Why Choose Concrete Sleepers Over Timber Sleepers?

Sleepers are a key ingredient in the landscaping recipe. If you want to hold back banks of earth on your property for safety reasons or to minimise erosion, or you want to intentionally create zones in your landscape for gardening or aesthetic purposes, then sleepers play a vital role. They bolster those banks of earth and keep everything in place!

A number of materials can be used to build retaining walls, such as bricks, stone, and steel, however sleepers (concrete or timber) seem to be most commonly used, as they generally don’t require specialised skills to put into place.

Which is better? Timber or concrete?

Both timber sleepers and concrete sleepers have their drawcards, but there can be challenges with each (we happen to think there are way fewer challenges with concrete sleepers, but we’re biased!)

Let’s run through the pros and cons of each type of sleeper.

Timber sleepers


  • Relatively easy to install
  • Blends well into the landscape, creating a natural, earthy look
  • Suitable for low retaining walls
  • Absorb shocks and vibrations better than other types of sleepers
  • Eventually decomposes, creating healthy matter for the garden. (This is not the case if the wood has been treated.)


  • Not suitable for higher retaining walls
  • Prone to rot, and loses its ability to retain earth as it decays
  • Eventually needs to be replaced (they tend to have a 15-25 year lifespan if treated)
  • Susceptible to fire, which is a factor to consider if you live in a bushfire-prone area
  • Susceptible to termite damage, unless chemically treated
  • Treated timber (which lasts longer) may be toxic for your garden, as most timber is treated with arsenic. The less toxic treated woods out there—those treated with ACQ or Alkaline Copper Quaternary, which is less dangerous to your garden, kids and pets—may be more costly.

Concrete sleepers


  • Built to last (if properly looked after, they can last 50 years or more)
  • Easy to source
  • Completely resistant to decay and pests
  • Reinforced with steel, so are super strong
  • Because of their strength, concrete sleeper retaining walls can be built much higher than those built with timber sleepers. (Concrete Sleepers Melbourne sells sleepers that can be built to 4.5 metre heights). Note, appropriate council approval is needed for retaining walls higher than one metre. See our post: How high can concrete sleeper retaining walls go?
  • Provide adequate support as retaining walls, provided accommodation is made for appropriate water drainage to prevent wall failure
  • Easy to install, due to their being precast, and coming with steel posts that slot easily into place. See our post: How to build a sleeper retaining wall with steel posts
  • Can be used as steps in your landscaped garden, so your steps match the rest of your retaining wall
  • Come in a variety of surfaces, meaning that if you love the natural look of timber, you can buy concrete sleepers cast to appear like wood.


  • Because concrete sleepers require appropriate water drainage to prevent wall failure, you need to factor in a drainage system. This could be piped drainage that disposes of water away from behind the wall to reduce pressure build up, or the use of free-draining sand. (Note, this would likely be the case with any retaining wall material.)
  • If they crack and the steel inside starts to rust, eventually you will need to replace that sleeper. (hairline cracks are common and they don't tend to get to as deep to the steel)

Concrete sleepers with a timber finish

As we mentioned above, if you love the look of timber in your garden, but you want all the advantages that come with concrete sleepers, you can opt for concrete sleepers pre-cast to appear like wood. In fact, the difference between the concrete versions and natural wood is barely identifiable. (See examples here.)

Concrete Sleepers Melbourne stocks charcoal or pine-coloured (jasper) woodgrain concrete sleepers. 

In addition, if you like other natural finishes, you can opt for a rocky finish, which you get with our stackstone concrete sleepers

We also have smooth concrete sleepers in plain or charcoal for those who prefer an industrial look. (See our post: Types of concrete sleepers.)

Making your decision

When deciding whether to go with concrete or timber sleepers, here are some things to consider.

  • Are you expecting to live in the property, or will it be used for commercial purposes? If it’s a commercial property, it’s probably a safe bet to choose concrete sleepers, as you know they are durable and will last.
    Choosing timber requires some ongoing supervision to ensure they’re doing their job correctly, and if you’re not living at the property, you may not keep up the maintenance. Do you have time to regularly maintain your timber sleepers and ensure they are chemically treated?
  • What material looks best in your garden? It’s worth taking some images of the different options into your garden and actually holding them up to the landscape. What looks best? Then weigh this up against the factors already discussed. (Remember, our timber-finish concrete sleepers look exactly like wood.)
  • Do you want to plant vegetables next to the sleepers, and you’re concerned treated timber will impact your family’s health?

Concrete Sleepers Melbourne

We offer a range of concrete sleepers including woodgrain concrete sleepers, stackstone concrete sleepers and smooth concrete sleepers. All sleepers come in a range of sizes, and have accompanying capacity, engineering and design certificates.

We also stock galvanised steel posts in different lengths, and shaped according to what part of the sleeper they need to support (middle panels, end panels, corner panels etc.).

We’re more than happy to chat to you, show you samples, and discuss your particular needs when it comes to revamping your property using concrete sleepers.