Retaining Walls

failing retaining wall

There are many different materials that are utilized for retaining walls. Builders use a variety of landscape stone, fieldstone, ledge rock, brick, poured concrete, concrete blocks and railroad ties. Most of these retaining walls provide support for soil that is on a vertical slope. Most retaining walls literally keep your home and the surrounding landscape from sliding down a hillside and into your home. Other times retaining walls are necessary to prevent drainage or erosion problems. For whatever purpose these retaining walls are serving, these special structures are relatively expensive and deserve careful attention to protect your initial investment. Retaining walls should be carefully inspected periodically, for shifting, displacement, bulges, leaning or loose structural material. If you notice that your wall has loose material, or cavities that could cause loose material, I highly recommend that you or a professional Contractor repair or reinforce these areas right away, before the wall worsens. Once a wall is compromised or is allowed to worsen, your expenses to repair the much needed wall will be exorbitant.

Make sure that all the lower footings are protected from erosion. Look for weep holes at the lower outside portion of your retaining wall. Weep holes are exposed holes (on the face of the wall) that contain pipes that penetrate the retaining wall and assist in draining the water from the area immediately behind the retaining wall. Weep holes should have a minimum diameter so as to permit free drainage; for large walls, 4-inch weep holes are common. Adequate spacing between the weep holes allows a uniform drainage from behind the wall. At times, perforated drainage pipes are wrapped in geotextile material or buried in a granular filter bed, and serve to convey water to the weep holes from areas deeper within the back-fill. If your property has solid walls and weep holes are not visible, I highly recommend that you have a professional landscaper install these as soon as possible to prevent water retention which in turn, causes serious heaving, displacement and leaning of the wall.

If your property has the landscape timber walls (railroad ties, as pictured above), I recommend that you probe these walls periodically for hollow areas. Carpenter Ants tend ruin these walls over the years and require replacement because they become hollow and very weak. If you want your wood retaining wall to last forever, it's always good to have these wood retaining wall areas professionally treated for Carpenter Ants to prevent any infestation.

If you are planning to replace a wood retaining wall, I recommend replacing the material with landscape stone, brick or other masonry material for a longer lasting wall.

A retaining wall that does not weep water and is not maintained properly, could become one costly upgrade in the future.

retaining wall failing



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Hi Dave,

I want to thank you for the home inspection you did for us at 144 Avis Ave. in Dracut MA. We did not get the house because the home owners did not want to split the cost of fixing that wall. I had gotten two estimates, one from a landscaper and one from a Mason. Both gave an estimate of $15,000.00, for which I am grateful for your inspection and pointing out the wall problem. It would of been an undue burden on us, not to mention I am also grateful about the radon testing also. I just got the results today and they came back at 7.5 and 8.4, so that would of been another expense. I do hope that when we find a new house that you will be able to do our home inspection. Your fee was a drop in the hat, to what it would of cost us to fix the wall and then the cost of venting the basement. My husband was also very impressed with your report and how well it was written. Just wanted to drop you a line to let you know what happened, and hopefully will be doing business with you again very soon.

Have a Good Day
Jackie Sliney


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Last updated on  Feb 28, 2013