Retaining walls are mainly used to provide support to the soil and to provide an aesthetically pleasing landscape. However, another advantage that they rarely exploit, is their ability to enhance structural integrity.
Don’t love the idea of implementing a retaining wall into your project? This article should help you decide if you need one or not. Retaining walls may not necessarily be part of the main building, but they can indirectly promote structural stability. Stick around to find out how.
Prevention of Soil Erosion
This is always a major risk to buildings despite the climate of a particular area or the nature of the landscape. For a building to have proper structural support, it has to be anchored to the soil.
Retaining walls can help maintain the integrity of land by preventing soil erosion, especially for properties built on bare land with no vegetation coverage.
Soil erosion weakens the structural members of a building by exposing the foundation. The foundation is usually erected on stable soil. If exposed, the foundation may become weaker and increase the risk of structural failure.
Apart from preventing soil erosion, retaining walls can also prevent flooding. They control surface runoff, preventing it from moving very fast, in which case would cause soil erosion.
Creating A Flat Area
It goes without saying that a flat area is more useful than a steep slope when it comes to construction. The good news is that a retaining wall can make a flat surface out of a steep slope.
Retaining walls are ideal for hard-to-deal-with grounds, allowing for the construction of properties that would have otherwise not been constructed on such land.
If your land has grading issues, a retaining wall can help you achieve a stable structure at a relatively lower cost.
Sloped areas are hard to deal with, and more often than not, a lot of digging and landscaping is required in order to make a functional space. Building a retaining wall essentially eliminates part of the hill/slope and makes it easier to deal with and to erect a more stable foundation.
Due to the huge load that the wall is expected to hold, retaining walls may require tiebacks to reinforce and strengthen them.
Improved Site Drainage
A retaining wall can be very useful in providing proper drainage around a building. It channels runoff water to a designated place. Such walls must be provided with drainage pipes or channels.
Water is one of the greatest enemies of structural members in a building. Water fuels wood rot. If it saturates a wooden structure, it will soon collapse. You often see this happen to abandoned homes or neglected properties.
Water can also blast apart rock foundations and poured concrete. As these structures are relatively strong, long-term exposure to water is a huge risk. If water seeps into cracks and tight spaces and freezes in cold weather, it expands and leads to the destruction of structural members of a building.
Additionally, water will corrode steel elements in the structure of the property. Steel is usually used to support primary structural elements in a building. Steel nails are also used to hold structural members in a wooden house. If attacked by water, this can lead to them being corrupted and weakened.
Retaining walls can be very instrumental in directing water around the property and preventing the loss of structural integrity of your property.
What Are The Best Materials?
Retaining walls for properties can be made from different materials. They can be both synthetic or natural.
In order to maximize the strength of a retaining wall, especially on a slope, precast concrete blocks are the best choice. Poured concrete is also another good option if reinforced with steel rebars.
Stone walls are also good for strength because they are rarely susceptible to moisture. To avoid excess moisture build-up, it is important to provide sufficient drainage. Stone walls may be a little costly since you will need the services of a professional mason. Stone materials are also quite expensive on top of needing a mason.
In dry areas, timber retaining walls can be a good choice since they can hold back the soil just as well. They may not be ideal in humid areas since the timber would rot. They are the most inexpensive option though, costing about $15 per square foot.
Do You Need a Structural Engineer?
We would strongly recommend that you consult a structural engineer especially if your property is on a steep-sloped area or an area with poor grading.
The complexity of some site works related to retaining wall construction may need the help of a professional. An engineer would come up with a functional wall design with structural strength in mind.
The technical analyses that would be conducted by the engineer include determining the height of the water table and determining the ground bearing capacity. This is done during a site investigation.
The engineer will help you determine the best retaining wall type, length, and height. He or she will assist you in installing the drainage pipes in the right place to keep water off the structural members.
After designing the wall, the structural engineer will carry out checks to ensure it is structurally sound. Overall stability will also be checked to make sure the structure is stable and safe.
Retaining walls function for more than just aesthetic purposes. They can play a major role in providing structural strength to your project.
As you consider constructing one, keep in mind that your property may require extra protection from soil erosion or flooding in order to protect its foundations and other structural members.
Consult a professional if necessary, choose the right building material, and protect your property from structural failure.