What is a gabion wall and how to build one?

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A gabion wall offers many home landscaping possibilities: it can serve as an economical retaining wall, enhance a home’s natural landscaping, or even be used as a privacy fence. Rather than being constructed using large stones or bricks, gabion walls are made by filling large baskets or cages with gravel, rocks or other heavy objects.

While there are benefits to building a gabion wall on your property, there are also some potential downsides to consider before making a final decision. To determine if this landscaping feature is right for you, read on to learn more about gabion walls.

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What is a gabion wall?

The gabion is derived from gabbione, an Italian word meaning “large cage”. Gabion walls are made up of gabions, or large cages or baskets, which are filled with rocks, gravel, concrete, or leftover building materials. These large baskets can be stacked and connected using sturdy wire.

There are many gabion wall design options to choose from. You can configure the baskets to create a gabion retaining wall, build a privacy fence on your property, or simply incorporate (and maybe even reuse) natural stone in your home’s garden or yard. Gabion walls also offer a variety of industrial uses, including erosion control, temporary flood control, noise reduction, and filtering silt from runoff.

Advantages of Gabion Walls

gabion wall

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Gabion walls offer a variety of benefits that can make them attractive for landscaping, construction, and other uses. These are some of the main reasons for building a gabion.

Gabion walls are relatively inexpensive.

Compared to building a retaining wall using stacked stones, bricks, cobblestones or concrete, the costs of gabion walls are significantly lower. Wire mesh baskets are not expensive, and you can use your budget to select suitable filler materials, including construction scraps, bricks or stones.

The materials are easy to transport and can be moved later.

Gabion baskets and the filler materials needed to build a gabion wall are easier to transport than larger stones and bricks. Even after building a gabion wall, you can then dismantle it and move it to a new location in your yard (or elsewhere) without difficulty.

Gabion walls can be built quickly.

The construction of gabion walls is relatively simple, the walls are shorter and do not require heavy equipment. Building a gabion wall is much easier than trying to build a dry stone retaining wall, especially if you have limited building experience.

Their design allows water drainage.

You can build a gabion without worrying about drainage problems. The porous design of gabion retaining walls allows water to drain away and prevents your garden from becoming too saturated.

Gabion retaining walls do not crack.

Over time, water, settling, or other factors will cause standard brick, stone, or concrete retaining walls to crack. Meanwhile, gabion walls are constructed without a solid foundation, instead using flexible wire baskets. This design prevents the wall from cracking and keeps the structure flexible yet sturdy.

Gabion walls are durable.

Gabion walls can be constructed using mostly recycled or discarded materials. This makes it a more sustainable and environmentally friendly option compared to other types of retaining walls or garden bed walls, whose materials require a higher level of carbon dioxide emissions to be products.

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Disadvantages of gabion walls

gabion wall

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Despite the advantages associated with gabion walls, there are a few disadvantages to consider before building one around your home.

Building a gabion wall is labor intensive.

If you’re building your own gabion wall, be prepared to put in a fair amount of physical labor. You will need to assemble the cages, which is relatively simple when purchasing, but may take some time if your project requires multiple gabions.

The hard work really comes into play when you fill the baskets with the stones or other materials you select. This task will take time and will not be easy on your muscles and joints, especially if you fill the baskets by hand or with a shovel. Also keep in mind that if you plan to build a large gabion wall, it may be more complicated to fill the upper layers with baskets.

Heavy equipment may be required for larger projects.

Depending on the height of your wall, you may need heavier equipment to fill the top layers. A backhoe or other construction equipment can help when trying to fill baskets on top layers, but it will add extra expense and complicate the logistics of your project.

Gabion retaining walls are not universally attractive.

Everyone’s opinions vary, but you may find gabion retaining walls less appealing than traditional stone or brick walls. Depending on where you plan to build your retaining wall and how prominent it is in your landscape, aesthetics may or may not be a factor in your decision to build a gabion wall.

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How to build a gabion wall

gabion wall

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Building a gabion wall is relatively simple, especially compared to the task of building a stone, brick or concrete retaining wall. Follow the steps outlined below to build a basic freestanding gabion wall on your property.

  • Use stakes and string to mark the location of the wall. Mark the desired location for the gabion wall using stakes and string or other methods, such as marking flags.
  • Prepare the foundation. Although gabion walls do not require the same level of foundation preparation as other types of retaining walls, you still need to ensure that the surface is ready for the construction of the wall. Remove grass, plants or weeds, along with the top layer of soft topsoil, at the marked location. Dig just deep enough to reach the harder topsoil layer of your lawn. If you have clay or sandy soil, you may need to dig 4 to 6 inches and use crushed rock or road base to backfill the area.
  • Assemble and place the empty cages in the desired locations. Gabion cages are sold flat and unassembled, so they will need to be assembled following the manufacturer’s instructions. After assembling each cage, arrange them in the prepared location, starting with the base layer. Link the baskets together for added security. You won’t be able to easily change the wall location once the baskets are full, so make sure they’re placed exactly where you want them.
  • Clean and sort wall filler material (optional). It is recommended to first pressure wash the stones with which you plan to fill the gabion to make them more attractive and polished. Depending on the materials you’re using and your level of interest in aesthetics, you can skip this step if you wish.
  • Place the filling material in the gabions. Carefully fill each gabion basket with stones or other filler materials. If you are using multiple colors or trying to create a pattern, be sure to consider the distribution of the filler material. This is less important if you have back-facing layers of baskets that won’t be visible once the wall is fully built, such as when creating a garden bed.
  • Lock the lids. Once each basket is full, close the lid and use the wires provided to close it.
  • Repeat if necessary. Finally, repeat steps 4-7 above as needed to create additional rows of gabion baskets until they reach the desired wall height.

If you want to build a particularly high gabion wall or a stepped wall, the process described above will be more complicated and you should consider hiring a contractor. Additional excavation may be required for a stepped wall, and a backhoe may be required to fill the baskets of a higher gabion wall.

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Final Thoughts

If you are looking to build a retaining wall or privacy fence on your property or want to explore different landscaping ideas, a gabion wall may be the right solution for you. A gabion wall offers an inexpensive yet effective solution for water drainage and erosion reduction. Gabion walls can be more durable than other landscaping options if you reuse leftover materials or rocks from your property. They are also relatively simple to build on your own, even if you are a beginner.

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