There are a wide range of reasons why walls may need to be reinforced, either during initial construction or as a remedial solution to a structural problem that has occurred at some point during the lifespan of a building. In this article, we examine some of the main scenarios that call for wall reinforcement, the types of wall that may need to be reinforced, and the methods involved in reinforcing the different types of walls. We’ll pay particular attention to retaining walls, since these walls generally require significant reinforcement and can have structural integrity problems if reinforcement is inadequate.
In principle, any wall may require reinforcement in order for it to stand up to the loading and forces applied to it. A retaining wall, for example, needs to be capable of withstanding the pressure applied by the soil behind it, whilst the walls of a domestic property need to be able to support the weight of the upper floors and roof. In tall buildings, shear walls may be necessary in order to withstand the lateral forces that the building is exposed to, such as wind or earthquakes.
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There are a number of different ways to reinforce a wall, which depend on how the wall is being used within the wider construction. These include:
Reinforced retaining walls
Any retaining wall obviously has a significant pressure applied to it at all times, and so the need for reinforcement is clear. A retaining wall has to be able to resist the force applied to it by all of the soil that it is holding back. It’s vitally important to design a retaining wall with adequate steel reinforcement from the outset, as compromised structural integrity or even complete failure of the wall could be catastrophic for the building as a whole, or at the very least, expensive to put right once a problem is identified.
Reinforced Masonry Walls
Masonry walls require reinforcement in order to transfer weight from the roof to the foundations of the building. The more floors a building has, the greater the load-bearing capacity required of the masonry walls. As well as withstanding this compressive force, masonry walls also have to withstand lateral forces, which could be applied through extreme weather conditions, for example. Typically, steel rods are used within the masonry construction to strengthen it, and the types, thickness and amount of steel reinforcement will be determined as part of the overall design of the project.
Where an existing masonry wall needs to be reinforced, steel ties are often used. Adding reinforcement to an existing masonry wall might be needed if a problem is identified – an external wall starting to bow outwards, for example – or if the building’s structural loads have changed, perhaps through the addition of a heavier roof.
Reinforced Diaphragm Walls
We’ve discussed diaphragm walls in detail in a previous article, but to summarise, these are underground structures that form the foundation wall or retaining walls of a building, and they are often extremely deep elements. With some diaphragm walls going down to a depth of 50 metres or more, it’s obvious that they need to be extremely strong, to withstand the pressure exerted by the soil on the outside of the wall. Cages made of reinforced steel are used in diaphragm walls, with concrete being carefully poured into each panel of the wall, before a stopend is removed from the panel, ready for the next panel to be poured and linked to the first.
Clearly the best way to reinforce a retaining wall is during initial construction, by ensuring that the correct amount of steel reinforcement is put in place before the concrete is poured. This may be rods, mesh panels or steel cages. It’s also important to choose the right type of retaining wall to stand up to the pressures that it will face. An experienced structural engineer will be best qualified to decide on the type of retaining wall you need, and on the steel reinforcement products that are most suited to the job.
For existing walls, it may be possible to add steel ties or anchors to the wall in order to strengthen it, or to improve the foundations below the retaining wall. Another option may be to improve drainage around the retaining wall, so that any water damage problems are alleviated.
There are a number of reasons why a retaining wall might suffer problems with structural integrity. Foundation settlement and inadequate drainage for water are common scenarios that can affect retaining walls, but overloading is another concern that could cause real damage to a retaining wall. Other things that could cause problems for a retaining wall include impact damage or shearing and cracking due to poor initial construction.
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