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retaining wall demands


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A homeowners insurer has directed owner to "repair" cracks/damage by Dec 15 to avoid ineligibility for coverage.

My inspection found a vertical crack so regular it must be a joint of some kind, about 3 inches lean from vertical, but otherwise only a lot of separating parging.

I don't think the wall is going to fall, at least not in this century.

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As comparison, see a retaining wall I have passed on almost daily basis for approx. 30 yrs. Have expected to find it fallen the whole time, but it defies gravity.

Lately I have heard of insurers demanding repairs from policy holders in order to keep coverage, but I think this one is over the top. Comments?

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The wall can be divided into a structural component and a cosmetic component (parging). Parging is very unforgiving of even the slightest movement. Slight movement is common to that type of retaining wall and does not imply structural failure. Tell that to the insurance folks. Take precise measurements of actual deflections and use that info to demonstrate that the wall has no significant failure.

Marc

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I epoxied some glass laboratory slides across the big vertical crack. If the crack is widening the glass will break and we will have evidence of movement. So, yes, those are wall monitors. I suppose you could hang a few plumb bobs off that top edge that hang over yardsticks pegged to the ground.

I think the big crack is a site made cold joint, as in a piece of lumber being jammed temporarily to contain a pour while waiting for a slow delivery of the next load. There is a top cold joint that looks like they formed up their driveway sometime after the wall was poured.

I think the thick parging may be to cover up a lot of ugly they may have made with the pour along with the rough looking cold joint at top.

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When I had owned my house for 25 years, my insurance company sent someone over for a surprise inspection. They told me that I had to clean the moss off the roof or my coverage would be dropped. One of my partners had the same thing happen to him when he had owned his house for 28 years. They demanded he remove the "debris" from his backyard. (It was a stack of firewood.)

I asked my agent about it and he told me that the insurance companies have found that longtime homeowners become complacent about maintenance. Things like moss on the roof can can correlate to more important things that the inspector can't see, so the insurance company picks on what they can see as a sort of kick in the pants. He also told me that if I didn't want to fix the moss, not to worry about it. Pretty much any excuse would mollify them.

If someone just fixes up the wall to look pretty without doing anything serious to it, the insurance company will be fine with it. If they were really concerned, they'd be asking for a letter from an engineer.

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Run a plumb or long level along the face of the retaining wall. If the top of the wall extends outside of the foot print of the footing the wall is in failure.

I did not probe for the footing width, but, as the op said, I measured about 3 inches lean from vertical.

There are no signs of failure at ends, and no substantial bulge.

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When I had owned my house for 25 years, my insurance company sent someone over for a surprise inspection. They told me that I had to clean the moss off the roof or my coverage would be dropped. One of my partners had the same thing happen to him when he had owned his house for 28 years. They demanded he remove the "debris" from his backyard. (It was a stack of firewood.)

I asked my agent about it and he told me that the insurance companies have found that longtime homeowners become complacent about maintenance. Things like moss on the roof can can correlate to more important things that the inspector can't see, so the insurance company picks on what they can see as a sort of kick in the pants. He also told me that if I didn't want to fix the moss, not to worry about it. Pretty much any excuse would mollify them.

If someone just fixes up the wall to look pretty without doing anything serious to it, the insurance company will be fine with it. If they were really concerned, they'd be asking for a letter from an engineer.

Heck, I'd consider looking for another insurance company.

Marc

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I had a client call me once, she had settled on the home, got her home owners insurance. Then she got a letter stating that their "inspector" had come out and observed that all the roof shingles were curled, she need to get a new roof. She's mad at me. So I go the report file, pull all the photos I took up on the roof (roof was about five years old), shows every shingle on the roof, all are fine. I wrote a letter for her to send to the insurance company, with the photos, asking them to have their "inspector" mark the photos as to where the shingles were curled. Two weeks later she gets a thank you letter from the insurance for "taking care of the roof problem so promptly."

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The LA Board of Home Inspectors took action a few years ago to grab the unregulated turf of insurance inspectors by sending out letters to insurance companies saying that their inspectors fell within the Board's jurisdiction and had to comply with LA HI regulations. That means the current crop of insurance inspectors would yield to currently licensed HI's and give us a new source of income. That has happened before with FHA inspectors.

No insurance inspector has yet to be reported so nothing further has happened but that battle is coming.

The guidelines of the LA statutes that created the Board are fraught with powers granted without any guidelines. 'Powers granted without guidelines' to a regulatory body are a violation of the Separation of Powers clause of the LA constitution so...it'll be interesting to see what happens.

Marc

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From a structural standpoint engineers typically use the (conservative) rule that the center of gravity of the wall should be withing 1/3 of the thickness of the wall. You would measure how far the wall is out of plumb at the center of its height. What this rule means is that the wall should not be out of plumb by more than 1/6 its thickness at mid-height.

I see a lot of retaining walls that are still standing and are way more out of plumb than that. I have also seen retaining walls suddenly fail or shift significantly. Monitoring a wall is not of much help. It may not more significantly until the backfill is saturated or frost heaving occurs and then fail suddenly.

It really comes down to design. Is the wall built to withstand typical design forces-most are not.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Jim,

I would suggest the path of less resistance. The request/demand was " insurer has directed owner to "repair" cracks/damage" . Knock off loose material and parg over the area.

Insurance not saying anything about being out of plumb or anything else, just cracks and damage. So just do what they request and don't make a bigger issue than what they exactly say/require.

Material cost $10 or $15, labor 4 hrs.

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