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How to Divert Water Away from Foundations with Retaining Walls

Learn how retaining walls divert water away from foundations to control erosion, runoff and silt accumulation. Reroute the neighbor’s runoff rivers. Slow down silt accumulation. Keep water from washing away landscaping dirt. Before building a retaining wall, understand the basics in their proper design.


Why Divert Water Away from Foundations

Soil Erosion / Sediment Accumulation
Any home owner with a house on a slope has watched storm runoff tumbling down around the house. Either stuff gets washed away or washed up against the house. Retaining walls help prevent runoff from eroding away yards and from sediment accumulating up against homes. Both erosion and washed up soil are foundation maintenance nightmares.

Foundation maintenance is all about keeping soil moisture levels even. That starts with sloping soil away from the foundation so water can drain away evenly. 

Soil erosion washes away that slope, thus allowing water to pool around the house. Silt accumulation goes the other direction, allowing soil build up. This directs water in uneven channels around and under the foundation. Both create uneven moisture levels to develop around and under the foundation with the end result being foundation heaving, shifting and cracking.

Retaining walls help divert water away from foundations so that dirt is neither wash away nor pushed up against your home.

It is raining again and you are watching water streaming up against your back door or pouring under and into your home. Retaining walls can help divert water away from foundations during flooding. Often they are just a part of a water flow management solution. Combined with proper guttering, French drains and foundation swales, most water can be diverted away from the foundation and home.


Divert Water Away from Foundations – Preparation

Before starting on your project, watch how the water moves across where you want to install the retaining wall.  Figure out what direction you want the water to move. Make sure solution does not create new problems. Decide on the best possible path water can be redirected. Saving your home’s foundation to wash out your driveway would definitely be more than mildly disappointing.

Make sure retaining walls stand up to pressure so they don’t buckle and collapse. Avoid retaining wall failure by ensuring soil stabilization and proper wall drainage. Clay soils retain water for a long time, exerting pressure against the wall. On the other hand sandy soils and small rocks or gravel allow water to drain easily. Make sure to get the proper mix behind the wall.


Retaining Wall Tips

Remember the purpose of the retaining wall is holding water back and diverting it away from the foundation. Even with properly stabilized soil, when rain is pouring down, water pressure temporarily builds behind the wall. Build drainage into the wall. Perforated piles installed behind the wall along with weep holes are an important way to control both the water flow and pressure build up

Construct walls for strength. Height, base width and tilted help determine the load the wall can bear. Higher walls and wider bases tend to be stronger. Walls that tilt back toward the slope also tend to withhold under stormwater pressure.


Types of Retaining Walls

When looking to divert water from the foundation with retaining walls, there are a number of types of several types to consider. Each adds a different look to your landscaping.

Gravity Retaining Wall

Gravity walls use their weight to stand up to the pressure of the soil it is holding back. They are constructed with stone, concrete or any heavy building material. It starts wider at the base and gradually recess in size as you get to the top of the wall but it may lean back towards the soil to increase stability.

Wood Wall / Anchored Wall

Wood wall or anchored retaining walls utilized concrete anchored support beams. The support beams need to be at least 40% underground in the cement base. Space support beams a minimum of 1 ft apart. For the wall, layer the wood horizontally in front of the support beams.

Cantilevered Retaining Wall

Cantilevered retaining walls are concrete similar in design to a Gravity Retaining wall with the major exception being it includes a concrete foundation. The concrete foundation base extends into the soil. Cantilevered walls require less building material to build than Gravity walls. Make sure that the base is at the frost line of the area you live in.

Sheet Pile Retaining Wall

Use sheet pile retaining walls in confined spaces that have looser soft soils. Usually made of steel or wood, plank walls go 2/3 into the ground leaving the top 1/3 exposed. Cables anchor walls to another plank that is driven into the ground at a set distance back from the wall.


Things to Remember

Before starting on your Retaining wall to divert water from the foundation, be sure to:

  • Check your local zoning, permit requirements and/or ordinances
  • Check with your Homeowner’s Association about potential covenants
  • Develop a landscaping plan for after the wall is built


Frederick Marshall is the CEO of Advanced Foundation Repair, LLC, a foundation repair company specializing in home repairs from the foundation up including foundation repair, foundation drainage, exterior foundation waterproofing, foundation irrigation, and plumbing services. Advanced Foundation Repair has specialized in foundation repair needs of Texas homeowners for over 100 years. Connect with him on Google+.


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Christopher Lorenzo
Christopher Lorenzo
19:36 06 Sep 17
I have had multiple good experiences with Advance Foundation Repair. They stand by their work and kept me informed at all times on the repairs. Post work service was good too. I am very satisfied with their workread more
Ruth Schuman
Ruth Schuman
19:56 05 Sep 17
Workers were very professional and hard working. They dug up around the house and put plants back to look nice. This company also has a trust to forever be able to redo warranted work.read more
Gwen Baumann
Gwen Baumann
02:30 11 Aug 17
I can't too highly recommend this company. I had work done of my foundation by another company several years ago. That work did not resolve the problem, and that company did not fix. Advanced was recommended to me by mother, who said they were the best in the business. I agree! They were polite, professional, charged reasonable prices, and did excellent work. They also have a strong guarantee that is backed by a trust. I can't imagine why you'd use any other company.read more
Linda Krizka
Linda Krizka
19:44 10 Jul 17
Advanced Foundation repair is the only way to go! The engineer, Eric was kind, helpful and informative! The crew under Haynard's watch was unbelievably considerate. The crew was in and out of our house for 5 days. Everyone of them were happy even in the 90 degree weather. They work hard and were very polite. If you saw my house now you would never even know they were here. They cleaned up every night and on the last day it looked like new! Very thankful to have been able to work with them.read more
Michael Francis
Michael Francis
00:48 29 Apr 17
Advanced recently performed our foundation repair and did a fantastic job! The job took four days and throughout the process, the workers were on time each day, were kind and courteous. They left our house clean each day and took great care in making my wife and newborn comfortable during the repair. They came back out to make adjustments, as was expected, and I am more than pleased with the results. Thanks to Juan Martinez, Miguel Mata and Ernesto Alvarato for doing everything I requested. I highly recommend Advanced Foundation Repair, they know what they are doing.read more
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