, W27x102, W27x114, W27x129, W27x146, W27x161, W27x178, W27x194

  • W30: W30x90, W30x99, W30x108, W30x116, W30x124, W30x132, W30x148

  • W33: W33x118, W33x130, W33x141, W33x152, W33x169

  • W36: W36x135, W36x150, W36x160, W36x170, W36x182, W36x194, W36x210, W36x232, W36x256

H pile beams

  • HP8: HP8x36

  • HP10: HP10x42, HP10x57

  • HP12: HP12x53, HP12x63, HP12x74, HP12x84, HP12x89, HP12x102, HP12x117

  • HP14: HP14x73, HP14x89, HP14x102, HP14x117

  • HP16: HP16x88, HP16x101, HP16x121, HP16x141, HP16x162, HP16x183



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