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In many of D.C.’s historic districts, retaining walls help control soil erosion and runoff, providing safe transitions between ground levels. They provide beauty and charm, but they can quickly become a hazard without proper maintenance and repair. Different strategies are required depending on the type and degree of damage the retaining wall has sustained. Repairing your retaining wall is not a DIY job, as it requires specific knowledge of drainage, historic brick techniques, and adherence to permit regulations that many homeowners find overwhelming. An expert in historic home and retaining wall repair can ensure that all the requirements are met regarding your retaining wall while providing a repair that’s both beautiful and durable.

Assessing Your Retaining Wall

There is a reason historic districts are still around—their design and longevity withstand the test of time, holding up against all kinds of pressure from the elements. However, historic brick does require maintenance, and retaining walls are no exception. Severe winter weather conditions, like those experienced in the D.C. area, can result in a freeze-thaw cycle that causes brick and mortar to crack, break, or crumble. This allows water to penetrate behind the brick, creating conditions for erosion, destabilization and structural weakness of the wall.

Inspect your brick or stone retaining wall a few times a year for cracks, gaps, efflorescence and other signs of damage. Small areas may be repaired by tuckpointing, but more severe damage may require full wall replacement.

Permits Are Required for Retaining Walls

Historical retaining walls must be permitted before being repaired, altered, or replaced. This is not simply bureaucratic red tape— the historical significance of your home is at stake, as well as the safety of you, your family, and your neighbors. Since many retaining walls divide property lines, permits are essential to ensure the wall is in the right place. Crossing into a neighbor’s property could cause serious legal and financial headaches.

Due to the nature of retaining walls, permits also outline the safety standards of techniques that must be adhered to. In addition to being safe, you must have a thorough knowledge of the drainage system, as drainage patterns cannot be altered, and water cannot be diverted into neighboring yards. That said, you still must keep water moving away from your brick retaining wall and historic home.

Finally, brick homes in historic districts are protected by guidelines and regulations to ensure the neighborhood's character is not affected by structural or cosmetic changes to the hardscaping. This includes retaining walls; generally, they must look like they have always existed in harmony with your home, and other homes on your block, even if they are completely rebuilt to the required modern standards.

All of these requirements must be met, and the plans must be approved ahead of time; during the repair process, inspections will be carried out to ensure the regulations are being followed.

Choosing the Material for Your Historic Retaining Wall

Regulations often dictate what kind of retaining wall you can have, but in some cases, you can choose from more than one option for the building materials.

Brick retaining walls pair perfectly with historic brick homes. Sourcing the right brick can be challenging, but historic brick experts can source the correct materials to create a seamless appearance. Brick excels at standing up to the seasonal weather shifts in Washington, D.C.

Stone retaining walls can be rugged and stately if installed correctly. They allow excellent drainage and hold up against the elements. However, they are more costly and require more upkeep than traditional historic bricks.

There are several good reasons to consult a historic brick expert for professional advice before the work commences. They can assist you to obtain the necessary permits and ensure proper adherence to the regulations mandated in some historic neighborhoods. Perhaps most importantly, they possess the requisite understanding of traditional methods and materials so that the repairs will be completed in a timely and cost-effective way which will keep your retaining wall beautiful and functional for years to come.

Renaissance Development, experts in traditional tuckpointing methods, specialize in brick repair and restoration projects in Capitol Hill and many other historic neighborhoods in Washington, DC. Contact us today for expert advice on your retaining wall or your historic brick home.

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Post by Christina Wilson
Mar 14, 2024 8:00:00 AM