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Block Walls

While most of us think of block walls as strong, indestructible and easy maintenance, they do have their weaknesses. Like anything else, block walls do have a limited useful life span. Getting the most out of the life of a block wall depends greatly on the elements it has to endure. Taking a few precautions now, can save a ton of money later.

It should be noted that the property causing the damage is usually responsible for the repairs. The monetary consequences alone should be incentive enough to prevent block wall damage.

Water damage is easy to recognize. It usually starts with staining before becoming more harmful and actually causing structural damage. Next, and more harmful, you will begin to notice "white" areas. This is the minerals leaching out of the block. Over time, this leads to a deterioration in the structural integrity of the block (and hence, the wall). One of the strange aspects of wall damage is that the noticeable damage is usually worse on the opposite side of the wall that gets wet. So, most people won't notice it where the water hits the wall. The damage occurring is a simple form of osmosis. The block gets wet. As the block wall warms up, the water evaporates. As it evaporates, it carries minerals with it. The minerals are deposited on the wall as white spots. In the event of the landscaping being higher on one side of the wall, the damage occurs when the dirt on the higher side gets wet. The moisture is drawn to the dryer environment (the lower, other side of the wall) during the evaporation process.

In Arizona there are two main ways block walls are damaged by water. The first, and easiest to fix, is water from sprinkler/irrigation lines hitting the block walls while watering the landscaping. The second, and usually a more involved fix, is when the finished height of the landscaping is higher on one side of the wall than the other.

The first problem, sprinkler/irrigation, is a very easy fix. Most of this damage is caused by sprinklers hitting the wall while watering. Directing the sprinklers away from the wall will fix this problem. Painting or sealing the walls can also help. This way if water does hit the wall, it runs down the side rather than soaking in. A 2' border between the wall and the grass can also be helpful. Having the grass away from the wall makes it easier to water the grass and not the wall. Lastly, overwatering can be a big problem. While most of our yards take a lot of water during the summer months, the demand is far less in cooler months. If you don't seasonally adjust your watering, you are probably overwatering most of the year.

The second problem, landscaping higher on one side of the wall than the other, presents a little more of a challenge. The best fix is to dig the dirt back on the high side of the wall and apply a block sealer to the wall below grade. This way, when the ground is wet, the moisture does not penetrate the wall. While it is a lot of work, it is the best way to protect the wall. You can also try keeping the high side dry (shut off irrigation to the area). Dry dirt against the wall is not as damaging as wet dirt. This is not allows feasible if there is desirable vegetation in the area.

Hopefully these tips will help keep the walls in our community looking good and staying strong. If you need more information, a simple internet search of "water damaged block walls" will provide a ton of useful tips.