How To Fix A Retaining Wall – Loose, Leaning, Seeping Fixes

retaining wall with tree plantings in a backyard with healthy green lawn

You have noticed something wrong with your retaining wall.  Maybe the blocks at the top are out of square. Perhaps the cap has been pushed off.  Or you noticed there’s a big bulge in the middle of the wall.  There may be water seeping through the wall that turns to ice in winter.  When you look at the problems you are having with your retaining wall you may be wondering how to fix a retaining wall.  

There are many ways to fix a retaining wall. However, the first step should always be to diagnose what the problem is.  Here are a few ways to fix a retaining wall for specific problems that are common.

How To Fix A Retaining Wall With Loose Blocks

If you notice you have some loose blocks at the top of the wall which are out of square, and you live in a freezing environment, you probably have some easy to fix frost damage. The first solution to try in this case is to dig back the grass growing at the top of the wall 2-3 feet from the wall cap. Then, remove the top 6” or so of topsoil. Finally, replace with crushed drainage rock, either 3/4” or 1 1/2”.  By adding the drainage strip to the top of the wall you can prevent some of the frozen grass induced frost damage from occurring in the first place.

How To Fix A Leaning Retaining Wall

If you have a bulge in the wall, you can’t just push a retaining wall back into place.  Unfortunately, if your wall is bulging, the only remedy is to rebuild the wall properly.  If you have a modular block wall, you can likely reuse the blocks, but you’ll need an excavation contractor. You can find these professionals on Home Advisor or Houzz. This contractor will dig out behind the wall and then backfill the wall with crushed stone as you rebuild the wall.  If you have a natural stone wall with a bulge the same method applies.

How To Fix A Retaining Wall With Leaning And Bulging

If your concrete wall is bulging, you will need to remove and replace the wall.  You may want to consult an engineer to review the wall’s condition if you are unsure whether it can be saved.  When rebuilding the wall you definitely want to consult an engineer to be sure you rebuild the wall in a sustainable manner.

How To Fix A Retaining Wall With Water Seeping

If you have water seeping through your wall, first consider how the surface water is draining behind the wall.  Can you dig a swale behind the wall?  This would consist of a trench a few feet behind the wall that will collect surface water and direct it away from the wall. Often excess water seepage is due to surface water flowing down the hillside then down the back of the wall.  Sometimes water flowing through the wall is simply groundwater seeping out of the hillside.  

If you have groundwater seeping through your wall there’s only one solution. Replace the wall with well draining backfill. Alternatively, you could dig a deep dewatering trench behind the wall. Then you’d fill it with a perforated pipe and crushed stone.  Either way it’s a major operation. However, depending on the potential damage to your wall it may be worth doing before going through the process of rebuilding your retaining wall.

How To Fix A Retaining Wall Summary

There are many problems that can arise your retaining wall. It’s never a bad idea to first seek professional help when determining how to fix a retaining wall.  A structural engineer can often help diagnose what’s going on. They will visit the property and do an analysis of the existing conditions. Often engineers have busy schedules, but in the case of a large retaining wall that’ll cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace, an initial review is money well spent.