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  1. #1

    Question What would you write?

    Recently inspected a house with a 2+ Story retaining wall about 20' from the back wall of the house. The wall was made of PT 8x8's that were stepped each layer.

    There was Moss starting in places and I saw no drainage.

    The wall looked in Good shape TODAY but wood only has about 40 years life (if it is the good stuff) life and will be near impossible to repair as there is no way to get equipment in now that the house has been built.

    I recommended having a Soil engineer or similar to look at the house/wall and give a report as to if the house would be at risk if the wall degraded.

    What would you have written?

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I would have also suggested a geological engineer to take a look just like you stated. About 10 years ago in South KC there were some homes built with a wall of similar size behind them. I don't remember if it was held in place by railroad ties or rocks. But eventually, 10 years ago the hill gave way and down came the $300K+ houses. Lawsuits ran for years on that one. Everybody from the builder to the city to the last home inspector got nailed over it.


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I don't think that I'd go beyond a verbal comment regarding the difficulty of replacement. As part of my record keeping I'd be making note of that discussion. My reports themselves tend to stick with present conditions which, as my contract references, I am reporting on.

    Eric Barker, ACI
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    We can 'further evaluate' any home we inspect to death. Had I inspected the home, I would have tried to determine, in my opinion, if the retaining wall was critical to the home's foundation stabilization. Meaning, if the walls failed, would the home's foundation be in jeopardy. If I even thought the answer was yes, I would simply mention that retaining walls that are part and parcel of the home's foundation system should be designed by a professional (insert, engineer, geotechnical engineer, ect) but is beyond the scope of a general HI to determine. I would then recommend to the buyer that further analysis of this wall system is warranted. That can mean, is there any paperwork associated with the home that covers the retaining walls and if they were professional designed, has it been evaluated in the past and what was the outcome, ect? Your advise on this is important as it has the ability to be very costly to correct and or replace if determined to be insufficient. And your liability could possibly be considerable. I always spend a great deal of time at a home looking at issues that have the greatest price tag associated with it and of course safety issues, all safety issues.


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Just from the pictures, I think there is cause for concern. No offense to Eric, I respect his judgement but, IMO, an inspector could be foolish not to include something about that wall in the report.

    What is your location? What is the general topography of the subdivision? Are there storm drains? What's downhill from there?

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  6. #6

    Default Re: What would you write?

    MOST of this sub-development was "normal." There were about 5 houses along this creek with severe back yards. Getting down to take the picture was interesting, get back up was harder... No way are you getting any machine down there to do any repairs. The un-walled section between houses was 60deg or better... There was a creek further down the hill with lots of trees down...

    All of this tells me that my caution and writing same in my report was a good call...

    Last edited by Bob Sisson; 11-01-2011 at 03:56 PM. Reason: spelling

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Unless I saw signs of displacement, subsidence, rotting wood or other signs of visible problems I would not have said much about the retaining wall other than it is made from wood. I might add that repairs will eventually be needed as the wood decays, I don't think I would get into how difficult the repair might be.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Unable to determine the extent of any damage concealed from view....

    I might speculate based on the age of the house how old the wall is and mention to the buyer (either verbally and/or in the report) that it will need to be replaced some day.

    In the end, if it's working today and doesn't show signs of defect (rot, bowing, leaning, sagging, etc.) you've done your job. You can lay awake at night playing the "what if" game with everything we see in every house. Don't let the lawyers and fear change what you do..... too much.


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    A lot of great observations and opinions here. However, we report on the present condition... "Present Tense" at the time of the inspection. When we report, we use the terms "was", not "is" as we can not control how things can change from the time we report and the time they choose to read the report. In my opinion, we can not comment on how things Might be, only on how things Are. As far as the retaining wall, comment on what you see, comment on the presence of moss as an indication of moisture content and the decay that is associated with excessive moisture content, provided it is in excess of 20%. If the wall was structurally sound in all other respects, there is nothing else to report. Don't cry "Wolf" unless you actually see one. I can only testify on what I can observe, not on what I can imagine.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Sisson View Post
    What would you have written?
    If the wall is in good condition I would not mention anything about it other than to describe it. However, the photos appear to show water draining over or through the wall. Without seeing the grade at the top it's hard to know for sure, but I would probably recommend regrading to direct the flow of water around the wall rather than toward the wall. This may greatly prolong the life of wood components.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kogel View Post
    No offense to Eric, I respect his judgement but, IMO, an inspector could be foolish not to include something about that wall in the report.
    Not offended here John. I thought a lot about how'd I handle this and I can't debate your view. If access to that wall is as difficult as Bob says I could quite likely change my opinion. As inspectors it's much easier for us to more fully appreciate some situations than our clients and sometimes we need to consider altering our standard approaches for the client's sake. There's been more than few nights where I've tossed and turned over something I wrote in a report and ended up sending a revised copy the next morning.

    Bob - great post!

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Bob - great post. Your write-up is better than anything I might have written, but essentially along the same lines. I would have made a comment at the site about the current condition of the wood and also difficulty of repair, and then included the same information in the report.


  13. #13

    Default Re: What would you write?

    What I have learned from so many other members experience is we get in trouble for what we DON'T write.

    If we see something that catches our attention, we need to write it down. If something concerns us about future issues, write it down...

    A different example:

    20 year old house. Had put in a Brand new state of the Art Heat-pump installed few years ago, and did a nice job of it. Then they finished the basement and walled it in. Were very careful to put in access panels for service, but the unit was never coming out without taking down several walls. Even some routine repairs would be difficult. as I doubt you could get to the backside without being a contortionist, a skinny one at that... Same issue... its OK TODAY, but when ...in the future... its going to be ugly...


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Bob, I'm just curious, is this Waters Landing/Churchill community above the little lake?


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Nope, this one is in "Poplar Springs" in Montgomery village,


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Isn't the moss indicative of the start of wood rot?


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond Wand View Post
    Isn't the moss indicative of the start of wood rot?
    Moss grows on rocks, Raymond. Remember, before the Rolling Stones? A rolling stone gathers no moss.

    Nevertheless, those little steps or ledges are a bad idea, and there will be rot.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    John,

    Lichen grows on rock too as well as asphalt shingles.
    I have seen moss covered wood shakes and there has been much rot under it.

    Good point about the ledges!


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond Wand View Post
    John,

    Lichen grows on rock too as well as asphalt shingles.
    I have seen moss covered wood shakes and there has been much rot under it.

    Good point about the ledges!
    Just jerking your chain a bit there, Raymond. Moss keeps the wood wet and traps organics, which creates a perfect environment for wood rot.

    My clients talked to the neighbor about replacing this retaining wall between the properties. The neighbours were not interested in doing anything about it, even though the dirt behind the wall is their backyard. My clients found another place with fewer headaches.
    This was an extreme case of obvious trouble, but I thought I'd put the pics up. Wood in contact with soil and moisture.
    I was too busy to notice the blackberries until now. []

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I don't have anywhere near the experience you guys do, but judging from the photos I'd be very surprised if degradation of the wall would endanger the house. It looks like the wall is there to extend the garden, not to hold up the hill so that a house could be built. You wouldn't necessarily need large equipment down there to repair or even replace it. Depending on the type of soil and how wet it is, sometimes you can take sections of a wall down that's been there for 20 years without having the soil behind it move at all. Think of some of the steep hills there are that only erode severely during catastrophic events. But maybe I'm too optimistic.

    The little ledges are unavoidable unless every 8X8 were trimmed at an angle - much better to have the ledges than have the wall perfectly vertical. If they built it right (and it looks well-built, unlike the other wall pictured in someone's post) there could be gravel behind and under it to facilitate drainage.

    None of this is really helpful in deciding how to write it up, though! Not my field.


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I'd be very surprised if degradation of the wall would endanger the house. It looks like the wall is there to extend the garden, not to hold up the hill so that a house could be built.
    Thats the problem if the wall should fail the soil behind will seek its on angle (angle of repose) and it could severely affect the structure.

    If the soil is saturated behind the wall even more lateral force.
    You wouldn't necessarily need large equipment down there to repair or even replace it. Depending on the type of soil and how wet it is, sometimes you can take sections of a wall down that's been there for 20 years without having the soil behind it move at all. Think of some of the steep hills there are that only erode severely during catastrophic events. But maybe I'm too optimistic.
    Your optimistic!

    That wall and soil would need to be excavated to build a properly tied back wall or placement of gabion baskets.


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Oh, duh, forgot all about tying back the new wall, though I thought about that looking at the old one! Details, details. My parents have a 6-ft retaining wall (used to be 60-yr-old 8X8s, still functional) the contractors managed to rebuild and tie back without moving the soil, and that was what I was thinking of - but this is a different height entirely!

    Yeah, I know about angle of repose, and that's what I was thinking of when looking at the photos. The angle of the hill where there's no wall doesn't look like it goes anywhere near the house. To me. Nor does it look like there's much wall on the sides of the area held back. To me it just seems like a whole heck of a lot of dirt would have to slide into the creek to make the foundation give way. But, hard to tell without being there.

    Is the house itself on much of a slope?


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    lookin at the wall you can see it is beginning to rot with the moss growth. cleaning off the moss and treating the wall will help to make it last longer but how much no one knows. if the soil is dry it might be repaired with out big equipment but still difficult. tieing it back would be a great idea too, also looking into some type of drainage system behind it would be something to look into as well when rebuilding. ingoring the problem helps no one, but at the sametime I would not be willing to say how long it would last or what would happen when it goes. I would advise to keep an eye on it and Plan ahead for repairs/replacement. build that into the price you pay for the property. If the client wants to spend the money on evaluation by a professional let them go ahead, but make no promises as to what or when something is going to happen


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bronner View Post
    Your advise on this is important as it has the ability to be very costly to correct and or replace if determined to be insufficient. And your liability could possibly be considerable. I always spend a great deal of time at a home looking at issues that have the greatest price tag associated with it and of course safety issues, all safety issues.
    Mike, you have hit the nail on the head. You are there to report on any issues that you see that may affect the integrity of the home, current or future. Retaining walls included. Should this wall fail-----the structure may stay where it is, or it may fail. If it fails, guess who will probably get the first call.

    I agree as you have stated, that recommending further investigation is the proper response. Many clients may not see the issue that may arise from a retaining wall system and need to know this information.


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond Wand View Post
    That wall and soil would need to be excavated to build a properly tied back wall or placement of gabion baskets.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kristi Silber View Post
    Oh, duh, forgot all about tying back the new wall, though I thought about that looking at the old one! Details, details. My parents have a 6-ft retaining wall (used to be 60-yr-old 8X8s, still functional) the contractors managed to rebuild and tie back without moving the soil, and that was what I was thinking of - but this is a different height entirely!
    That wall is tied back. Maybe not properly tied back, but it is tied back.

    It may be possible to replace that wall without affecting the house ... "may be possible" ... "may" ... that is the key.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Do you guys say anything about the guardrail. Safety issue to you? Those members look to be in great shape. In 40 years I will be dead so sue me.....

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I agree with Bill about the moss. If there is enough moisture to grow moss on the wood at this point, it is already way to wet and beginning to prematurely deteriorate from it. Hopefully they lined the back with a membrane to stall the moisture intrusion from that side. I would comment on it in the report as a simple "NOTE" to both alert the buyers to the fact and to CYA.

    I also do not like the guardrail. It appears to have large spacing between the rails that a child, or drunken party goer, could easily climb or fall through and be injured. Although it's not part of the structure being inspected, per se, it is a real and immediate danger of personal injury on the property and as such I would comment on it just as if it were a stair railing with poor spacing...in the name of safety.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Knauff View Post
    I also do not like the guardrail. It appears to have large spacing between the rails that a child, or drunken party goer, could easily climb or fall through and be injured. Although it's not part of the structure being inspected, per se,
    Why is it not part of the structure being inspected?

    You just inspected the retaining wall and the guard rail is part of that structure, is required for that structure, so why would you not inspect it?

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I noticed the guardrail, too, and that worries me more than the wall.

    I'd really like to see photos of the back yard, and the area around the house. And which came first - the house or the wall? Or is that a silly question? (yes, Kristi!)...I'm just wondering how they would have built a big ole house like that without any big equipment back there. Possible, but laborious.

    The thing is, the wall is going to slowly deteriorate. Since it's tied back and (it seems to me) well-constructed, it's much more likely that parts of it will fail before the whole thing does. That would leave time for measures to be taken to avert disaster. There are two tiers, not a single wall holding the hill back, which means each wall isn't holding as much soil back as a single wall of the same height would.

    I understand what everybody's saying, it's a concern and maybe it would be good to suggest getting an engineer in to make a prognosis to CYA, but I don't think it merits scaring potential buyers into deciding on another house, or causing those who own it now to worry that their house will slide into the creek. The moss can be controlled, and it doesn't necessarily mean the wood is starting to rot - moss can grow on stone, as someone pointed out (though as someone else pointed out, it would hold moisture). I imagine some moisture seeps between the 8X8s, it's a nice shady place, it doesn't surprise me that there's moss there. If toadstools were sprouting out of it, that would be a different story. Or if there were signs of severe erosion nearby, people losing their backyards or whatever.

    Last edited by Kristi Silber; 11-05-2011 at 07:43 PM.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kristi Silber View Post
    I noticed the guardrail, too, and that worries me more than the wall.
    How about the missing guard rail on the lower retaining wall?

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  31. #31

    Default Re: What would you write?

    You can't get to the lower retaining wall without serious effort, a ladder, a rope or some cleats on your shoes. a 60deg slope is not walkable, mow-able or...you get the idea...

    The upper "guard-rail" was a split rail-fence fence with its own issues.


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Everything you need to know about wood treatment. Selective Preservative Treated Wood

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Why is it not part of the structure being inspected?

    You just inspected the retaining wall and the guard rail is part of that structure, is required for that structure, so why would you not inspect it?
    From the photos it appears to me that if the retaining wall has problems it COULD affect the structure. The fencing will not and therefore IMO is not part of, or associated with, the structure and thus is more a safety issue.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Knauff View Post
    The fencing will not and therefore IMO is not part of, or associated with, the structure and thus is more a safety issue.
    Do you consider a guard rail on a stair or balcony as part of the structure?

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Do you consider a guard rail on a stair or balcony as part of the structure?
    Playing the "devils advocate", eh?!

    If the railing is attached to the building, of course. Because it is actually attached to the structure it is therefore subject to the building codes that dictate it's parameters.

    Extrapolating that logic though, one could surmise that the retaining wall fence is attached to the wall and therefore should be considered part of THAT structure, but that would be a very long stretch IMO. If the fence fails there is no affect on the wall structurally. The fence safety concern simply becomes more urgent.

    It's best left as simply a safety issue for information purposes only and not structural.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Extrapolating that logic, how often is a guardrail integral to the structural stability of a house?

    I don't get the point. The fence is for safety and possibly cosmetic purposes. Why does it matter if it's considered part of the retaining wall or not?

    Bob - How old are the house and wall? Is the house on a slope, and if so, how steep? I'm wondering what kind of lateral forces there are on it. Does it have a full below-grade basement? Is it 20 ft. to the nearest parts of the wall (the ends), or to the center of it? Do you have photos showing the house in relation to the wall? Is there any evidence that a whole lot of fill dirt was brought in to enable building? (Doesn't seem like it, judging from the tree growth and the part of the slope that wasn't walled; existing trees are another thing that would help keep the hill intact)

    A few shrubs at the top could help hold the soil in place and soak up excess water without adding a lot of weight.

    The article Mike posted a link to talked a lot about arsenic-treated wood. Is that still in common use? I know a big chain of DIY stores in the Midwest stopped selling it.

    Last edited by Kristi Silber; 11-08-2011 at 02:54 PM.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kristi Silber View Post
    Why does it matter if it's considered part of the retaining wall or not?
    It doesn't, except for those who seem to think that the guard rail does not need to be inspected if it is not part of the "structure", which is why, in one of my posts, either on this thread or another thread, I pointed out that the code addresses dwelling units AND their "accessory structures", and SPECIFICALLY includes retaining walls, which means that the guard rail is not cosmetic, it is "required" by the code if there is a walking surface along the retaining wall.

    When Bob pointed out that "You can't get to the lower retaining wall without serious effort, a ladder, a rope or some cleats on your shoes. a 60deg slope is not walkable, mow-able or...you get the idea...", then the retaining wall *might not* be required at the lower wall - I wasn't there, so I will take Bob's word for it that it would not be required at the lower retaining wall.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    The railing can be cosmetic as well as for safety.

    "...if there is a walking surface along the retaining wall"

    Ah, key issue there, in terms of code anyway. Another reason it would be nice to see the lay of the land.

    It's really hard to make any judgement (or guess) at all based on what we can see in the photos.

    The fact that the hill remains at a 60 degree slope without collapsing is a good sign!

    An example of a wall being built in very tight quarters:
    Avalon Structural :: Retaining Walls & Landslide Repair

    And a slideshow of the Rivermist retaining wall collapse debacle in Texas:
    Rivermist retaining wall collapse


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kristi Silber View Post
    The railing can be cosmetic as well as for safety.
    With a walking surface there, the "design" (style, color, texture, etc.) of the guard rail may be considered as being cosmetic, but not the guard rail itself.

    And a slideshow of the Rivermist retaining wall collapse debacle in Texas: Rivermist retaining wall collapse
    Why was I not surprised to see the names of those two national builders there?

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    I pointed out that the code addresses dwelling units AND their "accessory structures", and SPECIFICALLY includes retaining walls, which means that the guard rail is not cosmetic, it is "required" by the code if there is a walking surface along the retaining wall.
    That's interesting Jerry. Can you name the code #, I'd like to study that a bit more.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    With a walking surface there, the "design" (style, color, texture, etc.) of the guard rail may be considered as being cosmetic, but not the guard rail itself.
    Now you're splitting hairs! What would the design be worth without the railing itself?


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Code or no code our SOP says to inspect it. (Vegetation,Grading,Drainage, Driveways,Carports, Patios, Fences, Walkways and Retaining Walls .With respect to their effect on the condition of the building. )

    Mike Schulz License 393
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  43. #43
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Schulz View Post
    Code or no code our SOP says to inspect it. (Vegetation,Grading,Drainage, Driveways,Carports, Patios, Fences, Walkways and Retaining Walls .With respect to their effect on the condition of the building. )
    Would you say the fence in question here affects the building? Would you report it? If so, what would the comment be. Just curious.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    It doesn't affect the building per-say. It affects the safety of the occupants.
    I would say something to the affect that the fence along the retaining wall will not protect a child or pet from falling through. Children or pets should not be left unattended behind the units for their safety.

    Mike Schulz License 393
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  45. #45
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    I pointed out that the code addresses dwelling units AND their "accessory structures", and SPECIFICALLY includes retaining walls, which means that the guard rail is not cosmetic, it is "required" by the code if there is a walking surface along the retaining wall.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Knauff View Post
    That's interesting Jerry. Can you name the code #, I'd like to study that a bit more.
    Bob,

    No problemo.

    (bold and underlining are mine)
    - R101.2 Scope. The provisions of the International Residential Code for One- and Two-family Dwellings shall apply to the construction, alteration, movement, enlargement, replacement, repair, equipment, use and occupancy, location, removal and demolition of detached one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses not more than three stories above-grade in height with a separate means of egress and their accessory structures.

    - SECTION R404
    - - FOUNDATION AND RETAINING WALLS

    - ACCESSORY STRUCTURE. A structure not greater than 3,000 square feet (279 m2) in floor area, and not over two stories in height, the use of which is customarily accessory to and incidental to that of the dwelling(s) and which is located on the same lot.

    - STRUCTURE. That which is built or constructed.

    Did I cover all of them for you?


    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  46. #46
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    ACCESSORY STRUCTURE. A structure not greater than 3,000 square feet (279 m2) in floor area, and not over two stories in height, the use of which is customarily accessory to and incidental to that of the dwelling(s) and which is located on the same lot

    So what does that make a fence that is 6' tall and over 500' long?

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  47. #47
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Cantrell View Post
    ACCESSORY STRUCTURE. A structure not greater than 3,000 square feet (279 m2) in floor area, and not over two stories in height, the use of which is customarily accessory to and incidental to that of the dwelling(s) and which is located on the same lot

    So what does that make a fence that is 6' tall and over 500' long?
    What does it make that fence?

    That is an easy one, it makes that fence:

    "not greater than 3,000 square feet (279 m2) in floor area"

    and ...

    "not over two stories in height"

    and it is ...

    "incidental to that of the dwelling"

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  48. #48
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Hmmm. Then a shed for garden tools, located in the yard would qualify??

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    What does it make that fence?

    That is an easy one, it makes that fence:

    "not greater than 3,000 square feet (279 m2) in floor area"

    and ...

    "not over two stories in height"

    and it is ...

    "incidental to that of the dwelling"
    I must have missed "in floor area".

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  50. #50
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Knauff View Post
    Hmmm. Then a shed for garden tools, located in the yard would qualify??
    In Columbus GA (and many other areas) these are considered to be accessory structures, decks, pools, fountains, tool sheds, storage buildings, workshops, garages, covered areas (such as for boat parking, RV, tractor, etc), pool houses, pump house, cabanas, gazebos, playhouses, and especially rabbits, but not fences.

    02:50
    Dailymotion - Bugs Bunny Bedevilled Rabbit - a Funny video

    Last edited by Rick Cantrell; 11-10-2011 at 05:51 AM.
    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  51. #51
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Knauff View Post
    Hmmm. Then a shed for garden tools, located in the yard would qualify??
    Yes, as are detached garages, green houses, play houses, decks, etc.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Thanks Jerry.

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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I would recommend retaining a geotech for a full evaluation of that retaining wall in a heartbeat after seeing that photo, and yes, it should have a guard rail at the top. Once you see something that could fail and/ or cause personal injury it must be addressed. No opinion is basically blessing it as is and isn't occupant safety the most vital area we cover in a home inspection?

    Jerry McCarthy
    Building Code/ Construction Consultant

  54. #54
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I am not sure where all this "we are suppose to inspect this. We are not suppose to inspect that."

    Who ever told any of you inspectors you could or could not inspect or comment on anything to do with the property in the slightest.

    If I think it is important as in something my cliuents should know about it then I give my opinion about it. That is what you are. You arew a Home Inspector and has anything to do with the property. If it is a large property and there is a smaller piece fenced in for the home I walk the entire yard. If there is a holoe in the middle of the yard that I find covered with grass I tell my client about it so they don't go out there and brake their ankle or worse. etc etc etc etc etc

    That retaining wall has absolutely everything to do with the home/property that can and someday will have a huge affect on the home and property if the wall gives way or if they have to replace it. In that situation it would cost a small fortune to replace it. Right now it appears to be in pretty good shape. What happens 10 or 15 years from now when it needs replacing and they are trying to sell the home? No one will buy that home with a deteriorating collapsing retaining wall of that size and location. I think no one were pretty week words but you get the point.


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    By the same token, is it necessary to scare would-be buyers into not buying a house because something could fail somewhere down the line? You don't know the wall will collapse in 10-15 years, nor do you know what would happen if it did. There is currently nothing wrong with this wall.

    That retaining wall has absolutely everything to do with the home/property that can and someday will have a huge affect on the home and property if the wall gives way or if they have to replace it.
    You don't know this! The wall could give way, and the house remain fine. I'm all for pointing out the potential problems and suggesting an engineer look at it, but there's a difference between that and stating that you believe disaster will strike. The "small fortune" to have it replaced could simply be something they will have to count on paying in a couple decades if they still own the home, just as replacing a roof is. Who knows, maybe they will choose another way of dealing with it - if it gives way (which it would most likely do slowly) they could plant the yard and hillside with shrubs and trees to hold the soil in place, for instance - that's what's holding it everywhere else. (Hmmm, come to think of it, the trees that are there could also compromise the structure through their roots. I'm an ecologist by training, so I think about the natural area around the wall, too, which is why this is such an interesting thread for me.)

    I sure wish the OP had returned and provided more info and photos.

    It's been interesting seeing the kinds of issues HIs are concerned with, and how different HIs approach the job. So many issues are cause for debate, so much code based on interpretation, so many different reasons for reporting one thing or another. Makes it lively!

    Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.
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  56. #56
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    So Kristi

    By me making this statement to you, what exactly is it that I do not know

    "That retaining wall has absolutely everything to do with the home/property that can and someday will have a huge affect on the home and property if the wall gives way or if they have to replace it."

    I an anyone should know that if and when this wall needs replacing it will have a huge affect on the property

    What would you think the future cost of replacing that wall would be?

    I never said the house will fall down. You ever see a hill slide when the soil gets so saturated with rain it turns liquid?

    No saying that will happen either.

    Not sure where you are coming from in saying scaring the client away from buying the home. I never said that either.

    Not to be argumentative but if you don't know that the wall replacement for what ever reason would be a large expense to the buyers or a huge deduction from the cost of the price if they try to sell it if it is time for replacement then you should not be in the position of analyzing property for clients.position. If you think that informing your client of future cost for their home is the wrong thing to do in such an obvious matter is scaring them then you must think that telling them of any concern in the home is also the wrong thing to do.

    There are ways of keeping your clients informed without scaring them.

    I have never inspected a property where it had a large retaining wall or even low but multiple retaining walls where the client did not have some concern about the matter.

    Oh, I know. You want us to say the rear retaining wall is in what appears to be good shape and move on. Don't concern ourselves with it or concern the client about it. In another 5, 10. 15 years (who knows how long) when the wall does need replacing and they may not even know it because they never walk out back down the slope to see it, ah, so what?

    I am not in the business of not telling my clients of concerns in and around the home or known future concerns in and around the home. This is not a little 3 or 4 foot retaining wall. It is an inaccessible very large and high retaining wall that was built and the soil compacted behind it, to build the home on. The home is built on fill.

    How do you tell them that water is retained in the soil behind the wall and keeps the timber wet enough to grow the pretty green stuff on them and it will have an affect on the wall over time with out telling them what the affect will be. Such as replacing the wall.

    If you are in the business of looking out for your clients and not just getting the dollars for the inspection and never concerning yourself with it then you have to inform them that due to the situation it should be looked into. Then pick your man that you believe would be best for your client to evaluate the situation.

    Yes, I do know that the retaining wall will some day have a huge effect on the property even if it is just in the replacement of. Never mind the other possibilities. Why would you not know that and why would you not wish to direct your clients in the proper direction. After all, that is why home inspectors are there.


  57. #57
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Wood foundations and walls in contact with earth are an acceptable means of construction and they are covered in the code. "I would not tell my client that the sky is falling just because it is a PT wood retaining wall".

    That retaining wall was part of the original site and building construction and would have required approval by local authorities. Also, In our state any retaining wall that is greater than 4'-0" requires it to be designed, stamped and approved by a licensed engineer.

    I would report: "The retaining wall (and railing ) would have required approval by local authorities. You should ask the owner for copies of the design and approval by local authorities or check with the town for your record and safety. If no records are found, you should contact a licensed engineer to evaluate the retaining wall and provide recommendations for improvements if required."

    Ken Amelin
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  58. #58
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Kristi,
    You said "...There is currently nothing wrong with this wall. ...". In reality there are things wrong with the wall. Though it is functioning at the present time there are still things wrong with it. What will happen in the future is enough to fill a book. You mention scarring the buyer. Being informed may or may not scare them. The problem is that a Realtor will tell a buyer that all is fine and minimize any future issues or just redirect the buyer away from being concerned about the wall.

    There are a few walls like the one pictured in my area. Had the occasion to be at one with a buyer. I told them to rum, not walk, away from the property due to the potential cost of repairs/replacement associated with the existing wall. I did give them the rational for my statement. Siting the actual projected cost and problems in replacement of the wall.

    On a practical side, when you add repair/replacement costs into the purchase price you make the home way over priced for the area typical comparable properties..

    Though if the buyer just falls in love with the property and has to have it, knowing future costs, it is their decision. Had just such a case with similar wall present. Some 13 yrs later they ran into trouble with insurance company demanding that the wall be repaired/replaced to continue policy on property. But they new it was in their future when they bought the property. They were informed. Wouldn't you want to be?


  59. #59
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    I know one thing, I'd be checking that foundation to ascertain if cracks have developed in the foundation side walls, which could indicate the house is moving, or the slope might be unstable. Also neighbouring properties on either side of the home in the photo.

    Secondly the homeowner may not even own the property the where the retaining wall is situated. The conservation authority and/or the municipality may own the property as with the wall itself.

    That wall has a limited lifespan, its wood. Unless the plans are available its a guess whether it was built to a engineers design, let alone how the back-fill and drainage installation was done.

    It would be prudent for the purchasers to query the vendor as to the history of the wall if known and for other pertinent paperwork.

    One more reason for the purchasers to do their homework.


  60. #60
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Garry Sorrells
    Kristi,
    You said "...There is currently nothing wrong with this wall. ...". In reality there are things wrong with the wall. Though it is functioning at the present time there are still things wrong with it. What will happen in the future is enough to fill a book. You mention scarring the buyer. Being informed may or may not scare them. The problem is that a Realtor will tell a buyer that all is fine and minimize any future issues or just redirect the buyer away from being concerned about the wall.
    Gary,

    What things do you see wrong with the wall? (not the railing - the wall)

    Ken Amelin
    Cape Cod's Best Inspection Services
    www.midcapehomeinspection.com

  61. #61
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    To mention a few and these and others have already been mentioned.

    The wood is constantly wet as you can see by thew moisture and moss

    Well, it is wood that has a limited life span

    The height and location being inaccessible and all driving the price of repair in the future way beyond what it cost to originally build driving the value of the property down as it inevitably will.

    No visible drainage and I doubt there is any due to the wood being constanly wet which in turn holds a constant higher moisture content in the soil and the end result, quicker deterioration and or the possiblity that in heavy rainy season could become to much for the wall.

    And on

    And on

    And on

    How about what Raymond said and I aluded to in my past post. The home is built on built up property. Pull that wall out from behind it and there is absolutely no telling what may take place.

    I for one would never consider in the slightest buying that property for all the what ifs and future expense!

    You? If your answer is no then I suggest that there is a lot wrong with that wall and the property itself that needs to be brought to the attention of the buyer. Now and in the future.

    Besides. Everything you wrote

    "The retaining wall (and railing ) would have required approval by local authorities. You should ask the owner for copies of the design and approval by local authorities or check with the town for your record and safety. If no records are found, you should contact a licensed engineer to evaluate the retaining wall and provide recommendations for improvements if required."

    Now add to that everything I said which is all very true and you have a serious amount that is wrong with the wall and especially what you said, there could be a lot wrong with that wall and there is good reason to be concerned.

    What someone on here got me saying

    Just sayin!


  62. #62
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Part of the difficulty here is the we really don't know much about this wall. We don't know what's around it and below it, how far it is from the foundation (do we even know what type of foundation it is?), whether it has a drainage system behind it, its age, its replacement cost, how much thought was put into its engineering...and we certainly don't know "that water is retained in the soil behind the wall and keeps the timber wet enough to grow the pretty green stuff on them ." Many mosses don't need constant moisture to grow - for all we know, this moss could be getting all the water it needs from fog and an occassional rain.

    I also wonder how truly inaccessible the area is...are the houses so close together that not even a bobcat or pickup can get back there?

    Retaining walls can be replaced and properly tied back without digging the soil up, though it would be nice to be able to at least get a vehicle back there to deliver materials.

    Treated wood retaining walls are very common, and I doubt they would be if they were such a short-term solution and so prone to problems as has been suggested here.

    I never said the whole thing should be ignored, or treated as no big deal. My point is that it's a mistake to make assumptions about the wall based on too little information, and that those assumptions could carry over into the way it is presented to prospective buyers.

    Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.
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  63. #63
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Menelly
    To mention a few and these and others have already been mentioned.

    The wood is constantly wet as you can see by thew moisture and moss
    Well, it is wood that has a limited life span

    The height and location being inaccessible and all driving the price of repair in the future way beyond what it cost to originally build driving the value of the property down as it inevitably will.

    No visible drainage and I doubt there is any due to the wood being constanly wet which in turn holds a constant higher moisture content in the soil and the end result, quicker deterioration and or the possiblity that in heavy rainy season could become to much for the wall.

    And on,And on,And on

    How about what Raymond said and I aluded to in my past post. The home is built on built up property. Pull that wall out from behind it and there is absolutely no telling what may take place.

    I for one would never consider in the slightest buying that property for all the what ifs and future expense!

    You? If your answer is no then I suggest that there is a lot wrong with that wall and the property itself that needs to be brought to the attention of the buyer. Now and in the future.

    Besides. Everything you wrote

    "The retaining wall (and railing ) would have required approval by local authorities. You should ask the owner for copies of the design and approval by local authorities or check with the town for your record and safety. If no records are found, you should contact a licensed engineer to evaluate the retaining wall and provide recommendations for improvements if required."

    Now add to that everything I said which is all very true and you have a serious amount that is wrong with the wall and especially what you said, there could be a lot wrong with that wall and there is good reason to be concerned.
    Now Ted,

    All those words you used AND nothing in there states any problems with the wall. They are all WHAT IF's! Also not sure what the "on and on and on" ranting means either.

    What if a dinosaur eats this house?? We need to be factual in our assement of a home and report on what we observe.

    Pressure treated wood is used for buried foundation walls, for wood in contact with the ground or direct contact with concrete. The code covers this AND it is perfectly acceptable AND good pratice. It does have a different life expectancy but is costs less AND cost is a factor in each indivual's decision making process.

    I'm not going to tell my client that concrete is better when PT wood when the PT wood is perfectly acceptable. That's too subjective. It's almost like telling your client that a tile floor is better than a vinyl floor or that wood siding is better than vinyl siding or that composite decking is better than PT decking. (IMO - ALL too subjective)

    That wall is fine, as long as it was built in accordance with current industry design standards and was approved by local authoties.

    My comment was one of recommended "due-diligence", not of something that was problematic or faulty.

    Maybe you or others feel comfortable predicting the future and future cost implications, but I do not. Those are not in my job description and IMO would be considered unprofessional conduct if reported on.

    Ken Amelin
    Cape Cod's Best Inspection Services
    www.midcapehomeinspection.com

  64. #64
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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Uh oh, here we go!


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    Default Re: What would you write?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kristi Silber View Post
    .

    I never said the whole thing should be ignored, or treated as no big deal..
    .
    Why Not Just Stack Up a Big Pile of Landscaping Blocks in Front of those !
    *problem ( potential problem) Solved.
    .

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