Retaining Wall Work 2011
This part of the story starts in mid-December 2010. Sally had flown off to Utah to the house of her daughter, Kelly. I was going to drive there around the 22nd to be with the family at Christmas.

Never made it.....

The Rains Came

On Sunday the 19th, it started to rain. Slowly at first and then harder and harder. We were getting a weather pattern called the “Pineapple Express”. Usually winter storms come down the west coast from Alaska. By the time they reach Southern California, there is not much water left in them. This storm, though, came almost directly from the west, from Hawaii - thus the name. By Monday, it was raining in torrents.

By Monday afternoon, the carpet on our first floor was feeling soggy. This carpet runs the length of the house along a retaining wall. Since the house is on a hillside, the back of the first floor is up against the hill.

By Monday night, the carpet was soaked and the water was spreading into the house. I pulled up the carpet and padding and dragged them outside.

Water was coming into the house at the joint between the slab and the concrete block retaining wall. I got out my shop vac and tried to keep ahead of the water. I didn’t get much sleep that night.
By Tuesday I had to find a better solution. First I got a couple dozen sandbags from the local fire station. That helped to contain the water so I could vacuum it up.  At the peak flow, I was vacuuming up about 5 gallons of water every 2-3 minutes.

By Tuesday evening, the rain stopped. A few hours later, the water flow basically stopped.

On the 23rd, I replaced the sandbags with a “dam” built from roof flashing and roofing cement. The sandbags let some water through and this solution was watertight.

From that day, through the rest of the rainy season, no more water came in the house. The heavy rains of the Pineapple Express never returned.

Now we had known that some amount of water had come into the house since it was built. Neither us nor the home inspector detected the problem before we bought the house and the previous owner never told us about it. We realized it after we moved in and we started to smell mildew. I lifted the carpet and saw mildew along the wall, the carpet padding and the carpet tack strips.

Up until this event, the amount of water coming in was very low - only getting the carpet damp.

We were putting off doing a repair as we hired an attorney to attempt to recover the costs.

With this rain, it was clear that we could no longer put off the repair. 

Working on the House

I hired a civil engineer ( Boyd Schlumbohm Consultants ) and he designed a repair that required we dig up the outside of the retaining wall and replace the water proofing along with additional drainage systems. Many of the construction photos shown here were taken by Craig Schlumbohm, the engineer. He was on-site almost every other day, monitoring the construction to be sure everything was done to his specifications.

Craig helped us find a contractor ( MW Construction) and work started on the 14th of March 2011. Digging was all by hand, using a jack-hammer to breakup the rocks.

The start. Hugo and Jose jack-hammered up about 20 feet of sidewalk along the house and then started digging

There were a lot of rocks. Of course, no rocks of this size should be within 2-3 feet of the waterproofing. Dirt shifts and these large rocks can move to push against the waterproofing causing leaks.
They got down to the footing and found water. Notice that the drainage pipe that was there was installed above the footing (and above the joint between the footing and the retaining wall where the water was getting into the house. By the time this photo was taken, the old waterproofing material had already been removed from the wall and the drainage pipe was cut and removed.
Hugo and Jose dug out the footing and found that it was very rough. This was not good as you could not make a good seal to any waterproofing material over this concrete.
Hugo and Jose rebuilt the footings to a nice square shape. They eventually did this along the entire length of the wall.

So here is the new waterproofing material applied to the wall.

Here, they have completed the waterproofing along the first section of the wall and and have partiallly back-filled it.

The water proofing system that they installed consisted of a quarter-inch thick membrane that was hollow inside. This was laid against the wall. At the bottom of the membrane a thicker version collected the water and it flowed into a 6 inch drain pipe at several inlets. The pipe ran the entire length of the wall and reaching daylight, drained over the hillside.

Here is a drawing prepared by our civil engineer that shows the waterproofing system to be installed.

Here is a better photo that shows the three layers of waterproofing. The dark black material is about 1/4" thick and hollow. It is designed to have water flow through it, down to the footing where a 1" thick membrane carried the water, through a connector, to a 6" drain pipe. The drain pipe is already installed not visible in this photo.

At this point, they had started digging under the exercise room. They went in from the outside and .....

... through big holes jack-hammered into the floor of the exercise room. They could not just tunnel all the way under the room as it would be too dangerous.
Here is a really good shot of the dig under the exercise room

After the exercise room, they went under the front porch.

Weeks and weeks of jack-hammering out giant rocks.

Looking through the holes in the floor of the exercise room

As more digging was done, earlier sections were waterproofed and back-filled.

In addition to the 6" pipe that drained the wall, a 4" system was put in for surface drains and for the soon-to-be-added roof rain gutters.

They worked on the dig in about 20 foot sections, digging, removing the old water proofing, installing the new system and then backfilling. They discovered that slab was poured right up against very large boulders. In order to get the drain pipes below the level of the slab, the boulders had to be jack-hammered into little pieces and removed. An unbelievably long and arduous job. The workers, Hugo and Jose, were jack-hammering for weeks on end. They broke two jack-hammers and untold number of bits.

It was clear that the original work was very shoddy and short cuts were taken because of the rocks.

The last section of the wall

Once they reached the end of the wall, they had to run the 6" and 4" pipes to the hillside outfall. They jack-hammered through the patio and then down through more rocks.

The last wall section. This shows the 6" drain, the gravel and the "burrito" which wrapped the gravel. Notice that the 6" pipe is BELOW the level of the footing where it should have been in the first place.

Again the last section of the wall with the waterproofing in place. Right in the middle, covered by black felt is the connection of the membrane installed on the wall to the 6" drain.

The drain pipes under the patio and draining over the hill side.

The first section of the wall, getting ready to frame the sidewalk.

The exercise room getting ready to lay down rebar that will be inside of  the new concrete slab.

The front porch awaiting its rebar framing.

The last section of the wall, backfill complete. This section will be left as dirt.

The patio, ready to be framed.

The front porch, repar and frames in place. This same method was used to repour the floors in the exercise room and and the sidewalks.

The patio, ready to go.

The big day. Eight to ten yards of concrete were used in the work.

The patio and steps, repoured.

The sidewalk, repoured.

The front porch, repoured.

Tile re-installed in the exercise room. We had a tough time but Sally found ceramic tile that exactly matched what was taken out (Cleftstone MT made by Ragno USA  sold by West Coast Flooring Center in Temecula, CA).

Tile re-installed on the front porch. This is the same tile used in the exercise room (and the great room and kitchen inside the house). Now we could use the front door again after almost 6 months.

Work was complete on September 7th, 2011. 

In the middle of December 2011, we had rain gutters installed by San Diego Raingutters.

We picked a half-round gutter to match the tile roof. We added round downspouts with decorative brackets.

We decided to used the "faux copper" for the gutters and the downspounts off of the roof. We felt that the dark downspouts nicely framed the walls of the house.

The downspouts all drain into the new 4" drain system installed with the retaining wall work.

Now we need some rain to test all of this new stuff.


This site prepared and maintained by Mark DiVecchio

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