5 Signs and Symptoms of Seawall Failure You Don’t Want To Ignore

When your home or business is on a beachfront, the last thing you want is for it to be swept underwater. After all, you’re not trying to have your place be part of Atlantis. 

You want to make sure your seawall isn’t failing. You want to be sure the hydrostatic pressure is manageable and that your seawall isn’t going to tip over into the ocean as though it finally lost a battle. 

If you’re concerned about your seawall failing, look at the five signs and symptoms of a failing seawall. 

Is seawall failure a common occurrence?

You can expect seawall failure to be a common occurrence in Southern California with the natural elements, the forces of the waves hitting the wall, and the tides constantly changing to add pressure. You’ll eventually get soil loss, which will cause a seawall to move. 

With movement comes cracking and other failures. And you’ll have hydrostatic pressure applied to the seawall as more water gets on land. 

Your seawall is fending off the ocean like the 300 Spartans in a phalanx formation. Except the ocean is vast. There’s more ocean in the world compared to land. No big deal. The motion of the ocean never stops

If your seawall is failing, don’t expect to have stairs installed to get to the beach. You want to make sure your seawall is okay first. Those stairs are a waste of money if you don’t have an operable seawall. 

(You would have to first deal with the Coastal Commission.).

What’s unique about Southern California

The West Coast and East Coast are surrounded by water, though that doesn’t mean they deal with the same things. The signs and symptoms of a failing seawall will be very similar, if not the same, but the reasons each coast deals with different conditions. 

For instance, California is more susceptible to earthquakes – especially since there is the San Andreas Fault – compared to Florida, which is more susceptible to Hurricanes and Monsoons. And there is more weather over in Florida compared to, say, always sunny San Diego or Long Beach.

Signs and symptoms

There will be many things to look for. While Dalinghaus Construction specializes in foundation repair, seawalls are something we’re more than capable of both inspecting and repairing. 

Signs and symptoms of a failing seawall:

1. Soil loss

If we get a report about soil loss, we’ll look at the soil levels relative to the height of the wall. Remember, an ocean seawall will have water crashing on your seawall, moving back and forth. Water pulling back toward the ocean will take the soil with it. 

2. Leaning

Is the wall leaning? Leaning indicates hydrostatic pressure, especially if the wall is leaning toward the ocean. The hydrostatic pressure is causing your wall to move, leaning toward the ocean. 

3. Deterioration

If you’re seeing some sort of concrete spalling, your wall is slowly deteriorating, especially as water comes crashing back and forth onto your seawall.

Keep in mind not all seawalls are made of concrete. Yours might be one of these cases, which you’ll still see deteriorating wood or discolored wood along with leaning. 

4. Cracking

If your seawall is moving, there will likely be cracks – especially if it’s made of concrete. Cracking allows water to seep through and make contact with the metal rebar. 

Cracks are a large and most obvious indicator that your seawall is moving.

5. Oxidizing rebar

As water makes contact with metal, you’ll see oxidization – or as most people call it, rust. As metal rusts, it expands and starts to look funky. The oxidization process causes the metal to expand, which means you’ll see more cracks in a concrete seawall. 

The inside will start to break down. You’ll see rust stains going from the inside to the outside. Your seawall starts to look like it’s sad and weeping compared to the strong defense it used to be. 

Oxidizing rebar might not be obvious since it’s inside the concrete, but you may see signs of expansion. 

There might be signs and symptoms that can’t be seen

A concrete slab might be up against a seawall. Over the years, especially if there is soil loss, there is a possibility voids may have formed. There isn’t a way of definitively knowing, other than using Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR), which uses radar pulses to check for materials underground. 

With everything being subterranean, you would assume something is going on underground. There would be something separating somewhere.  

Dangers of a failing seawall

Soil can be eroded and affect your home – and your neighbors. Your beachfront home or business can become unstable as your seawall starts to break down and you lose more soil. 

Services offered for seawall repair

Dalinghaus Construction offers stabilization and void fill.

      1. We stabilize the soil via polyurethane injection, which will in turn stabilize the seawall. 

          A. Polyurethane is environmentally safe, meaning you won’t have to worry about toxins making their way into our beautiful blue ocean. We want your seawall to succeed, but not at the expense of marine life.

If you’re concerned about any potential dangers of polyurethane, check out Is Polyurethane Dangerous (Why You Don’t Need to Worry). Polyurethane is really something you don’t need to worry about.

      2. If the wall is deteriorating, we can come in and strengthen the wall using Suretreat products, which there are a variety of.

      3. Helical tiebacks are installed to reinforce a failing seawall.

          A. This is on a case-by-case basis. This depends on how the seawall is failing.

To learn more about helical tiebacks, read What Are Helical Tiebacks? (Definition, Components, and When to Use).

You know the signs and symptoms of a failing seawall. Be sure to schedule a seawall inspection if you think you have any of these signs. 

You’ve learned about the causes of seawall failure, how seawalls are unique in California, signs of a failing seawall, the dangers of a failing seawall, and services offered for seawall repair. If you’re concerned about your seawall failing, schedule an appointment for a FREE seawall evaluation. 

For additional questions or to schedule an appointment, call Dalinghaus Construction at (877)360-9277.


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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