Retaining walls are a common feature in many properties. They help prevent soil erosion and landslides by holding back earth on slopes or raised beds. But what happens if your retaining wall gets damaged? Are repairs covered by your homeowners insurance policy?
Unfortunately, the answer is usually no. Read on to learn more about retaining wall insurance and coverage options.
What is a Retaining Wall?
A retaining wall is a structure designed to hold back or retain soil, rock or other materials behind it. Some common types of retaining walls include:
Concrete walls – Made from poured concrete or concrete blocks. Very sturdy but more expensive.
Stone walls – Stacked rocks or stones without mortar. Often used for landscaping.
Timber walls – Stacked railway ties or landscape timbers. A budget-friendly option.
Gabion walls – Stacked wire baskets filled with rocks. Allows some drainage.
Retaining walls prevent downslope movement and provide support to raise the grade. They are commonly used for:
- Terracing slopes
- Creating raised beds
- Supporting slopes near foundations
- Holding back earth for parking lots or roads
- Managing drainage and erosion
- Decorative landscaping features
Well-built retaining walls can last for decades. However, damage can occur due to soil issues, weather events, poor drainage, or old age.
Are Retaining Walls Covered by Homeowners Insurance?
In most cases, damage to retaining walls is not covered by standard homeowners insurance policies. Here’s why:
Earth Movement Exclusion
Most homeowners policies contain an “earth movement” exclusion. This means the policy does not cover any damage caused by:
- Sinking, rising or shifting earth
- Expansion or contraction of soil
Since retaining walls are designed to hold back earth, any damage from soil movement would fall under this exclusion.
Faulty Design or Maintenance
Standard homeowners policies also exclude damage caused by faulty design, workmanship or maintenance. If your retaining wall collapses due to improper construction, materials or upkeep, repairs would not be covered.
Homeowners insurance provides protection against sudden, accidental damage. It does not cover gradual wear and tear or deterioration over time. As retaining walls age, cracks can form that allow water intrusion and destabilize the soil behind it. This type of gradual weakening is not covered.
Surface Water Damage
Damage from flooding or surface water runoff is excluded under standard homeowners policies. If heavy rains cause erosion around the base of your retaining wall and lead to failure, repairs would likely not be covered.
The bottom line: Since most retaining wall damage comes from excluded causes like earth movement and water damage, repairs are usually not covered by basic homeowners insurance.
When Could Retaining Wall Damage Be Covered?
There are some scenarios where homeowners insurance might pay for retaining wall damage:
- A vehicle accidentally crashes into the wall
- A falling tree strikes the wall during a storm
- The wall is damaged by fire or explosion
- The wall suffers impact damage from a lightning strike or windstorm
In these cases, the damage is sudden and accidental, caused by a covered peril. As long as the retaining wall is not specifically excluded in your policy, repairs may be covered subject to your deductible and coverage limits.
Key Point: Damage must result from a covered cause of loss listed in your policy, not an excluded cause like earth movement or deterioration over time.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Landscape Retaining Walls?
Many retaining walls are designed as decorative landscape features or to create tiered yards. Damage to landscaping and hardscaping improvements is only covered under homeowners insurance if:
- The structure is listed as a covered item in your policy declarations, and
- The damage stems from a covered cause of loss.
Often, fences, trellises, retaining walls and similar yard structures are excluded from basic homeowners coverage. Upgrading to an HO-5 policy or purchasing add-on landscape coverage can provide protection.
Coverage for Retaining Walls Collapse
If a retaining wall completely collapses and causes damage to your house or auxiliary structures, repairs to those buildings may be covered under your homeowners policy, minus your deductible.
For example, if the wall failure leads to a landslide that destroys your detached garage, the garage damage could potentially be covered even though the initial wall failure was excluded.
Options for Retaining Wall Insurance Coverage
While retaining wall repairs are excluded in standard policies, there are a few options to get coverage:
Inland Marine Rider
Adding an inland marine rider provides supplemental protection for valuable landscaping features and auxiliary structures on your property. Retaining walls may be included for an additional premium cost.
Scheduled Property Coverage
You can have retaining walls specifically listed and covered as scheduled property on your homeowners policy for their reconstruction cost value.
HOA or Community Association Policies
If you live in a condominium or planned community, the HOA master policy may include coverage for retaining walls that protect common areas from erosion.
Standalone Retaining Wall Insurance
Specialty insurers like Lloyd’s of London offer standalone retaining wall policies to fill coverage gaps not included in standard home insurance.
Government Flood Insurance
If your area participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, you may be able to add government-backed flood insurance to get coverage for retaining wall damage caused by flooding.
Key Takeaway: To get retaining wall coverage, you’ll likely need to purchase an upgrade, rider or standalone policy beyond basic homeowners insurance.
How Much Does Insurance for Retaining Walls Cost?
Costs for retaining wall insurance vary significantly based on:
- Type of policy (rider, scheduled property, standalone, etc.)
- Coverage amount and limits
- Risk factors like slope grade, soil type and previous land movement
- Your location
Expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars per year. Obtain quotes from multiple insurers to find the best rate.
Do I Need Retaining Wall Insurance?
The decision of whether to insure your retaining wall depends on several factors:
Wall size – Larger walls supporting more soil are at higher risk of damage.
Wall age – Older walls are more susceptible to deterioration and failure.
Wall materials – Some materials like poured concrete last longer than other options.
Soil type – Clay soil or loose fills increase chances of shifting or landslides.
Slope steepness – Steeper slopes place more lateral pressure on walls.
Drainage – Poor drainage leads to erosion and added hydrostatic pressure.
Location – Areas prone to floods or earthquakes are riskier.
Cost to repair – Rebuilding a lengthy or tall retaining wall can be expensive.
Carefully inspect your retaining walls and assess these risk factors. For high-risk situations, retaining wall insurance may provide valuable protection.
How to File a Homeowners Claim for Retaining Wall Damage
If your retaining wall suffers sudden covered damage, here are the steps for filing an insurance claim:
Document the damage – Take photos and videos showing the current condition of the wall.
Mitigate further damage – Take reasonable steps to prevent the wall’s collapse or additional soil erosion.
Call your insurance company – Notify them of the loss and start a claim. Provide details on what happened.
Allow inspection – Insurer will send an adjuster to evaluate damage and determine coverage. Point out relevant sections in your policy.
Submit repair estimates – Get quotes from contractors to rebuild or repair the retaining wall. Send these to the claims adjuster.
Negotiate claim – Be prepared to justify why the damage is covered under your policy. You may need to provide engineering reports.
Receive payment – If approved, the insurer will issue payment for covered losses after deductible.
Having photographic evidence and documentation will help support your claim that the damage was sudden rather than gradual deterioration. Be proactive and take steps to protect the wall ASAP after any damage occurs.
Preventing Retaining Wall Damage
Regular maintenance and prompt repairs can help minimize damage to retaining walls and avoid costly reconstruction:
- Inspect walls annually for cracks, soil movement or deterioration
- Re-point mortar joints on block walls to prevent water intrusion
- Clear drains and weep holes so water drains properly
- Stabilize soil and re-grade areas with erosion
- Add reinforcement like geogrid tiebacks if wall bulges or leans
- Rebuild sections that show signs of failure using suitable engineering
- Keep heavy objects like vehicles away from the top of the wall
- Extend downspouts away from the wall to control runoff
Addressing minor issues promptly can stop them from turning into major collapse problems down the road.
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