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As a general recommendation, the maximum height of a properly built stacked stone retaining wall is 5 feet under ideal conditions—the grade behind the wall is flat and the soil is sandy.
A retaining wall often doesn't require a permit if it's less than 3 feet tall and the land above the wall is flat.
A permit commonly is required for retaining walls over 4 feet tall, whether they're stacked stone, concrete blocks or other material. While the view is lovely, to provide a flat garden or lawn area you may need a retaining wall.
A clay soil puts extra pressure on a retaining wall because clay, especially when wet, is extremely heavy.
The height measurement includes the base, which may be buried 6 to 12 inches or more under the soil.

A general rule is to start with a compacted-gravel base that's at least 12 inches deep and 6 inches wider than the wall. A stacked stone retaining wall provides a natural appearance that enhances the curb appeal of your home. Other variables include the lay of the land behind the wall and the stability of the hillside. But if the landscape requires more than one retaining wall, in a tiered application, a building permit may be required. In addition to the height limitations, your local building department may require a plan prepared by a structural engineer to ensure the safety and stability of the retaining wall and the soil behind it. The maximum height of your retaining wall may vary, depending on the soil type, slope of the hillside and local building codes.

Landslide-prone areas may require steel reinforced concrete rather than stacked stone walls. If the area above the wall is a sloping hillside or unstable, or a fence is installed above the wall, it may also require a permit from your local building department.
Some walls narrow somewhat as they rise, but all stacked stone retaining walls must have a slight backward lean into the hillside (called batter) at a rate of at least 1 inch per foot. The bottom portion of the wall typically is hidden beneath a backfill of compacted gravel, which helps water drain freely and removes some of the pressure of wet soil from the stacked stones.

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