How Long Do Retaining Walls Last?

retaining wall - Mares Dow

Retaining walls, when properly designed, built from durable materials, and maintained appropriately can last quite a long time. Consider the Great Wall of China or the Hoover Dam – while it may seem a stretch to talk about these artifacts of history in the same breath as your local home remodeling contractors, these structures are fundamentally similar to and the monumental ancestors of your common backyard retaining wall. When it comes to building a lasting structure, there are several elements to factor into your project plan. 

Proper design is key

Retaining walls have seven basic components: The wall itself, drainage stone, filter fabric, batter, weep hole, footing, footing drain. How these components are designed to all work together with the unique conditions of the retaining wall site is a big predictor of how long the retaining wall will last. For example, if the batter of the wall, or the backward lean of the wall toward the earth it is retaining, is not sufficient for the wall height, the structure will not last as long as it could. Eventually, the wall will break down under pressures it wasn’t successfully engineered to withstand. Simple miscalculations in the design can have a far reaching impact, which is something retaining wall contractors can help you to avoid. 

Durable materials make walls last a lifetime

As you can imagine, the material you use to construct your retaining wall has a huge influence on the structure’s longevity. Walls made of timber, for example, will not last as long as walls made of masonry. Timber retaining walls can last up to 40 years if the wood is high quality, while masonry walls if properly designed and installed, can last until someone decides to tear them down. Concrete block or poured concrete retaining walls are particularly long-lasting, as concrete is known for its strength and durability. In the end, it is up to you to decide how permanent you want your retaining wall to be. 

Good maintenance covers the rest of your bases

In themselves, retaining walls are fairly low-maintenance structures but doing what little upkeep is required can ensure the structure lasts. It is important to regularly inspect your wall to make sure groundwater is draining properly from the footing drain, weep holes are unobstructed, and the filter fabric isn’t damaged. Additionally, even the best retaining walls can be compromised by harsh changes in environmental conditions, such as soil erosion or extreme seismic or weather events. In these circumstances, you can work with a professional to identify and repair any damage. 

Mares & Dow Construction has been serving the Bay Area since 1983.  Our general contractors are home remodeling experts and enjoy working with homeowners as they start the process with their next project.  Contact us today to get started on your home remodel!

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