Pro Tips with Jamie Snyder

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Insights as to why retaining walls fail – Part 1

Posted by James Snyder on Sun, Feb 27, 2011 @ 36:12 PM


If you are reading this chances are you may be considering a retaining wall in the near future. Or you may have already had a wall installed that recently failed. Unfortunately folks, some people this year will buy a retaining wall that will fail. That’s a fact –some dishonest or unqualified contractor will take advantage of someone. Hopefully reading this will give you some basic knowledge so you can avoid being a victim. In a perfect world you would just be able to trust every contractor that showed up to bid and award the project to the lowest bidder and get the same quality of the highest bidder. This will seldom work out.

Check out the video below to hear a client of Albert Group Landscaping & Swimming Pools talk about what they went through when their retaining wall failed and how we helped them.

Failed retaining wall orange county NYHere is a 4 year old retaining wall that needs to be replaced - before it crashes into the homeowners 4 year old garage.

 There will be a lot of information here, so I will post this in two posts. For someone truly looking to buy a retaining wall– I promise to make this article worth the time to read.

Every year - in my relatively small service area - I receive 10-15 calls from people that have had a retaining wall fail. Now I’m not talking about an old tie wall that simply rotted away –I get another 20 or so calls for those. I’m talking about retaining walls less than 5 years old - some less than 1 year old - that have failed to 1 degree or another. I feel that it is my job here to give you the information you need whether it is good, bad or indifferent.

The Good:

If this wall has started to fail and is just leaning it has probably not hurt or killed anyone yet. The good thing is that you now know to keep your family away from it. It’s a good idea not to put anything in front of it either - like a car.

More Good:

You may have actually gotten lucky and learned a lifelong lesson. You get what you pay for. From now on - every project you do – you will also do your “due dillagence.”

The Bad:

When I receive the call for a failed retaining wall the conversation usually starts out like this. “I need someone to come over and give me an estimate to fix a retaining wall.” The bad is that not only are retaining walls not usually repairable, the material often needs to be replaced. See you might be able to re-stack a block retaining wall, but you will not get down to where the problem originated.

More Bad:

A retaining wall will most certainly cost more to fix than you originally paid to build it in the first place. Simply put there is more work to do now. Assuming when the wall was first installed there was no wall there, now you have all a failed wall to throw away. This is not cheap. Now if the reason the original wall failed is that you went with a low bidder, you’d be foolish to go the “cheap route” again.

Even more bad:

Trying to sue the original contractor will only make your lawyer rich. An honest lawyer will tell you that you will probably win the lawsuit. Now once you have a judgment against that contractor he will almost certainly have filed bankruptcy. I personally know of 4 contractors that have used this tactic to avoid payments of one form or another.

The indifferent:

Noting really is indifferent about a retaining wall failure. It will cost you time and money to fix. Your property will become a construction site again. Like buying car parts you are spending money just to get back to where you started.


Part 2 coming soon where I analyze:

The 5 top causes of retaining wall failure.

  1. Drainage not installed correctly – or at all - as we will see is sometimes the case.
  2. Soil not reinforced.
  3. Base not correctly installed.
  4. Re-bar not correctly installed in concrete walls.
  5. Block walls not installed correctly (you truly won’t believe this!)

I had the opportunity to interview Mr. & Mrs. Enriquez about their retaining wall project. They were generous enough to talk about what happend to them so that it won't happen to you!

To Scheule a free estimate with Albert Group Landscaping and Swimming Pools click here.

Tags: landscape contractor, Retaining Wall, Landscaping, wall builder


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