If you’re in the market for a new home, you’ve probably seen your share of retaining walls in a variety of materials and configurations, from poured concrete cantilevered designs to steel pile types. When installed properly and well-maintained, they can be an attractive feature as well as a useful one. Benefits include preventing erosion; keeping the soil from shifting, which could affect the structure’s foundation; and holding back soil on a sloping hillside to create a level surface for construction purposes.
But as an experienced home inspector will tell you, retaining walls—like any structure constantly exposed to the elements—is prone to suffer damage over time, especially if they have not been installed to the highest standards. And as far as home improvements go, retaining walls are not cheap to replace or repair.
That’s why it’s important to make sure your home inspection includes a thorough check of this often misdiagnosed or ignored element of a home. A certified home inspector, like those at A-Pro Home Inspection, has the experience to identify signs of a damaged or failing retaining wall. Because a retaining wall’s internal structure is hidden, the inspection only includes visible parts of the wall. Here are some of the more common problems that end up in A-Pro Home Inspection reports:
Rotting, Cracked and Loose Materials: We all know how important water is to sustain life. However, when it comes to a home, water can often be the cause of a slow, costly death to its structures. Retaining walls are no different. Water can cause severe rotting of wood materials, such as landscaping timbers. When the soil becomes soaked and then freezes, it can exert a great deal of pressure on the wall, causing it to crack or move as a single unit way from a hill.
Your home inspector will make note of all loose material and cracks, detailing wider fissures (an immediate problem) and narrow stair-step cracks (a sign that more significant trouble may be on the way). Termite and carpenter ant damage is another common problem with wood walls. The inspector will also mention rusting in metal parts.
While some retaining walls will have plenty of natural drainage openings, other types need drainage routes to prevent water damage. The inspector will report if the retaining wall has enough weep holes to let water escape efficiently. Walls with poorly spaced weep holes or holes that aren’t large enough to handle heavy water flow can accelerate the structure’s untimely demise.
Wall Movement: Your home inspector will check to see if the wall is shifting, bulging, bowing, or leaning away from the hill—all signs that saturated soil may be pushing against the structure. Further, your inspector will encourage you to be vigilant about checking the property’s retaining walls for evidence of movement. While changes in a retaining wall generally progress slowly, harmful shifting is difficult to stop once it starts. Bottom line: Retaining walls are a valuable part of your home; ignore them at your own cost.
Inspection of a home’s retaining walls is just one part of an A-Pro foundation-to-roof 500-point inspection. To schedule a home inspection, call 406-426-2766 or visit the link below.