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Retaining Walls

Retaining Walls

A retaining wall is any structure that retains or holds back earth. It can be a decorative feature such as a raised flower bed or a structural necessity, like a retaining wall built to level ground before building a structure. Low retaining walls may not pose any dangers to people or property, but a structural retaining wall must be built to strict standards in order to withstand the weight it has to bear. In order to ensure retaining walls are safely built, retaining wall builders must be licensed by their state authorities.

Licensing of Retaining Wall Builders

Retaining walls can be built from a variety of materials and can require the specialist skills of a concreter, a brick layer or a landscaper, who may or may not have the knowledge and experience needed to build a structural sound retaining wall. For this reason, state building authorities require retaining wall builders to have special licences. In many cases a licensed structural engineer will have to build or oversee construction of your retaining wall or your builder will need to have a specialised licence.

Scroll down to the state-by-state entries below to find out more about licensing requirements for retaining wall builders in your state.

Types of Retaining Walls

Retaining Walls come in all shapes and sizes and can be built from a variety of materials, including:

  • Timber
  • Concrete
  • Bricks
  • Concrete
  • Concrete blocks
  • Stone

When state building authorities determine whether or not a retaining wall requires a building permit and a licensed retaining wall builder, their primary consideration is the danger the wall may pose to others. In most cases, this is determined by:

  • The height of the wall;
  • The area covered by the wall;
  • Where the retaining wall stands in relation to a building; and/or
  • The environmental impact of the retaining wall on the surrounding area.

In many states, all retaining walls higher than 1 metre must be built by licensed retaining wall builders, but other states or territories might have a lower or higher height limit. See retaining walls in your state for more specific information.

Retaining Walls - NSW

In New South Wales, a building permit is required to build a retaining wall that is:

  • Greater than 1 metre in height or
  • Built on or near an adjoining property.

When a building permit is not required, the work will have to be carried out by a licensed tradesperson if the value of the work (labour and materials) exceeds $1,000, but they will not necessarily have to hold a licence that authorises them to build retaining walls. For example, if you want to build a decorative concrete retaining wall, a licensed concreter can do the work for you.

If a building permit is required, a licensed structural engineer must design and build or supervise the building of your retaining wall. For retaining walls not associated with dwelling construction, a licensed structural landscaper may be able to build your retaining wall for you.

Retaining Walls - Victoria

The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) requires a building permit for retaining walls over a metre in height or retaining walls of any height that are constructed on or near property boundaries. A building permit will only be issued if the retaining wall has been designed and will be constructed by or under the supervision of a licensed structural engineer.

If your retaining wall is not over a metre in height or is not constructed on or near a property boundary, you will still need to hire an appropriately licensed builder if the value of the retaining wall is over $5,000, including materials and labour. There are several classes and codes for builders in Victoria. For retaining walls, your builder will need to hold a Domestic Builder Limited (DB-L-P) registration card. P is the code letter for a qualified retaining wall builder.

A trade licence is always your best assurance that the person in charge of building your retaining wall has the knowledge and experience they need to build a safe and sound retaining wall. If your retaining wall is going to have a visual impact on your landscape, its best to hire a licensed tradie no matter what the cost of the project may be.

Retaining Walls - Queensland

In Queensland, a retaining wall is defined as a Class 10-b non-habitable structure under Building Code Australia (BCA) regulations. As such, a building permit is not required if:

  • There is no surcharge loading (extra load on the surface of the ground, such as a cement slab) over the zone of influence for the wall;
  • The wall and fill behind the wall do not exceed 1 metre above the natural ground level of the retaining wall; or
  • The retaining wall is not closer than 1.5 metres to an adjoining property.

If a building permit is required, you need to submit plans drawn up by a licensed architect or drafter and have them approved by a licensed building certifier. When the retaining wall is built, it will be inspected and must adhere to the specifications on the drawings.

In Queensland, any building work exceeding $3,300 in value (including labour and materials) must be carried out by licensed tradespersons. Your retaining wall builder should have a current licence for the type of work they carry out. You can find details about trade licensing requirements for builders, concreting services and other trades in Queensland elsewhere on this website.

Retaining Walls - SA

All building work in South Australia is governed by Consumer and Business Services (CBS). This includes retaining walls, which are defined as structures by BCA standards and regulations.

In South Australia, development approval is required for a retaining wall if:

  • The total height of the wall from ground level exceeds 1 metre. This includes tiered retaining walls. If the combined heights of a tiered retaining wall system exceed 1 metre, development approval is required.
  • The retaining wall fill comes within 600mm of an adjoining property and exceeds 200mm in height.

If development approval is needed, you will have to submit detailed plans and an engineers report may also be required. To ensure your retaining wall does receive development approval, hire a licensed structural engineer to design your wall or obtain an engineers report after having a licensed drafter or architect draw your detailed plans for you.

Retaining Walls - WA

In Western Australia, planning and building permits are needed to build most retaining walls over 500mm in height. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but check with your local council before you finalise your plans.

If a planning permit and building permit are needed, your retaining wall will have to be designed by a licensed structural engineer. Your permit application will need to include:

  • Two copies of the engineers plan. The plan must include site boundaries, existing and proposed levels and the proposed location of the retaining wall
  • Two original signed copies of the engineers structural details

Although a licensed builder or other tradesperson may not be needed to build your retaining wall, if it is not built to BCA standards and according to the engineers detailed drawings, you may be required to rectify any defects at your expense or have the retaining wall dismantled and rebuilt. Hiring licensed professionals with extensive experience at building retaining walls is your best assurance the completed wall will be of safe and sound construction and adhere to all BCA and WA state building codes.

Retaining Walls - Tasmania

In Tasmania, a building permit is needed for most structures, including retaining walls. As a general rule, a building permit will be needed when:

  • A retaining wall is over 1 metre in height;
  • The retaining wall lies within 1.5 metres of an adjoining property; or
  • There is surcharge loading over the zone of influence of the retaining wall. Surcharge loading refers to additional weight or load on top of the soil above the retaining wall.

When a building permit is required, you will need to submit detailed plans and specifications to your local council. They should be prepared by a licensed structural engineer to ensure they adhere to BCA standards and state and local codes.

In Tasmania, scope of work regulations apply to all building works. If the scope of work requires a building permit, as it does for most retaining walls, you will need to hire an accredited building professional. In Tasmania, accreditation is the equivalent to a trade licence in other states.

Retaining Walls ACT

The Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) governs all building work undertaken in the Australian Capital Territory. Regulations regarding retaining walls in the ACT are more complex than in some other states and territories. In general, a development approval will be required if:

  • The retaining wall is within 1.5 metres of a side or rear boundary;
  • The lowest part of the wall is greater than 400mm above natural ground level; and/or
  • The highest part of the retaining wall is greater than 1 metre in height.

Other ACT regulations may affect your ability to get development approval as well. Check with your local council to find out more.

If your retaining wall does require development approval and a building permit, you will need to hire a licensed structural engineer to draw your plans and specifications and a licensed building professional to build your retaining wall. In most cases, the builder will have a Class C licence that authorises them to build retaining walls.

Retaining Walls - Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, the Building Practitioners Board is the statutory body responsible for registering building practitioners and developing acceptable codes of practice. A registered building practitioner is required to build a retaining wall if:

  • The retaining wall is not attached to a Class 1a or 2 building but the building depends on the wall for its structural integrity or
  • The retaining wall is attached to the building.

Class 1a and 2 buildings include most residential structures.

For all other retaining walls, a registered structural engineer may be needed to design and/or build your retaining wall if it can potentially pose a danger to others or the environment. Local regulations may apply, so check with your local council for details.

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