View Full Version : Crumbling retaining wall - pictures inside.

04-22-2009, 08:43 PM
Hello everyone. Found this forum today and have been reading non-stop and learning. Gotta admit, I am not a professional, just a homeowner with a big retaining wall problem. Before I hire a pro I wanted to educate myself a little and understand my options. I am in MA and we purchased a house in 2003. The lot is sloping from front to back. So a large retaining wall was built to level the concrete patio and put a pool in. It was done in early 1980s. I suspect the drainage was not done correctly and concrete blocks used were poor quality plus time has taken it's toll so the wall has been slowly crumbling and it is getting worse after each winter. The wall is 80' long and 5' tall. It is about 15' long on each side. Below are some pictures so you can see it from all sides as well as specific problems with the blocks.







So what are my options?

1. Take the old blocks out and rebuild it? This is a huge job and would require a very heavy equipment.

2. Build a new wall around it with appropriate drainage and fill the cracks with gravel or something?

3. Any other options?

Thanks for any advice.

04-22-2009, 09:10 PM
First off - Yikes!!! Curious about a few things: 1. Septic or sewer? 2. What is the access to the back yard like? 3. How far back is your property line from the retaining wall? 4. You mentioned that the patio is cement. Is the patio/deck around the pool cement or pavers? A picture or two looking down at the pool/wall from your wood deck would help too.

04-22-2009, 09:20 PM
Yup, yikes sums it up pretty good :)

1. Town sewer.
2. Access is easy from either side of the house.
3. Property line is pretty far - 60' or so.
4. It's pored concrete I believe which is separated in a few places by joints (and some cracks now as well). You can sort of see the layer they pored on top of the wall.

It's dark out now, but I will take a picture from the top tomorrow.


04-22-2009, 09:45 PM
Is the pool gunite, or a fiberglass shell? Whats the appox. distance from the pools edge to the inside of the retaining wall? Sorry, I know your looking for answers and all i'm doing is asking questions. I will help with answers, as i know a lot of other qualified/experienced members here will as well. Considering the height and length of the wall, and what it's actually retaining, I would strongly recommend having an engineer come out and take a look first.

04-22-2009, 09:53 PM
Actually, I want to THANK YOU for asking questions. This speaks a lot of your professional experience meaning that you would need to get all the facts first before recommending best advice or solution. I will be happy to answer all of them.

The pool is gunite. The distance from the pool to the retaining wall is about 15' I would say from the closest edge but since it is kidney shaped that distance varies. I actually found some pictures from the top in my archives. It is not full top view (I will take and post that tomorrow) but it should give a better idea.




The pool is now winterized so it's hard to see the edge.

04-22-2009, 10:03 PM
Holy sheep **** batman!! First of thats not a retaining wall that is just concrete block stacked up,lol. And you better get your wallet out for this one.

Here's how it should be fixed:
1)Drain pool completely
2)Remove half assed wall and patio
3)Excavate back to the pool
4)Rebuild the wall with interlocking units
5)Make sure you use geogrid
6)Also ad proper drainage behind wall
7)Pour a new patio or lay pavers

04-22-2009, 10:04 PM
I have a picture on my website of how a retaining wall around a pool should be done

04-22-2009, 10:11 PM
An engineer would be the one to make the call to either completely demo and rebuild new, or build a new wall encapsulating the old. The latter would obviously favor the budget.

04-22-2009, 10:11 PM
Holy sheep **** batman!! First of thats not a retaining wall that is just concrete block stacked up,lol.$
Heh, yea, I think if it would be built from LEGOs it would hold better :)

So I had a mason look at it last year and his opinion was that with proper drainage, it is possible to build an interlocking blocks wall around the current one and fill the gaps. Also, the patio would need to be paved as you said. Now, I had to put the project on hold last year so I did not get any other opinions on this; hence, I am here. Obviously I am not made of money (especially with current economy) so if the above option is doable I would prefer that route. However, if this would be a short-term solution then I would definitely stay away from it.

04-22-2009, 10:19 PM
Thank you both. So I take it my first step would be to find an engineer to take a look.

04-22-2009, 10:19 PM
Personally I think the latter could be done. I would just feel a whole lot better having an engineer check off on it, and follow his specs.

04-22-2009, 10:45 PM
I really hope so. Thanks for help!

PS. If someone can recommend a good company/individual in MA to contact for this job, I would appreciate it.

04-23-2009, 04:43 AM
Couple of questions

1.How is the current condition of the concrete patio ( cracked spalling etc.)?
2.These blocks look like they are precast units from a ready mix plant and appear to be cubes that are 3'x'3'x3' is that correct? Around here these blocks were made from left over concrete at the readymix plant, so concrete quality could vary widely. for something that is close to 30 yrs old its not that bad just poor wormanship in execution and use of a low cost product.
3. It looks the concrete mix was not air entrained hence the spalling crumbling.
4. because the block were just stacked one on top of the with out staggering joints any settlement in the ground would have given these gaps.

Now my advice to you in repairing your property would be to cut the slab about 5' from the edge the retaining wall and remove the upper course blocks with a suitable sized excavator. (there should be a ring in the block to lift). and then build a new retaining wall away from existing wall so that any reinforcing to the new wall would be away from the face of existing wall. Don't forget about drainage.

I also recommend you speak to an engineer but to save yourself some money I would come up with some solutions and then pass them on to him or her in enquiring on feasibility and cost.

Also once you cut and remove a portion of the slab you might find voids under the slab due to ground settling then you will have change the entire slab as well.

Hope this helps you.

04-23-2009, 09:52 AM
Thanks for your reply.

1. Current condition of the patio is not too bad actually. There is one crack but nothing major and I have been monitoring it for a few years and it has not gotten worse - just looks old and weathered. I tried pressure-washing it and it looked ok for one season but because it is very porous it went back to looking like crap the next season.

2. You nailed it right on the head. I am also pretty sure that the blocks came from the ready mix plant. I don't know if the original owner had some town connections and got them for cheap or not, but they definitely look like the leftover concrete mixes that have been dumped into a form after the various jobs are finished. Some of them even have different color layers which can be clearly seen. I am at work now but think they are measured 3x3x5 or so since they are not cubes but rather rectangular shape. I do agree that since they did their job for 30 years it is not too bad. I am sure it will last a few more years but I just think I should not wait too long.

I actually had a guy from a building company looking at it this morning and his suggestion is exactly what you are proposing. He recommended removing the top layer of blocks and burring them either right after the existing wall (as a foundation for a new one) or somewhere else on the property as a border for example. Then build a new wall around it. He also said that I have a few options there - I can expand my patio further into the yard making it a much larger patio or build a new wall that would be the same size as the old one. They would also remove the concrete that covers the patio to check for any gaps (as you said) and do drainage. Then they would repave the patio.

So now I want to get some ballpark numbers for these options and the hardest part would be to convince my wife :) I personally love the idea of expanding the patio since we use that constantly and barely use the rest of the backyard. On the other hand, we are not sure how long we will stay in this house so it may be not a wise investment.

Here are some pictures from the top of the deck looking down on the patio. It has been raining the whole night so it looks worse then it is because it is wet. When it is dry it actually looks better.




04-23-2009, 03:10 PM
I would recommend getting an experienced company, reputable engineer, and a large stack of money ready for this one. I would take the upper layer of wall off, take out the 4 sections of patio that look white, build a new engineered wall in front of the old bottom layer, and repave the patio. If your looking for a "ballpark" figure I can see you spending atleast 40K for this one.

Also the crack in the patio seems to be right over the middle section of the wall where it looks to be leaning out the most.

04-23-2009, 05:10 PM
Thanks. Well, the first engineer I contacted (found him on Craigslist) asked $500 to come out and evaluate the situation, take measurements and write a detailed report with recommendations. Does this seem reasonable? Since the guy is not really building anything I was expecting $200 - $300 for this, so this seems to be on the high end to me - but what do I know. Is that the going rate for something like this?

04-23-2009, 07:55 PM
don't look for an engineer on CL, you're asking for trouble.

chat with your local town government, I'm sure they can point you in the right direction.

04-23-2009, 08:00 PM
don't look for an engineer on CL, you're asking for trouble.

chat with your local town government, I'm sure they can point you in the right direction.
Good advice. Although he was licensed, insured, with references, the whole 9 yards...

Either way, is the quoted price reasonable? I just want to be mentally prepared if this is the going rate for something like this.

04-23-2009, 08:59 PM
Hey there Y2K.........looks like your making progress, at least thinking in the right directon. I agree with Isobel, stay away from craigs list, and get a few references from your town hall/building inspector. Without giving out your exact location, what county are you in?

04-23-2009, 09:01 PM
btw....Thanks for the above pics. The crack is what i was looking for.

04-23-2009, 09:20 PM
Hey there Y2K.........looks like your making progress, at least thinking in the right directon. I agree with Isobel, stay away from craigs list, and get a few references from your town hall/building inspector. Without giving out your exact location, what county are you in?
Sure, I am in Middlesex county.

And thanks for the advice.

04-23-2009, 09:30 PM
I think that removing the top course of block would be opening up a can of worms. Can only imagine what sort of base/backfill material would come streaming out, possibly leaving a void under the concrete pool patio. Try to fill and repack the void. Probably wouldn't happen, so guess what happens next........up comes the concrete patio. If money wasn't an issue I'd say demo the whole thing and start fresh. And maybe thats the way to go......if this is your dream house and you plan on retiring there, and want to see your grand kids swimming in the pool someday. Again, an engineer will give you solutions, from there you can put the options out for bid and either go for it, or save, save, save and do it in the next few years.

04-23-2009, 10:28 PM
I don't see what the big deal is. If you don't want to rip out the concrete pool deck just remove the existing wall and build new wall 5 feet back.

04-23-2009, 10:54 PM
$500 in engineering seems cheap. What you are paying for is liability. If he engineers the repair and you do it per his plans and it fails a year or two later, that's on him. Whoever you hire to engineer this, money should not be your top concern. You could easily spend $25K or more fixing this, and worse case scenario a total failure could wreck your pool. I'm not sure what your pool would cost to replace, but I'd guess it will be $50K or more. This is not the job to pinch pennies on.

04-23-2009, 10:59 PM
I agree with amscapes, you'll be replacing the concrete in a few years. I too would stay away from CL engineers, just make sure that your new wall has plenty of geogrid, is properly compacted and has proper drainage. I think if you give us some sort of budget to work with I'm sure you can quickly learn all your options. By the way, it looks like a nice pool.

04-24-2009, 12:41 AM
Thanks again.

B.O.S.man - yes, the pool is really nice and was one of the reasons why we bought the house. When it is open and all my patio furniture is out and actually hides the bad-looking concrete, it looks like a resort. We love spending time outside; and my 4 year old son who is finally no longer afraid of the water should have a blast there this summer. :) Point well taken about the CL engineers, I will definitely follow the advice and look for more credited sources.

hosejockey2002 - just to clarify, I definitely realize that this is not the job to pinch pennies on, and my question was really not about saving a couple of hundred bucks on a thousands dollars project. I am pretty handy myself and have done pretty much everything inside the house (framing, finishing basement, pluming, electrical, hardwood floors, tiles, carpenter work, etc.) not because I want to save the money (well sometimes, maybe) but mostly because I like doing this stuff. But I know when to draw a line and call a professional such as in this case. However, through out my life I have met two types of pros. One category are people that are truly professional and do honest work and make good honest profit (and we should!); and the other category are "professionals" that prey on trusting and not knowledgeable people. I have seen both and I have great respect for the first category and I greatly despise the second one. So anytime when I try to approach any project that requires professional help I try to educate myself as much as I can so I can distinguish between the two, that's all.

With that said, the budget that I was considering was based on a previous estimate I got a year ago from a mason that took a look at the damage. We did not talk all the details like what to do about the patio, but he said I was probably looking at around $25 - 30K for the wall plus whatever else I want to do on top and around. This seems to be in line with what I have gotten so far. A couple of people told me that removing the existing blocks off the property completely would cost as much as building a new wall. Although I am a strong believer that if you are doing something you should do it right, I don't think this will be the last house I will buy, so I'd like to fix it good but keep in mind that I will probably sell the property in 10 - 15 years so I don't want to build a paradise. :)

04-28-2009, 10:20 PM
Hey there Y2K.........If your within an hours distance of me (Groveland/Georgetown) and interested in getting another estimate shoot me a PM with some contact info. and i'll send you my biz e-mail. Right now I'm about 7 to 8 weeks out as far as the work load goes.

04-28-2009, 10:31 PM
That would be great! But I don't think my new status at this forum allows me to send a PM - I don't see any PM button or link. I am guessing I have to reach a certain number of posts before I am allowed. Anyway, my email is yefim(at)yefim(dot)com. Just email me directly and I will send you the details. I am located in Chelmsford area so I think I am no more then 40 minutes away from where you are.

By the way, I had two independent engineers look at the wall and both told me that completely removing the old wall is not necessary and just removing the top row and building a new wall around it should be just fine as long as the wall is built right with proper drainage.

04-28-2009, 10:57 PM
Just dropped you an e-mail

04-28-2009, 11:14 PM
Got it. Replied.