What is a Wing Wall
Wing walls are similar to retaining walls connected to homes, bridges and other structures and act as a retaining wall to facilitate a quick transition in grade elevation.
Wing walls extend from an existing structural foundation wall and act as a large retaining wall.
The most recognizable wing walls are found on the sides of bridges that transition from the grade of the road to the grade of the pathway below. Bridge wing walls usually come in a set of four - a pair at each end - extending at an angle from the ends of the bridge. The four wing walls of a bridge are essential parts of the bridge foundation. When the bridge spans a waterway, the wing walls protect the roadway on either side of the bridge from erosion by directing water under the span. This makes for a safe passage across the bridge for all who cross. Other common uses for wing walls are retaining walls from the sides of a home and decorative wing walls on houses to conceal garbage cans.
Regardless of the application, wing walls play a significant role in the integrity of the structure and the use of the land around it. Sloping sites often incorporate wing walls into their building foundations. The wing walls are built as extensions of the building foundation on the downhill side of the structure. They hold back the soil to create an open lawn area outside a walkout basement providing additional green space and yard to a home or building.
Without wing walls, we would need to have much longer bridges, some homes would not be able to have a walkout basement, and other dwellings would not be able to conceal trash cans and other items along the side of their home. While wing walls are not often thought about, they do play a critical role in our world.
Standard Construction of Wing Walls
Reinforced poured concrete is typically the material of choice for wing walls. For these types of wing walls, well-engineered steel reinforcement, good drainage, and robust footings are crucial construction details for the wall's success.
Other common materials used for wing walls can be brick and mortar, Concrete Masonry Units (block walls), and occasionally railroad ties or other landscaping blocks. For these types of construction, drainage and vertical reinforcement are critical to these walls' long-term stability.
If not appropriately done, these walls will fail and will often fail faster than they should.
Causes and Signs of Failure
Failure of wing walls is typically the result of improper footing, improper top side drainage, or failed vertical support.
Regardless of the cause, once a wing wall begins to fail, it will move rapidly and display progressively worse signs of failure until it eventually reaches total wall failure.
The signs you will see as a wall begins to fail will be cracking in the wall. You will either see these along the mortar joints or in diagonal or vertical cracks on poured walls. Shortly after observing wall cracks emerge, the wall will begin to lean, tip, or bow away from the side of the wall with soil against it. As time progresses, the wall will go from a slight bend/lean with minor cracking to a significant bend/lean and considerable cracking.
Blocks and bricks will eventually begin to break free from the wall. Ultimately, the wall will reach total collapse. In the case of a settling wing wall, you will not see a leaning wall, but instead, a wall that appears to be settling into the ground.
Once a wall begins to fail by either bowing/leaning or settling, it must be repaired. These wing walls obtain their structural strength through a connection with the home's foundation. So if these problems are ignored, not only will the wing wall be damaged, but you will likely damage the structure of the house and cause more significant issues.
No matter what type of damage your wing wall has undergone, an experienced foundation repair contractor should complete the repair. Rather than demolish and rebuild the wall, a foundation repair contractor will be able to complete a more affordable, permanent repair by driving steel anchors through tilting wall sections and into the soil. Improved drainage, other site work, and this excellent engineered solution will usually restore a wing wall. This eliminates the need for more expensive demolition and reconstruction work by permanently solving the problem.
Contact the Wing Wall Repair Experts
At Thrasher, we have solutions for settling and sinking wing walls. To help you decide if our solutions are right for you, we offer free wing wall repair inspections throughout our NE, IA, KS and MO service areas. To schedule an appointment, contact us by phone or email today!