How Much Weight Can 1.5 Of Concrete Pavers Hold All About Retaining Walls – Concrete Retaining Walls and Decorative Retaining Walls

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All About Retaining Walls – Concrete Retaining Walls and Decorative Retaining Walls

Introduction to retaining walls

First, a retaining wall is a structure that holds back or “retains” lateral surfaces of dirt, water, or other materials. Retaining walls are used to prevent erosion or collapse of higher ground on a particular building, structure or general area. The soil that is retained is often referred to as backfill. The word backfill is also used as a verb to describe placing more dirt behind a retaining wall to level the ground.

Retaining walls may be the answer if you’re blessed (or cursed) with a contoured lot. They can transform a steep slope into a terraced yard, creating a stepped effect instead of a slope.

Retaining walls can be constructed from many different materials using many different techniques. There are several factors that influence which choice will be the best choice for each situation, including cost, height of the wall, soil properties and groundwater conditions.

In general, most municipalities require that any retaining wall over four feet in height be constructed or approved by a licensed engineer. It’s important to check local building codes before starting any retaining wall project, even if it’s under four feet tall. After all, retaining walls should be structurally sound before aesthetic appeal is considered. The retaining wall must be able to withstand the pressure exerted by the backfill, also called lateral earth pressure. This lateral earth pressure is the majority of the force that the retaining wall must carry. The lateral earth pressure is determined by studying the weight of the soil unit, soil slope, soil type (for plasticity and adhesion purposes with clay soil types) and groundwater levels. Engineers do many calculations with these factors to determine which design to implement with the wall. For homeowners and contractors who don’t want to go through technical steps, overdoing it is generally a good rule of thumb. Many structural methods of building retaining walls with retaining soil, at least temporarily, up to four feet in height are sufficient, which is why most local building codes require engineering if the wall becomes over four feet tall.

However, even methods that may seem adequate to retain soil can fail if not constructed properly. Many times it is elements below grade that can make (or break) a retaining wall. Problems including bowing, tilting or cracking are signs that the retaining wall is failing because it failed to retain the dirt. Cutting costs with a poor contractor, inadequate materials, or neglect of the items below can prove more expensive over time if replacement or repair is often necessary or if landslides cause damage to nearby structures. For example, erosion can cause foundation problems if dirt erodes under the foundation. This is just one example of how a retaining wall failure can cause expensive problems beyond the cost of repairing or replacing the retaining wall.

Another aspect that is often neglected or underestimated and can cause the failure of a retaining wall is drainage. Inadequate drainage of retaining walls can mean that water is trapped behind the wall, increasing the weight that the wall must hold back. Normally, weep holes and/or drainage pipes are used to flush rainwater and ground water behind the wall. It is important that the drainage system, whatever it is, has a filter barrier to prevent debris from clogging the drain or weep hole.

Options for retaining wall materials

· Railroad Crossties – Railroad Crossties, also shortened to railroad ties, can be used as a retaining wall material; however, as with most any retaining wall material, it must be installed correctly to be a solution. For example, most railroad tie walls will need a substantial side footing to tie the cross ties to to prevent the bottom from sliding out. There must also be perpendicular elements placed in the ground behind the wall to prevent the wall from toppling over. These members, called deadmen, should be at least 1.5 times the length of the wall and should be spaced at least every 6 feet or so. Because railroad ties are wood (although they are treated most of the time), there is a risk that they can rot over time or be subject to termite attack, which can lead to a weak wall that is likely to bulge or crack. And even if there are areas where water can seep slowly, it’s still a good idea to have a filtered drain or weep holes designed into the wall.

· Treated wood – Treated wood retaining walls present many of the same risks as retaining walls because they are susceptible to rot and termite attack over time. It’s a labor-intensive build, but it’s usually light and decently strong if built correctly. It is recommended to build a concrete footing to attach the wall to to prevent it from shifting. Construction usually requires free space to be backfilled after the wall is built, so it’s not always the best material to use if you’re replacing an existing retaining wall. This wall still needs weep holes or drains designed into the wall. Standing water behind the tree will only increase the risk of rot.

· Concrete – Concrete is a great material to use for retaining walls. Of course, there is a right way and a wrong way to build a concrete retaining wall, which makes choosing your contractor a big task. There are many different designs that can lead to a successful concrete retaining wall, but one thing is certain: there must be a footing under the wall to ensure success. Concrete is one of the most durable man-made products known to man. Most concrete poured today is designed to last over 50 years. Plus, concrete also offers many decorative options. In addition to a plain white concrete retaining wall, you can also cast a colored concrete retaining wall, stain a retaining wall after it hardens, pour into a patterned mold, apply a vertical stamp material and pattern after casting, etc. Sealing the concrete wall can lead to a surface that is easy to maintain that rinses free of most dirt and grime.

· Blocks or Cobblestones – Constructed blocks that stack together to make a wall should be as simple as building with Legos, right? Nix. These retaining walls should also have a substantial side footing to support not only the weight of the dirt, but also the weight of the wall. These blocks may have a unique appearance, but it may even be necessary to place a concrete retaining wall behind the blocks if there is tremendous lateral earth pressure. In such a case, the concrete would be the structural element, using the blocks as a visual feature.

· Stone or brick – One of the favorites for a retaining wall is natural stone or brick. These materials usually look more permanent and traditionally classic. However, as we have seen with the other materials, it is necessary to have a concrete footing below grade to carry the weight and ensure the success of the retaining wall. Like architectural blocks or paving systems, it may be necessary to back a masonry retaining wall with a concrete retaining wall for structural support.

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