A properly built retaining wall can be one of the most important structures on your property, but did you know it can be just as susceptible to subsidence as any other structure? While you’re concerned about soil erosion and collapse potentially harming your home or commercial property, it may not occur to you that the retaining wall designed to prevent landslides or erosion can be just as vulnerable to subsidence.
What is Subsidence?
To understand how subsidence presents a risk for retaining walls, you must first understand what subsidence is and how it affects structures built upon unstable soil.
Subsidence is the term used to describe the downward movement of soil beneath a building. Clay soils are particularly prone to subsidence, especially when moisture levels within the soil drop suddenly and significantly. Conversely, subsidence can occur when heavy moisture is rapidly introduced to the soil. Leaking drains, broken pipes and flash floods can wash the soil out around a building’s footings, causing the soil level to lower and the building’s foundation to be compromised.
Just as subsidence can quickly lead to structural damage to a building, it can also be devastating to a retaining wall. It can also be difficult to spot until damage is substantial, because most homeowners don’t know what signs to look for with retaining walls. Signs of subsidence in retaining walls include new or widening cracks, sagging and bulging near the bottom of the wall. Without intervention, subsidence can lead to complete failure of a retaining wall, which can in turn lead to soil destabilization and landslides.
Protecting Your Retaining Walls and Property from Subsidence
The best and most effective way of protecting your property from the potential damage caused to building footings and retaining walls by subsidence is to secure a professional building inspection. With an inspection report in hand, you can determine just how serious a problem subsidence is on your property, and whether or not intervention will be required to protect these structures.
A professional building inspector does not provide repair services nor subsidence intervention, and so they have no financial stake in the findings of their own reports. This differs from evaluations offered by builders and contractors, who only benefit when evidence of fault is discovered. Don’t let subsidence affect your retaining wall and potentially lead to failure; contact a professional building inspector to determine how, if at all, subsidence is affecting your property and what measures should be taken to protect your retaining wall against damage or failure.
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