How Are Retaining Walls Repaired?

Are you worried about your backyard retaining wall failing? Is the retaining wall on the side of the home tipping into your neighbor’s yard?

The concern of having to do retaining wall removal and replacement can be intimidating. Good news: retaining walls can be repaired. And there are multiple methods, too. And you should know those methods for your peace of mind.

Dalinghaus Construction has been repairing the foundations of homes and fixing retaining walls since 2015 in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. We know a thing or two about retaining wall repair. We want you to understand what is happening with your retaining wall so you know what to do next. 

What is your retaining wall doing? What is its purpose?

A retaining wall is built to retain soil, preventing lateral movement into your neighbor’s yard or vice versa. It isn’t always the case you’ll find these walls in residential areas. 

If you live on a hillside, you likely have a retaining wall so you can manage the soil around your home. You’ll see retaining walls on the hillier highways as you drive by. Those giant concrete or brick walls stacked on top of each other are for more than show; those walls keep the hill from going onto the highway as you drive by.

Basements have retaining walls. The walls in your basement aren’t for the basement aesthetic. They’re down there for a purpose.

Identify if your retaining wall is failing

Retaining walls generally last between 50-90 years. Concrete has a shelf life of about 100 years under the most ideal conditions. 

Many factors contribute to a retaining wall failing, with two major players being gravity and moisture

Gravity doesn’t compromise with you. We understand how gravity works and how it affects weight. Our understanding of gravity has helped in creating better retaining walls. However, a retaining wall can slowly give out over time. 

It’s like extending your arm horizontally and seeing how long you can keep it in place. Maybe your time gets better as you improve, but gravity eventually wins when it pushes your arm back to your sides. 

It’s a little easier to work around moisture, especially with proper drainage installed in your retaining wall. Even then, the drainage might not be perfect. Sometimes moisture will hang out behind the wall, being sucked in by expansive soils and pushing the wall out. And that moisture adds extra weight that your retaining wall attempts to combat. 

Signs of a failing retaining wall:

  • Leaning
    • Sometimes tree roots push on the wall, the footing is failing, or poor drainage will cause this. This can be easy to miss, but you’ll likely see it, especially when your wall is doing its best impression of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
  • Sagging
    • You’ll see sagging if your footing fails in a specific spot. When your footing looks depressed, have someone check it out.
  • Cracking
    • Don’t worry so much about hairline cracks. Those won’t be much of an issue. The time to worry is if you can fit a quarter in a crack that extends all across your wall.
  • Bulging – This is a sign of water pressure building up behind the wall. The hydrostatic pressure is what’s causing your wall to bulge.

Repairing a retaining wall

The repair will depend on what causes the damage. 

Repair from leaning

A production team can excavate behind the wall, push it back, and hold it in place. However, the excavation process can be pricy. This is less cost-effective and more intrusive. Retaining wall R&R is very intrusive.

There are more cost-effective and less intrusive methods to stabilize your wall. If you’re dealing with your wall sinking, helical piers will be installed onto your wall’s footing. When dealing with lateral movement, helical tiebacks will be installed. But what are these?

Helical Piers are galvanized steel tubes with helices hydraulically driven into the ground until reaching competent soil. These are hydraulically installed – like a screw in wood – vertically into the ground. 

These will be anchored to a bracket bolted to the concrete footing.

Helical piers aren’t always used for retaining wall projects. If a wall is only leaning, only helical tiebacks will be used to hold the wall in place. If there is both settlement and lateral movement, helical piers will also be installed in conjunction with helical tiebacks. 

Helical tiebacks work similarly to helical piers, except they’re installed horizontally until reaching competent soil. 

The reason you’ll install both of these is that there is both lateral and vertical movement. Installing helical piers and tiebacks is meant to stabilize the wall from any further movement.

These are installed by creating holes in your retaining wall to accommodate the diameter of the helix. The helical tiebacks are hydraulically screwed in until they reach their torque specifications. From there, face plates will be put on to hold everything in place. 

Check out this video on helical piers and tiebacks used to save a failing retaining wall:

Depending on the extent of the damages and the areas that need to be accommodated, a waler beam – a large horizontal beam – will be bolted down to hold everything together. 

Helical tiebacks will be placed in certain areas, but what about the areas that still need to be addressed? Waler beams are very effective in accomplishing their task of keeping things together.

Waler beams aren’t always needed, but they are used occasionally. 

Watch this video that breaks down what retaining wall repair is:

Hydrostatic pressure

If you’re having issues with water pressure, you’re already having a failure with your retaining wall. 

Helical tiebacks can be put in to hold the wall into place and stabilize your wall, but the moisture and drainage issues will still need to be addressed. 

This can be accommodated by installing weep holes or french drains. And if you’ve had a french drain installed, those things get clogged over time. So if there is no way for the water to escape, there will be a buildup in hydrostatic pressure.

As for weep holes, those can be drilled into the wall so moisture can escape. 

What if I don’t repair my retaining wall?

It will fail.

It’s impossible to tell how much something will move and what the timeframe is. There are so many different factors that contribute to those aspects. 

But rest assured your wall will fail. As we said earlier, gravity won’t compromise with you. And moisture is everywhere. The wall failing is inevitable. And when a wall fails, things get a whole lot more expensive. 

To go with Newton’s first of three laws of motion, an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. 

Cost of repairing a retaining wall

Pricing can vary depending on how high the retaining wall is and the extent of the damage. 

Repairs can cost $300-$900 per linear foot

So the overall cost can range between $15,000 to $90,000. Sometimes higher.

Cost factors to consider

  • Age of the wall.
    • Retaining walls generally last 50-90 years.
  • The amount of lean.
  • The size of the footing.
    • Some footings installed may not have been large enough to sustain the load.
  • Types of soil.
    • Expansive soils will push out a retaining wall if you give them enough moisture. They’re like the obnoxious guy at a party that’s had a little too much, pushing everyone out of the way. 
  • The type of hillside or slant.
    • How steep a hillside is can affect the amount of pressure being exerted on a retaining wall. 
  • Was the wall installed properly?
    • We wish every contractor did things perfectly. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.  

You want to read our article How Much Does a Retaining Wall Cost (New and Repaired) for an in-depth look at how the cost is determined.

Here is a detailed video that breaks down the cost of repairing a retaining wall:

You know about retaining wall repair. If you’re unsure if the wall still needs repairs, have someone come out to do an inspection.

You’ve learned about retaining walls, what causes them to fail, how they’re repaired, and the cost of repair. If you’re unsure if you’re retaining wall needs help, have someone take a look. 

Have as many companies take a look as possible. That way you have multiple opinions, get a feel of the contractors, and have an idea of what factors into the cost. 

Schedule a free retaining wall inspection with Dalinghaus Construction if you want a good start and an honest look at the damage you’re dealing with. 

Watch this video on how we look at retaining walls with one of our Project Design Specialists, Mark Cook.

If you’re not sure what you should do with your retaining wall, read our article Should I Fix, Replace, or Tear Down My Retaining Wall?

For any questions, call Dalinghaus Construction at (877)360-9277, or click the button below to schedule your free foundation evaluation today!


Brian Dalinghaus

Brian is one of the Co-Founders of Dalinghaus Construction. He has been in the foundation repair industry since 2005. During his career, he has been associated with helping over 4,000 homes and structures throughout California and Arizona.

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