How To Fix A Leaning Retaining Wall (Quickly & Easily!)

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team

When a retaining wall begins to lean, you can expect to have significant repairs. If it is not fixed immediately, the wall will fall over time. Keep in mind, if there are cracks, leaning, crumbling, or falling, the retaining wall is not doing its job.

A retaining wall is meant to hold back the land from subsiding. The more the wall leans, the more land will give way and can become a serious hazard. So, what should you do if you notice your retaining wall start leaning to one side?

Evaluation would be the first step to finding out what the problem is. These are the things to troubleshoot in finding and fixing the issues.

  • Check the drainage
  • Check the weight loads
  • Look for tree roots
  • Check the anchors

Worst-case scenario, if it is none of the above, the wall will have to be rebuilt.

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What Do Retaining Walls Do?

Retaining walls keep the topsoil from eroding. It diverts flooding waters away from a designated area while it enhances the landscape. The walls also support the landscape from going inside the home by not tracking mud everywhere.

With the forces of nature, the walls stand up to a lot. Retaining walls are built to last for many years. But everything made with human hands in construction starts to show wear and tear after 40-50 years.

When weather conditions shift the earth’s soil, the weight over time can cause the retaining wall to lean.

It is challenging to move a wall back or fix it if it is leaning. The land that shifts with the wall is even more challenging to move back. You not only have to move the ground back but push it back further than before so you can fix the wall.

Strong Advice to Follow Before Beginning Your Project

Evaluating the situation and research can save you time, hard labor, money, and trouble with the local government. Throughout the evaluation process, try to find out what is the cause of the wall leaning. Examine the base and structure to see if anything is rotten or broken.

Look at the land next to the retaining wall and make sure there are no drainage issues. Do not look only at the wall’s base, but look a reasonable distance away from the wall to examine the property. Once you gather all the information, check with the local Building Inspector’s office.

You want to be 100 percent sure there are no laws or ordinances broken. Compliance with the building codes is mandatory and can cause hefty fines if broken and possible jail time. Cutting corners may save your money today, but it will cost up to $10,000 in fines if codes are broken.

Even if you get away with it, it could affect the property’s real estate value if it is sold. You may have to tear down the wall should the property be sold in the future. That will also cost you more money and make it seem like the job was worthless.

Common Causes of Damage and Repairs to a Retaining Wall

During your evaluation, you may find some of these issues that may cause the retaining wall to lean. As you notice these problems, we offer tips on how to fix them. The wall needs to be repaired, and the source of the problem needs to be eliminated, or it will continue.

1. Check the Drainage

Poor drainage will cause an extensive amount of damage. It can rot the base, causing the stability to fail. Poor drainage is the primary source of damage to a retaining wall.

You will notice a problem with drainage by standing water next to the wall or constant muddy ground. Several things can cause drainage issues. Check and fix these:

  • Check and unclog the drains from debris or tree roots.
  • The ground may shift and move over the drains, and you will have to clean it out.
  • Check all the trenches and make sure they are clear from obstruction. Remove anything in the path of the water flow.

2. Check the Weight Loads

If you have a fence on top of a retaining wall, it may be too top-heavy. Both the base and the fence’s weight can play a critical factor in making the wall lean. In the beginning, when the retaining wall is put up is when it is at its sturdiest.

Over time with the weather beating the structure, the base will become weaker. If the factors cause the wall base to move, it will not be strong enough to support the fence. Perhaps, you may need to take down the fence or replace it with a lighter one.

3. Look Out for Tree Roots

Tree roots can and will move a foundation. If the wall is built next to a tree where the roots stretch outward, it can grow under the wall. It does not take it long for a tree root to uproot a foundation.

The only option in this situation is to cut down the tree that is causing the problems. It is unfortunate to do this, but the root will continue to move the base if it is not done. As mentioned earlier, tree roots will also stop the water flow and the drainage system, causing more problems.

4. Check the Anchors

It is critical to keep all retaining walls that are more than a foot tall secured with anchors. Underneath the wall, there should be gravel so that the wall can shift with the ground.

You may think the wall should not shift, but it should because it keeps the wall from being unstable. The anchors are there to hold everything in place. Too much shifting will also cause the wall to lean, so it should be monitored.

Other Factors That Can Cause a Retaining Wall to Lean

There are a thousand and one things that can cause the ground to shift or the wall to lean. These are some things to consider that may also be out of the landowner’s control.

  • A steady flow of heavy traffic and large vehicles around the wall
  • Frost heave
  • Flooding
  • Earthquakes and the earth’s plates shifting underground
  • Groundswell
  • Snow
  • Wind
  • Even the sun can play a factor on steamy hot days.

The landowner can keep an eye out for everything to ensure the wall is sturdy and secure. Consistent maintenance can also help the situation to give the retaining wall a long life.

Broken Bricks In the Wall Can Also Cause a Retaining Wall to Lean

A retaining wall is made from bricks, concrete bags, or any items stacked on top of one another. Look out for broken ones because it can and will cause the entire wall to lean. It is best to contact professionals in these situations, especially if the wall is built high or has a fence.

You have heard “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” The same applies to the retaining wall. If one brick is broken or weakened, the entire wall will be weak.

Seldom can the wall get repaired if one brick is broken, especially in the middle or bottom area. If it is on the top layer, it is possible. However, taking apart a section can weaken the wall.

Why Do Retaining Walls Move?

A retaining wall should have some lean inward toward a hill or higher elevation. Over time, you may notice the wall may start to straighten up. This is the best time to repair it because the weight will not be as stressful.

Movement is natural to a certain degree. However, if the wall moves too much, it may cause breaks or cracks in the base or the structure itself. These are some of the most common reasons that a retaining wall moves.

  • Poor design
  • Poor construction
  • Excessive water pressure
  • Frost
  • Deterioration due to weather and age

There is a difference between leaning and moving. Leaning is when either the front or the backside is weaker, and the wall leans to the more vulnerable side. Moving is when the ground shifts, and it can move the base of the wall and everything with it.

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Steps to Fix the Leaning Retaining Wall

Should the landowner responsible for the wall decide to fix it, these are the steps.

Step 1: Install Helical Tiebacks

Install the helical tiebacks by drilling holes to install the tiebacks into the retaining wall.

Step 2: Connect the Helical Tiebacks To a Solid Surface

The tiebacks should be connected to another solid surface to pull the retaining wall back into place. A come-a-long would be recommended with a chain or rope. You may need a shovel to move some land away from the wall.

Step 3: Anchor the Wall

An anchor should be driven into the wall then deep into the ground behind the wall. This will add the extra support the wall needs to remain upright. You will have to continue this process every few feet to keep the wall standing.

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

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