8 Reasons Retaining Walls Fail

Retaining walls are a critical construction element, as they are used for reinforcement and support in many places—especially for slopes and rugged terrain. But improper installation can lead to disastrous results. One of the most common reasons for retaining wall failure is an inadequate foundation. Without proper drainage and stabilization points, pressure will quickly begin to build up in the wall’s structure until it becomes unstable and collapses. To ensure that a retaining wall remains intact, retaining wall engineers must remember to provide enough drainage at its base, secure soil anchors around its sides, and double-check measurements before starting their project. Following these steps can help prevent massive structural damage and save valuable time when it comes to repairing a faulty retaining wall.

Improper Drainage at the Base

Improper drainage at the base can cause water to pool. This causes the wall to erode and eventually collapse. The best way to prevent this from happening is by having a retaining wall built in such a way that it slopes away from buildings; this slope should be about 10 degrees, with the bottom of the slope being at least 4 feet wide. A gravel base will allow water to flow through easily, keeping it off of your building’s foundation and onto a separate area for drainage purposes.

retaining wall drainage

Improper Anchoring

retaining wall anchor

Anchoring is the process of embedding the retaining wall into the soil so that it won’t settle or shift. It’s a crucial part of building a retaining wall, but can also be a tricky one to get right.

Anchoring is usually done with either concrete or steel anchors embedded in the soil at least every foot down from ground level. These anchors are designed to hold back pressure from below, preventing movement and keeping your walls from collapsing over time (or even during an earthquake). When you’re anchoring your walls, you’ll need to determine how far apart they should be placed from one another; this will depend on how much weight they’re going to absorb and what kind of soil conditions exist where you plan on placing them (for example clay vs sand). If possible, try using multiple types of anchors for different levels within your project—this will help ensure that no one area gets overloaded by too much weight during construction!

Soil Expansion and Contraction

Soil expansion and contraction are other common causes of retaining wall failure. When the soil expands, it can crack the wall or sink into the ground. If you’re not using a flexible material like a geotextile or geogrid to hold up your wall, this problem can lead to serious damage in just a few years’ time.

To prevent this kind of deterioration from happening, you’ll want to make sure that there are no gaps between your retaining walls and any other materials on-site (such as stones). This will help keep them from shifting around when they get wet during rainy seasons—and if there aren’t any cracks in place already when bad weather hits. Then all chances are good that none will develop over time either!

Incorrect Usage of Certain Materials

Concrete is the most common material for retaining walls, but it’s not the best choice for your project.

Concrete needs to be reinforced with steel rebar to prevent cracking and crumbling. Steel rebar can be installed through holes drilled in concrete blocks, which allows you to place additional steel bars between each block of concrete as you construct your wall. If this isn’t done properly or if there aren’t enough holes drilled into each block (which happens frequently), then you’ll end up with a weak structure that will fail over time due to its inability to withstand heavy loads placed on them by objects such as vehicles passing down their sides or people walking along them at nightfall when they shouldn’t be there at all!

Ground Freezing and Thawing

Ground freezing and thawing can cause foundation cracks, which in turn can cause the wall to shift. If a retaining wall is not built properly, it may collapse due to the weight of water on top of it. So if you decide to build a retaining wall but don’t want to risk your home’s safety or value, consult with an engineer first before starting construction.

The best way around this problem is building a frost-protected concrete structure using steel reinforcement rods and anchor bolts instead of wood posts that can rot over time due to moisture seeping into them through cracks caused by freezing/thawing ground conditions during colder months when temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0°C).

freezing ground retaining wall

Inadequate Foundation

The foundation of the retaining wall should be able to support the weight of the wall, withstand soil pressure and frost heave, and withstand seismic activity.

  • Foundation: The foundation should be able to support both vertical (weight) and horizontal (pressure) loads. It is important that you not only consider how much your retaining walls weigh but also how much they will strain on your supports over time. By designing your foundation around this concept it will allow for fewer maintenance costs while still ensuring that your structure remains strong enough to handle any future changes in weather conditions or other factors such as earthquakes or floods which could cause damage if built incorrectly.*

Pressure From Behind the Wall

retaining wall pressure
  • The wall is not strong enough. A wall can be built to withstand the weight of pressure, but if it’s not anchored properly or has an improper foundation and drainage system, then it won’t stand up to frequent earthquakes or even a simple rainstorm.
  • You didn’t build with the correct materials. If you use cheap materials such as wood planks instead of concrete or masonry blocks, then your retaining wall will fail sooner rather than later!
  • You didn’t build with the correct foundation material(s). Having good drainage around your home is crucial for preventing water damage from occurring inside your walls; otherwise, water could seep into cracks between blocks that cause them all eventually fall apart over time due to rotting away at their foundations (which happens quickly)

    The Walls Could Collapse if Not Built Properly

    Retaining walls can be a very useful way to prevent soil erosion, but when not constructed properly, the consequences can be catastrophic. If these walls are unable to handle their load, their collapse could lead to serious property damage, as well as come with many safety risks. In addition, a poorly constructed wall can have an increased risk of failure due to poor design or weak construction materials that may not be able to handle the pressure. Homeowners who are considering constructing or repairing retaining walls should make sure they fully understand the building process, and always hire a professional contractor for the best results. Keeping these walls strong and secure will provide peace of mind that they are safe and stable for years to come.


    If a retaining wall is not well built or is poorly maintained, it could collapse and cause extensive damage to the property in its vicinity. Apart from these dangers, neglecting to repair an unstable wall can also increase the chances of flooding and soil erosion. For this reason, if your retaining wall starts to show signs of instability or begins to deteriorate, you should call Dallas Retaining Wall and Masonry as soon as possible in order to prevent any further harm. By quickly responding to the issue, you will be able to save both time and money while ensuring that your structure remains secure and stable.