Retaining Wall Types

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Gravity Walls


I’ve decided to do a series on the different types of retaining walls. Since the subject is so interesting and there are so many different types, I know you are dying to know everything there is to know. So knowing that, let’s jump right in to our first topic.

Retaining Wall Construction

While although it sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, the gravity wall is a simple and common type of retaining wall. Most gravity walls are going to be found in gardens, but their function allows them to be used in many different situations. The concept is simple, this type of retaining wall just uses its mass (stone, concrete, or other heavy material) to resist pressure from behind. To put it scientifically, a retaining wall is a structure designed and constructed to resist the lateral pressure of soil when there is a desired change in ground elevation that exceeds the angle of repose of the soil.

Retaining Wall

The problem with Gravity walls is that if the pressure is too high behind the wall, it could fall over. But typically that would have to be a lot of pressure or a very large wall. Unless the wall is designed to retain water, It is important to have proper drainage behind the wall in order to limit the pressure to the wall’s design value. Smaller jobs like for gardens or medium sized walls should not be an issue.

Retaining Wall Example

Texas Soil

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Most Texans know our state bird is the mocking bird, the state flower is the bluebonnet, or even our tree the pecan tree. But what about a state soil? It may be surprising to hear that in addition to mottoes, birds, and flowers, states have soils.


Each state has a state soil that is deemed significant to that state. Even Puerto Rico (Bayamon soil) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (Victory soil) have been appointed “state” soils. But the soil that has importance to Texans (whether they realize it or not) is our state soil Houston Black.

Houston Black Soil

The Texas soil, Houston Black, reaches from north of Dallas to south of San Antonio and causes many problems for Texas homeowners. The Houston Black is classified as a Vertisol soil, which simply means that it is a highly expansive soil. They are known for their high content of expansive clay and those deep cracks that form during dry times and droughts.

Vertisol Soil Cracks

The reason this type of soil can be so problematic is due to it’s nature of expansion and shrinking. The shrinking and swelling of vertisol soils can cause damage to buildings and roads. Especially here in Texas where we can go long periods without rain this causes the ground to shift the foundation of your home. The important thing to keep in mind is the consistency around your home. Too much water can be just as bad as none at all. The change in consistency is what causes your foundation to shift and cracks begin to form in your home. It is always strange to tell someone to “water their soil” but with the abundance of Houston Black your home is at constant risk. It is important to be aware of our state soil and the challenges it presents.

Texas Bill on Foundation Repair

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In January a bill (HB-613) was filled to the Texas House to address some concerns over foundation repair contractors in the state. Many professions we rely on are required to have a permit that guarantees you their credibility and integrity. From plumbers and electricians to even the people that cut your hair, all are required to hold a license to practice their craft. One surprising exception to this regulatory process is foundation companies. The people shifting your home around and messing with the most important aspect of your home’s structure are not required to be licensed in the state of Texas.

On February 14, the house gave the proposed bill a read and it is currently in committee to date. You can follow the progress and read the bill here. The bill itself hopes to require all practicing foundation companies to apply for a license and must have a licensed “master” in house to practice and get paid in foundation repair. It will create a directory of all licensed contractors.  The bill will also create a committee to advice and make recommendations to the department.Foundation Repair

At the moment anybody with a shovel and a wheel barrel can call themselves a foundation repair company, but the HB-613 (bill) seeks to protect home owners from dishonesty and assure they get a contractor with “minimum competency, insurance, and accountability.” Perhaps stories like this one could be prevented by holding our companies to a certain level of integrity and becoming licensed.

Drains and Names

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I want to clear a big misconception in the home/garden/yard/average homeowner community. Before I get high and mighty or come across as sounding like “I can’t believe you made such an amateur mistake. How did you not know the difference,” I want to come forth by saying: “I had no idea what-so-ever.”

Prepare yourself. If you didn’t know this already, this is not a French drain.


Let me clarify that again. This is NOT a French drain.

stormdrain cross section

Yes, those little green squares in the ground. Those are not French.

Now maybe you already know what a French drain is, and maybe I’m the only one in the world who thought that those little green grates in the ground were called “French drains,” but I’d like to think that everybody (save for the few elite) refers to them in the same ignorant manor. From here on out I will assume that you were as confused and surprised as I was. (Which I realize you probably can’t contain your excitement right now)

If that isn’t a French drain what is? Well before we get into that let me enlighten you as to what you’ve been (undoubtedly) been mistakenly calling French drains.

Behold the beauty of the Surface Drain

long surface drain

Now any of the above pictures can be called a surface drain. Why? I bet it has something to do with them being a drain… near the surface. Yes, everything from a small green square to a long grey rectangle is called a surface drain. Now this non-French drain is mainly used for collecting (I’m sure you can guess) SURFACE water. Sometimes in an area of heavy rain or low soil percolation (to filter or trickle) you might need to use a surface drain for that excess of water. These should move water away from the surface quickly and efficiently, but doesn’t do much for groundwater.

Doesn’t do much for ground water you say? What about…

French Drain

That’s right. Beneath those rocks is our French drain you’ve been so curious about.

Let’s get a better look at what it actually looks like, and maybe also a nice diagram.


And now for the diagram.


Not what you thought is it?

A French drain is basically a trench filled in with gravel and rock that has a perforated pipe to redirect both surface and groundwater away from an area. The main goal here is to prevent ground and surface water from penetrating or damaging building foundations, but French drains are also used behind retaining walls sometimes to relieve ground water pressure. The reason the pipes are perforated is that when water seeps through the rocks, the pipe will collect the water and be redirected away from your foundation.

Now my mom used to call those little green squares in the backyard (and probably still does) French drains. Whether that’s because she was misinformed or just wanted to sound more sophisticated, I don’t know. Because she called it that, I only knew it as such. This might not be life changing information, but now you too can correct people at dinner parties and social gatherings when someone foolishly throws the term “French drain” out without being civilized enough to know what one actually is.

5 Tips to Avoid Foundation Damage During Dry Winters

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Last summer, during the long summer months in Texas, the Better Business Bureau reported a 70% increase in consumers looking for foundation repair services. “Too much or not enough water can also cause foundations to expand and then shrink, leaving cracks in the soil,” states the article. With little relief from the drought-like weather over the winter, extreme dryness continues to be a problem even now.

One of the most important things homeowners need to focus on is controlling the moisture to their foundation. Here are a few simple tips:



1. Invest in a soaker hose or sprinkler system. This helps keep soil moisture level. Just be sure to evenly water 2-3 ft. of surrounding soil all around your home.



Landscape Flowers


2. Let your landscape take a drink. That beautiful landscape can be a pest if it’s thirsty. Unwatered plant roots can suck moisture away from your home, so be sure to monitor your flowerbeds’ and shrubbery’s’ water consumption.


Rock Bed


3. Install rock beds. Installing rock beds anywhere from a foot and a half to 2 feet away (16”-24”) from your foundation can assist with water penetration into your soil. This allows sprinkler or rain water to better keep moisture levels even.




4. Keep gutters clean and install more downspouts. Rain from the gutter hits soil hard instead of even dispersion causing drought-affected soils to wash away too quickly. Make sure gutters are directed away from your home.




5. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Experts recommend depositing mulch around the landscaping closest to your home and foundation. The mulch slows moisture evaporation and prevents the soil from drying.



Don’t forget: if you see cracks in your foundation or soil, displaced moldings, experience your home sinking or settling, or doors and windows that are difficult to close or don’t at all, contact a BBB Accredited foundation repair specialist immediately.

Images: 1. photo by gapplewagen on Flickr | 2. photo by trung dangy on fotopedia | 3. photo by laelomo on Flickr | 4. photo by slambo_42 on Flickr | 5. photo by cdsessums on Flickr