A Guide on Fixing a Failing Retaining Wall

retaining wall construction from expanded clay blocks

Retaining walls add beauty to your landscape, improve the value of a property, and allow you to create level, usable ground. If you’re looking to create a driveway or patio, a retaining wall can hold the soil from the excavation.

However, retaining walls don’t stay in place forever. They have to work harder than freestanding walls because, in addition to supporting their own weight, the walls have to fight off lateral pressure.

In this article, you’ll learn the different approaches to fixing a failing retaining wall and why they fail in the first place.

Why Do Retaining Walls Fail?

Most answers to the question “Why do retaining walls fail?” surround the wall construction and how the retaining wall is being used. Let’s look at some of them below.

Poor Drainage

drainage pipes around retaining walls

Saturated soil is one of the biggest causes of retaining wall problems. The pressure on the wall increases with a severely saturated backfill or soil. Wet soil will put more weight on a wall not structurally capable of handling the extra weight.

You can prevent saturation by ensuring adequate drainage around the structure to keep water away from the retaining wall area. You can regrade the area to reduce some of the water pressure. Additional weep holes can also increase surface drainage.

Unexpected Load

Adding more weight than initially planned for the retaining wall will cause failure. If the original design was for a wall to hold back excavated soil and act as a bed for shrubbery, converting the area into a car or a shed is not a good idea.

If you need to increase the load around your retaining wall area, it’s important to consider improving the wall’s strength.

Foundation Problems

As with other structures, retaining walls will fail without a sturdy foundation. It’s essential to properly compact the soil underneath before building the wall.

You should also conduct a site investigation to ensure you’re not guessing important metrics such as the climate, soil properties, and terrain. Retaining wall footing also needs to be deep enough to resist the weight of saturated soils.

Overall Poor Construction

If you skimp on quality during the retaining wall construction, it will show a few months later. Poor steel reinforcement and placement, inadequate mortar, and use of other substandard material in your construction will leave you in need of fixing a failing retaining wall faster than you may have imagined. 

In this scenario, the fix may involve tearing down the wall completely.

How To Tell If A Retaining Wall Is Failing

Below are some tips on how to tell if a retaining wall is failing:

Check for Tilting

A poorly constructed retaining wall or one under stress due to unfavorable soil conditions shows signs of stress by tilting outwards from the top. If the wall features wood or railroad ties, the deterioration of the organic material can also cause tilting.

Check for Separation

For a retaining wall with more than one side, you may start to see separation from different sides when it’s about to fail. This is yet another sign of poor construction.

Check for Cracking and Crumbling

cracked concrete retaining wall

A cracking or crumbling retaining wall often signifies excessive load on the wall. Poor quality rebar in concrete retaining walls or wrongly mixed concrete may also cause cracking and crumbling. If you notice this, you need to act fast as it is a safety hazard.

How to Repair Retaining Walls

There are options available to you if you want to repair retaining walls. The right choice will come down to the wall type and the severity of the damage.

Repairing a Leaning Non-Modular Retaining Wall

You can repair a leaning non-modular wall and pull it into the original position using helical tiebacks.

The anchors are helix-shaped blades welded to steel shafts. On completion, you get a giant screw. Here’s how to use the screws:

  • Cut holes in the wall wide enough the accommodate the blade diameter.
  • Drive the anchor deep into the wall and the soil bank using a piece of hydraulic rotary equipment.
  • Extend a threaded adaptor across the wall face and to the rod.
  • Patch the hole.
  • Place a steel place over the threaded rod.
  • Secure it with a large nut.

The wall will become stable if done correctly and with the right number of anchors. Gradually tightening the nut is enough to move the wall back to its original position. In addition, using helical tiebacks to repair a retaining wall is less expensive than bringing down the wall and reconstructing it from scratch.

However, tearing it down might be the only option if you have a wall made of stone pieces.

Repairing a Retaining Wall Made of Stone Pieces

Pressure washing a retaining wall

Here’s the process to follow:

  • Tear down the wall to understand the extent of the problem.
  • Work out the reason for the wall failure.
  • Pay attention to the original arrangement of the stones to replicate them in the rebuild.
  • Replace any weak or damaged stones.
  • Fix the cause of the wall failure (drainage, bad stones, drainage).
  • Compact the subgrade afresh to prevent new problems.
  • Rebuild the stone retaining wall.

Get Professional Help for Your Retaining Wall

Fixing a failing retaining wall is not always a DIY project. Sometimes, there’s just more damage than you can handle. If you need professional help on the job, do not hesitate to contact CPL Concrete Design to get a quote.

As experts with decades of experience in the industry, we know how to restore all retaining walls to optimal function—regardless of their current state. We’ll evaluate your wall and recommend the most cost-effective approach for fixing it.

Whether your walls are tilting or cracked, our team can provide an effective solution. During our initial consultation, we’ll give you a full run down of the repair options. We have the equipment and the manpower to complete the job in the shortest time possible while producing exceptional results.

Visit CPL Concrete Design contact us page here if you’re thinking of fixing a failing retaining wall in Antioch, CA. Let’s improve your wall’s structural integrity today.