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Earth Retaining Walls or Reinforced Soil Slopes

 

A new trend is revolutionizing the construction industry and our profession as civil engineers.  Reinforced soil slopes are becoming more popular as opposed to the traditional reinforced concrete structures in relation to building retaining walls.  We wanted to take some time and study all aspects of this idea.

First, what is an earth retaining wall?
In the United States the term reinforced soil slopes, have become the accepted terminology.  The basic idea is to use earth (a.k.a. soil or dirt) as the building material along with a reinforcing material to create a wall.  The main reinforced materials used on our projects are either a geosynthetic steel grid called geogrids, or a geosynthetic mesh called geotextiles.  After the soil has been shaped and reinforced various types of plants are used to create a green wall.

Second, what is the difference between using earth instead of concrete?
Reinforced Concrete consists of mainly using rebar as a reinforcing material and is usually embedded in the concrete at the time of pouring.  This allows the concrete mixture to hold a higher level of tension when used in building a structure.  Using poured concrete or block walls is sometimes a very expensive part of a construction project.

Reinforced Soil Slopes combines the reinforcements, like geogrids or geotextiles, with soil to create a composite material just like the concrete composite.  This strengthens the earth and allows it to be used at less of a cost than concrete to build retaining walls.

Third, what are the advantages to using reinforced soil slopes verses reinforced concrete walls?
There are many advantages to this form of construction.  Creating a more pleasing view of walls in a big city is a great plus, less costly, working with nature instead of against, and allowing for a better control of water run off during rain showers.

Fourth, where can the supplies be found and who provides the service of building these retaining walls?
Usually these projects are too large for an average individual to create without any assistance.  Most projects require a civil engineer to design them and a geotechnical engineer to assist in verifying proper design.  In Chattanooga we are the world headquarters for the manufacturing company Propex, which produces many of the supplies needed for this type of construction.  After the project is designed and the type of materials decided an experienced company can be hired to install these systems.

Resources:
Wikipedia
Propex
Wikipedia – Concrete