Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring!
Old Man Winter has come and gone, and with him the frigid cold, frozen earth, and heavy snows. Beautiful weather is here. The birds are singing, warm breezes have returned, and the days are growing longer. But with Spring’s welcome thaw comes increased pressure on your retaining wall. Excess water runoff can gather against your underground walls, creating cracks and even causing the wall itself to move. This pressure can cause serious stability concerns for your retaining wall, and if left unfixed can cause it to fail. This could mean disaster for your family’s safety and your property.
How Does My Retaining Wall Work?
Retaining walls are built for many purposes. Some are decorative, some are functional, and some are both. In almost all cases, a retaining wall is built to hold back soil in an attempt to level a sloped property, creating a flat soil surface in a place where none exists. These are great for turning a once unusable property into one of many purposes. Gardening, outdoor recreation, and children’s play areas are but a few ways a retaining wall can transform a plain, excessively sloped property into one with purpose and beauty.
Types of Soil Retention Walls
There are many types of retaining walls, and many materials are used to build them. From poured concrete and masoned stone to wooden planks and sheet metal, retaining walls are as varied as the types of property they are protecting. But regardless of the type and style of wall you may have, all of them use gravity as their main source of stability. As the enormous pressure builds from the soil behind the wall, gravity pushing down on the wall keeps it from buckling or moving under the weight. As such, the most common type of retaining wall is a gravity wall. Its sheer size and weight are what keep it from moving under pressure.
However, a gravity wall is not always the most appropriate wall for all soils and situations. For example, a sheet piling retaining wallworks best in soft soil and places that are difficult to install concrete or stone retaining walls, such as small, narrow, or tight spaces. These walls are installed with two-thirds of the wall itself below ground, with the upper third being anchored into the soil it is holding back.
Another type of retaining wall is a cantilevered wall. Cantilevered retaining walls are similar to gravity walls in that they are generally made of concrete or stone, and use their weight and size to hold back encroaching soils. The main difference, however, is that below ground at the foot of the wall is a concrete base that extends back into the soil behind the wall, almost like a floor. This base uses the weight and downward pressure of the soil itself to help keep the wall stabilized.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
What Are The Signs That Your Retaining Wall May Be Failing?
There are many ways to tell if your retaining wall is having trouble keeping the soil’s pressure at bay, but two in particular are the easiest to spot:
1. Cracks in the Wall
Begin your examination by searching for cracks in the retaining wall. They’re an easy way to tell if your wall is beginning to fail, or if it has already failed. A crack in a concrete retaining wall is easy to spot – just find the line of broken concrete. The same goes for brick or masoned stone. Usually, you will see a stair stepping pattern in the mortar. And if your retaining wall is made of wood, look for splintering in the slats.
Cracks can be deceptive – they can look harmless and easy to fix. But before you give in to the temptation to repair those cracks yourself, have a trusted professional look at them. Most retaining wall repair companies will give a free estimate, and let you know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether it is a repair that can be made with simple cement or mortar, or one that needs excavating and reinforcement.
2. Retaining Wall Movement
Testing your retaining wall with a level can be a great way to determine whether it has sunken or moved. You can also look to see if there are any gaps between soil that once rested up against the wall. If the level is showing that the wall is crooked, or there is a noticeable gap between the soil and the wall, your wall has moved. Likewise if you find soil spilling over the top edges of your wall. These signs mean that your wall has lost its ability to retain the earth around your property, and will need to be reinforced.
Repairing Your Retaining Wall With Helical Tiebacks
Helical tiebacks are the primary way retaining walls are strengthened and repaired. This method works on nearly every kind of wall, including retaining walls made of wood. They are long, steel shafts with helicals attached at one end. They are installed diagonally through the wall and are anchored into the earth. This anchoring system creates stability through torque, allowing the wall to resist greater amounts of soil pressure than before. These tiebacks straighten and stabilize walls that have moved. They also reduce the amount of cracks that will appear over time.
Job Profile: Retaining Wall Repair In South Haven, Michigan
Kent Foundation Repair’ experienced and dedicated helical pier team was called to a South Haven, Michigan home to repair a large, multi-tiered retaining wall that had failed. Attached to the retaining wall and overlooking Lake Michigan was a beautiful cantilevering composite deck. This deck was first disassembled by our crew, who worked carefully and delicately, being sure not to damage any part of this unique deck. Once the deck was disassembled, several large boulders had to be removed. It was difficult work, as their size and weight proved to be a prohibitive danger. Once these stones were removed, helical piers and helical tiebacks were installed so that the facilities group could construct a grade beam to stabilize the weather beaten retaining wall. Once this was completed, the excavated ground was backfilled, the boulders were put back in place, and the deck was reassembled. The retaining wall was back to its full strength, and the yard and home were once again secure.
The Importance of Finding The Right Contractor To Repair Your Retaining Wall
Not all retaining wall repairs are created equal, and a trustworthy contractor will tell you just that. He will make thorough inspection of the wall, determine exactly what is wrong with it, and will advise you how best to repair the wall. Sometimes, broken retaining walls can be repaired by the homeowners themselves, using store bought materials and tools. But in nearly all cases, a broken retaining wall is best repaired by professional, well-trained, and experienced crews using helical piers and other heavy machinery, tools, and methods.
Your retaining wall is not just an attractive part of your property – it serves a very important function. Have it repaired correctly. The alternative can be disastrous.