Perfecting one’s home is oftentimes the work of years, if not a lifetime. Whether it’s as simple as rearranging one’s reference materials or a full fledged remodeling worthy of a house flipping plan, improving one’s home is always a long term project.

One particular means of home improvement is through retaining walls, walls that are built specifically to hold back soil crafted into unnatural slopes. Most prominently, they can bind earth and soil at a different elevation then the elevation beneath it.

These measures are typically used to reshape earth and soil that have slopes the owner doesn’t want or situations where the landscape needs to be seriously altered for purposes ranging from gardening to highway construction.

One particular type of retaining wall is a  sleeper retaining wall. These walls used wooden or concrete planks, usually built for use in railroad tracks (parts called sleepers since they simply lay in place and allow for trains to glide along them) to form the structure of the retaining wall.

For most home owners, wooden railway sleepers will do the trick, though some heavy duty projects or very long term uses of retaining walls may call for the use of concrete railway sleepers. While many retaining walls are ideally made out of materials custom made specifically for use in those projects, sleeper retaining walls and their use of railway sleepers, new and used alike, can often be a cheaper and more aesthetically pleasing means of building a retaining wall.

Like all retaining walls, sleeper retaining type walls are designed and built to resist pressure from soil when a builder wants to alter the ground elevation in a way that goes past the soil’s angle of repose, the steepest angle at which a length of soil will slant.

Most of the time retaining wall refers to cantilever retaining wall rather than basement walls, though technically basement walls do count as retaining walls. Retaining walls must be built to resist the pressure of the soil wanting to slide past, over or even through the walls, and sometimes must also be built to resist water pressure for walls that need to survive situations ranging from flooding to torrential downpours.

Sleeper retaining walls are meant to support what is referred to as a wedge of soil, which is any earth and soil that stretches beyond what is referred to as the failure plane. Increasing the height of the wall the size of the sliding wedge is reduced and lowers the pressure of the retaining wall.

Retaining walls made of railway sleepers can be somewhat difficult to make a properly high wall to hold off the soil wedge, though many builders overcome this probably by tightly stacking sleepers together to for a wall, as well as shoring up their sleeper retaining walls with anything from buried cables to water drainage systems to address the fact that soil that starts retaining water will only put more pressure on the wall, pressure a builder will need to address if water pressures build on the earth and soil of their region.

There are a few different types of retaining wall, some of which are better suited to building retaining walls out of railway sleepers. A gravity wall, for instance, functions heavily on the weight and strength of the wall itself to hold back the soil, meaning that oftentimes, wooden sleepers will be less than ideal for use in a gravity retaining walls.

Concrete railway sleepers, on the other hand are are suitable for gravity retaining walls. Piling walls can make use of wooden sleepers, as can cantilever walls, though these walls can also function with concrete sleepers. Anchored walls are a bit unusual among retaining walls in that they are an addition to the other types of walls; anchoring cables are driven deep within the sloping soil to help fix the retaining wall in place.

There are actually two types of piling walls, sheet piling walls and bored piling walls. Sheet piling requires building a sheet of material partially into the earth and partially out of it to change the elevation of soil and keeping it from falling through the wall.

This process is particularly useful if one wishes to use wooden sleepers and it certainly creates a pleasing wooden wall. However, in areas where the vibration and noise needed to make this happen may be too undesirable, bored sheet piling is an alternative that also tends to call for anchored retaining walls, reinforcing beams, shotcrete reinforcement and at times even a concentrated effort to improve the soil to be more tractable to the wall itself.

Of course, the end results can be dazzling. A raised flowerbed or stepped garden held up by pleasant wooden railway sleepers can make an impact on any garden or yard. The appearance of a stepped yard or garden can be particularly striking when combined with a stable stairway, which can also be made of railway sleepers, though concrete railway sleepers are often preferable than wooden ones for safety concerns as stairs.

An elevated garden also adds something of an otherworldly appearance to a yard, perhaps evoking a tiny bit of the grandeur of the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, in addition to making working in the garden some what easier on the back. Over all, a sleeper retaining wall is not the easiest project to make work, but the results, if done properly and safely, will be amazing.