Retaining Walls: A Powerful Tool For Promoting Dry Basements

The Benefits of a Dry Basement

Dry, waterproof basements offer advantages for property owners. Many households utilize these areas for storage purposes, for instance. Today, architects frequently design attractive walk-out basements on lower levels.

A finished basement permits homeowners to utilize lower-level living spaces more completely: dens, game rooms, exercise rooms, home offices, hobby rooms and sometimes bedrooms and bathrooms occupy underground locations in numerous dwellings. Yet to maximize your family’s enjoyment, you must ensure these areas remain dry and comfortable. Some landscaping features can help further this objective. Retaining walls, an ancient tool, today often perform an important role in helping real estate owners optimize their basement living spaces.

Retaining Walls Serve Many Purposes

In its most basic form, a “retaining wall” holds soil in place to help maintain it at a preferred slope. Builders sometimes use retaining walls to showcase the entrances of walk-out basements or patios, for instance. Retaining walls may also encourage rainwater or melting snow to flow away from a residential slab.

To some extent, every basement wall constitutes a retaining wall. Why? This structure must withstand intense lateral pressure from the surrounding soil. An individual retaining wall may serve a highly practical purpose, (such as supporting a basement or preventing runoff from flowing towards a residential foundation), or it may fill a purely aesthetic role by contributing greater visual interest to a yard.

Retaining Walls: Rural And Urban, Too!

Retaining walls have assisted agriculture for centuries. In the past, farmers in places as far flung as China, Peru and Italy relied extensively on terraces and retaining walls to create level plots of arable land on steep hillsides for cultivation purposes.

While this use of retaining walls remains important in many locations, today retaining walls also perform important landscaping roles in cities and suburbs. In urban areas, retaining walls have enabled engineers to re-shape densely populated landscapes to permit the installation of underground parking garages, sidewalks, steps and sloping highway access ramps.

Popular Types of Retaining Walls

Landscapers and architects have developed a variety of useful specialized retaining walls, as well as several ancillary or alternative soil stabilization techniques. Some popular approaches for holding soil in place include:

An Anchored Wall: Often described as a “counterfort wall”, this specialized retaining wall includes a series of concrete-reinforced anchored cables and beams extending from the wall into a hillside or rock face at regular intervals. Typically made from concrete, these walls usually require the assistance of an experienced engineer to construct. Intended to retain high loads, they sometimes exceed 25 feet in height.

A Gravity Wall: This type of retaining wall relies upon its huge mass to defy the lateral pressure of the surrounding soil. Built from heavy stone, concrete or even stacked steel comparments filled with stone, these thick walls typically remain broader at the base and do not exceed four feet in height.

A Piling Wall: These attractive retaining walls occur in several forms, including bored pile retaining walls and sheet pile retaining walls. The builder inserts planks of wood or vinyl into soft soil or drives bored piles into harder ground, then adds anchors to further secure the wall. Each plank or pile remains only one third above ground.

A Cantilever Wall: Often constructed from cast-in-place concrete or reinforced steel, this type of retaining wall includes an underground lower extension at the base projecting into the surrounding soil. The wall sometimes resemble an upside-down “T” in shape. It typically requires considerable planning to install cantilever retaining walls correctly.

Soil Nailing: This technique reinforces retaining walls or excavations with beams (usually steel bars) inserted downwards into the ground at a slight angle without tension.

Mechanical Stabilization: A landscaper may perform this technique by using layers of horizontal mats to help affix soil in place and keep it in contact with the surface of outer-facing concrete walls.

Choosing Retaining Walls

Although retaining walls perform straightforward functions in residential settings, selecting the best type of wall and the best site for these structures sometimes proves complex. Factors such as the degree of slope, the type of soil, the extent of freezing, water drainage, nearby infrastructure and even potential seismic activity in the area may all become important considerations. For instance, the Soil Society of America recommends property owners consult with an engineer before installing a retaining wall on any slope exceeding a 3:1 ratio.

By reinforcing basement walls and/or encouraging water runoff away from the foundation, a well-installed retaining wall may enhance a home’s useful lifespan. These structures also frequently contribute significantly to the beauty of the landscaping. Call us for assistance with any retaining wall or waterproofing project!