How Does The Weather Affect Retaining Walls?

Even if you haven’t really been paying attention to the weather this year, you know this has been a year for the record books in terms of rain!  And yes, our drought may be nearly over in the Greater Los Angeles area, but our home basements and crawlspaces have been flooded with water, and for some of us who live in homes on or near hillsides, mud, dirt, and debris have threatened the stability of our buildings!

What Are Retaining Walls?

On our website, we take time to describe the various types of retaining walls and we explain that they are structures designed to hold back water, prevent erosion in sloped areas, and improve drainage control to reduce the risk of mudslides or landslides during inclement weather.  Such walls can stabilize sloping areas next to a home, level out uneven terrain, and create useful spaces such as terraces for outdoor activities.  It’s even a fact that retaining walls have tremendous “curb appeal” and can substantially increase a property’s value!

What Causes Retaining Walls to Fail?

In a recent blog, we explained the associated cost of building retaining walls.  This blog that you are reading now, however, deals with the topic of retaining walls differently.  This blog explains what threatens a retaining wall, after it is built!

Despite their typically sturdy construction, retaining walls are definitely not indestructible!  In fact, they can be threatened by quite a few environmental and physical factors!  For example:

  • Construction quality. Hiring an experienced and qualified construction company to build a retaining wall is incredibly important, as the construction quality of a retaining wall will determine its strength and ability to ward off disaster. If the wall is not built to withstand the pressures it faces, it will fail.  Poor construction and wall failure can be caused by a variety of factors, including, but not limited to: poor or improper design, poor or inappropriate construction materials, inadequate construction techniques, etc.
  • Soil erosion. One of the most significant threats to a retaining wall is soil erosion. Over a period of time, water coming down a sloped surface such as a hillside, can erode the soil on the slope above the wall, pushing it against the wall.  The weight of the soil, when it gets to a certain point, can cause the wall to fail!  Such erosion is often made worse by a heavy rainfall or other natural events, such as an earthquake (even a mild one!) which can weaken the soil, shake it loose, and cause it to come up and push against the wall.
  • Poor drainage. Another factor that can threaten a retaining wall is poor drainage.  When water is not properly drained away from the wall, it can accumulate behind the wall and cause hydrostatic pressure, which can push up against the wall and cause it to fail.  This potential cause of wall failure can be especially severe in areas where the ground has been already saturated by water after a severe rainfall, or in areas where there is a lot of groundwater, as such water seeps into the soil behind the wall and causes it to become saturated.
  • Inappropriate landscaping. Another factor that can threaten a retaining wall is the external force against a wall exerted by improperly-placed utility poles, as well as trees or other vegetation that are allowed to grow too close to the wall.  We have seen such external forces, over time, exert tremendous pressure against a retaining wall, causing it to fail.
  • Age of the wall. Finally, the age of a retaining wall is also be a factor in its durability and ability to function correctly.  As with all things, the materials used to construct a retaining wall can deteriorate and degrade over time, either by exposure to the elements or to other environmental factors such as seismic activity.  This often weakens a wall, making it more susceptible to failure.

Although retaining walls can provide valuable support and protection for a home, they are not immune to threats. 

As such, it is vitally important for homeowners to remain vigilant of the factors that put retaining walls at risk of failure.  Homeowners must insist that their retaining walls are properly designed, constructed by qualified professionals, and then maintained regularly to help ensure their longevity and effectiveness in holding back water, soil, and other materials.

If you are a homeowner interested in building a retaining wall, you know it is a valuable investment in your property.  As such, you should insist on working with a qualified and experienced retaining wall contractor such as Weinstein Construction, that can not only do the work properly, but also provide you with a fair price for the job!

Weinstein Construction’s retaining wall specialists can help you design and build a retaining wall to fit your property’s needs and your particular budget!  We can help ensure that your retaining wall provides you with a wide range of benefits, from erosion control and improved drainage, to increased usable space and enhanced curb appeal!  And we will do it at a reasonable and fair cost!  If you are considering building a retaining wall, give us a call now to discuss or schedule a free inspection of your home or property!  We are standing by at 877-958-8741