Rebuilding A Failed Retaining Wall

What You Need To Know About Rebuilding A Failed Retaining Wall

If you noticed that your retaining walls are failing, rebuilding a retaining wall is one of the solutions. Although you can try to repair retaining wall failures, they’re usually compromised once damage ensues. Understanding what the root cause of the retaining wall failure is, will help you decide what the best approach is to repair or to go about rebuilding a retaining wall. What are the common reasons for retaining walls to fail? How do you go about repairing them or should you just rebuild a new one? We’ll detail the answers to your common questions in this piece.

Common Causes for Retaining Wall Failure

Before you decide whether to rebuild or repair a retaining wall, you’re first going to have to know what caused the wall to become compromised in the first place. There are several common reasons why retaining walls fail, and eventually need to be restructured or rebuilt.

1. Poor Drainage

If water isn’t draining from behind a retaining wall properly this will cause a build-up of water behind the wall.  This is referred to as “hydrostatic” pressure and it can cause your wall to become compromised.  This can eventually lead to cracks in the retaining walls and the structure, bowing or bulging on the wall or even total wall collapse.  Saturated soils that build up cause the pressure behind the wall to dramatically increase, meaning the walls expand beyond what they were built for. Wet soil is heavier than dry soil and this will put a strain on the retaining walls over time.  Drainage is a problem that can easily be corrected but it shouldn’t be an afterthought, it must be part of your retaining wall design.

If your existing retaining wall failed because of poor drainage you’ll want to make sure the problem is addressed before you begin rebuilding or reconstruction the retaining wall.

2. Poor Foundation Structure

Think of your home for a minute. If there are issues with the foundation, this causes issues with flooring, can lead to cracking of the walls, and can eventually lead to major damage down the road. The same goes with retaining walls. If the foundation isn’t built for the load the wall be “retaining”, the walls are eventually going to come down as well. Quality materials whether block, boulder, concrete, a solid design, and proper construction of the retaining walls, are imperative when they’re being built, to prevent the foundation from collapsing as time progresses.

Depending on what the wall is holding back there are various ways to prepare the foundation.  For lighter walls that are 2-3 feet in height the foundation is less important but if you’re building a wall that is 4 – 5 feet or more in height or a tiered retaining wall system then your foundation needs to be properly constructed.  This can vary depending on what type of materials the wall is being built out of so it’s important to always talk to your contractor about the foundation underneath your retaining wall.

3. Unanticipated Surcharge

Retaining walls must be engineered and constructed specifically for their intended purpose.  Some retaining walls are meant to hold back earth, others are meant to actually hold the earth back so items can be placed on-top of the wall or the new space created by the wall.  Let’s say you want to park a boat or an RV on the space above your retaining wall.  This additional load is called a “surcharge”.  This is important to discuss with your contractor before a retaining wall is built as the surcharge is used to determine the actual process for constructing the wall.

A great example of this would be a retaining wall where the homeowner didn’t discuss the anticipated use with the contractor who originally built the walls. For example, if the homeowner planned on using the structure to park their car or add a shed onto the space, but didn’t inform the contractor or landscapers of this, the designers didn’t plan on the additional surcharge.

They may not have built the retaining wall strong enough to hold the weight.  This can lead to damage of the wall, or eventually, the retaining walls will collapse entirely, if too much weight is placed upon them.  Unanticipated surcharges are responsible for many retaining wall failures every year.

4. Shoddy Workmanship

Retaining wall failure can also be caused by poor construction practices.  If you didn’t hire a landscaper with retaining wall experience, and if you chose to go with the cheapest quote you got, rather than shop around for the most qualified construction team, you’ll end up paying for this in the long run.

Although the retaining walls might hold up for some time, they’ll eventually become compromised if they were poorly built.  This will eventually lead to failure of the wall and if they were constructed poorly from the beginning they will eventually require rebuilding, which will end up costing you more than it would have.  When you see quotes for retaining walls and one quote has much higher than the other, don’t immediately discount that quote, compare apples-to-apples by not only comparing materials but also comparing the methods by which the wall will be built.

Common Fixes and Solutions for a Retaining Wall Failure

Now that you’re aware of some of the common retaining wall failures, you need to know what the right solution is to deal with the retaining walls. In some cases, patch work or doing minor repairs might suffice. However, in many instances, rebuilding the retaining wall is necessary, to ensure the walls are strong enough to hold the load you plan on placing on them or behind them, and to withstand the intended use you have for the retaining walls.

1. Proper Drainage

Harping back on the first reason that retaining walls fail, if drainage doesn’t exist, this leads to failure nearly 100% of the time.  There are various ways to implement drainage into a retaining wall and it usually starts with the base soil.  Most retaining walls are set into a base course of gravel and then built-up from there.  A french drain can be implemented in behind the base of your retaining wall and depending on the materials used to build the wall there are various drains that can be installed into the retaining wall itself.  The water that builds up behind the wall must be able to escape.

2. Reconstruct a Retaining Wall

In many instances, rebuilding the retaining wall is the only solution, as repair work isn’t going to do the trick and will look like an obvious repair.  If the foundation isn’t strong enough, there’s no purpose in repairing what’s above the surface.  It’s often best to tear out the current structure and then rebuild the wall.

3. Level the Surface

Leveling the groundwork for the new retaining wall, and improving the overall structure, is imperative when rebuilding retaining walls. If they don’t sit on a solid and level foundation, then you’ll just have problems again in the future.  Properly grading the land the wall will sit on is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to building a solid retaining wall.

4. Strengthen the Wall

If unanticipated weight is the reason that the retaining walls were damaged, one of the fixes is to engineer the walls construction for your intended use.  If you’re parking an RV, boat, or car on top it’s a good idea to know the weight of the unit.  The installation of geo-grid might be needed to help strengthen and anchor the wall in place.  Extending the size of the footings or the base can also be a strategy that will be used.  There are various ways to strengthen a retaining wall but in order to know what’s best for your specific property we’ll really need to come out and take a look at your wall and we’ll need to know of any additional surcharges that might be placed on the wall.

5. Excavation

If substandard construction was the reason for the retaining walls to falter, extensive excavation work might be necessary when rebuilding a retaining wall or doing repair to the current structure that’s in place. Inserting tiebacks can often help improve the structure, foundation, and overall integrity of the walls. However, if the workmanship was extremely shoddy, the best approach might be rebuilding a retaining wall, and tearing down the current one that is in place. Hiring the right contractor and landscape professionals is imperative this time around, to ensure the work is done properly.

Should You Rebuild Your Failed Retaining Walls Yourself?

No! There’s a reason why some landscapers specialize in this type of work. It requires a great degree of precision, understanding of foundation, excavation, soil, surcharges, and outdoor elements, and understanding of how to properly erect these structures. You might think some DIY jobs around the home are simple. But, building an entire structure, especially if you plan on adding heavy weight loads upon the retaining walls, is the type of job you’re going to want to hire a specialist to complete.

In addition to doing the work properly, most reputable contractors can provide guarantees and warranties for the retaining wall work they complete. So, you know the integrity of your new retaining wall is sound and built to last.

Cheap Prices Aren’t Always the Most Important Aspect When Hiring Contractors

Of course you don’t want to overpay a company for rebuilding or repairing a retaining wall.  However, if a company quotes you a price that is thousands of dollars below competitors, this should tell you something about the quality of their work, or lack thereof. Shop around, compare the top local companies, and look for online reviews about the top specialists where you live. Think of it as any other remodeling or repair job you’d do around the home. You’d want to hire the best contractors for the job. The same goes when rebuilding a retaining wall, and choosing the contractors for the task ahead.  Good contractors will usually be within a couple thousand dollars of each other.

Hire a Specialist for Rebuilding a Retaining Wall

If you’ve decided that it’s time to rebuild your retaining wall, or if you are simply shopping for quotes if you think repairing the retaining wall will work, it’s important that you hire a specialist. Some things to consider when you’re choosing a landscape company to rebuild a retaining wall.

  • Hire a contractor that is licensed and insured.
  • Hire a company/team with excellent reviews (Google, Facebook, etc.)
  • Choose a company that specializes in retaining walls (rebuilding, repair, construction, etc.)
  • Choose a company that guarantees their work.
  • Work with specialists that have the right team in place (designers, landscapers, architects, construction personnel, etc.).

Regardless of what’s caused the retaining walls outside of your home to falter over time, there are solutions to repair the damage, and in some instances, completely rebuilding the retaining wall and tearing down the current structure is the best solution. Consider some of these options, understand the causes of the damage, and weigh your options when the time comes for you to decide whether you should rebuild or repair, and when you’re deciding which landscaping specialists and contractors to hire, for the services you’re going to complete.

Green Acres Lawn & Landscape Specializes In Rebuilding Failed Retaining Walls

Are you looking for a reliable, experience, landscaping contractor who can help you rebuild your retaining wall?  If you have a retaining wall that has failed from lack of drainage, poor construction, or any other reason the team at Green Acres Lawn & Landscape will be able to come up with a retaining wall solution designed for your property and built to withstand the intended nature of your use.

If you’d like an estimate to rebuild a failed retaining wall or have a consultation on what to do with your failed retaining wall please give us a call (913) 422-5111 or fill out the contact form and we’ll get right back to you.

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