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STU221

Notes on Retaining Walls

Different types of retaining walls.

In order to understand what happens at the base of a retaining wall footing, one must understand
that there will be an axial force (downward) and a moment from the horizontal force of the soil
that is trying to rest at its natural angle.

If one now investigates the base of the footing and one applies the axial load and the bending
moment, one can calculate the pressure on the soil under the footing.

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Example: Calculate the pressure under the footing for the following loads.

P = 200 kN
M = 30 kN.m

b ⋅ h 3 1 ⋅ 33
I= = = 3,25 m 4
12 12
h
c = = 1,5 m
2

P 200 M ⋅ c 30 ⋅ 1,5
− =− = −66,667 kPa = = 13,846 kPa
A 1× 3 I 3,25

P M ⋅c
− − = −66,667 − 13,848 = −80,513 kPa
A I

P M ⋅c
− + = −66,667 + 13,848 = −52,821 kPa
A I
The pressure distribution will then look as follows:

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The moment can be replaced by moving the axial force, P, through a distance, e, in other words
the moment M = Pxe.

The question that arises is what magnitude e may become before tension occurs under the
footing. As soon as tension occurs under the footing of a retaining wall, water from the natural
water table will have a positive pressure and will help to push the wall over. Wedging may also
occur as small soil particles are washed in under the wall. Remember that as soon as the soil
pressure starts acting on the wall, the wall will move away and if wedging occurs this movement
will become a permanent displacement. With time this will grow.

Assume that the footing has a unit depth and a width = h

b ⋅ h3 1⋅ h3
I= =
12 12
h
c=
2
h
Pe ⋅
P P M ⋅c 2 = 6 ⋅ Pe
− =− =
A 1× h I h 3
h3
12
If the pressure at the heel of the footing may not be positive, i.e. tension, then:

P M ⋅c
− + ≤0
A I
Using the values above we find that e may not be greater than h/6. As long as the axial force falls
within the middle third of the footing, there will be no tension under the footing.

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This is called the middle third rule.

At which stage will a wall fall over?


It is possible that under certain circumstances, tension under the footing can be permitted. As
long as the resistance moment is greater than the moment causing overturning, the wall will not
fall over. If one observes the pressure under the footing, the resultant force of the pressure must
be equal to the axial load and if one takes moments about the toe of the footing, then the
resultant force times the leverarm must be equal to the applied moment.

Note that the effective width has decreased as the soil cannot take any tension.

Example: Determine the pressure under the footing with the given loads.

b ⋅ h3 1⋅ 23 h
I= = = 0,6667 m 4 c= = 1,0 m
12 12 2
P 100 M ⋅ c 40 ⋅ 1,0
− =− = −50,00 kPa = = 60,00 kPa
A 2 I 0,6667

P M ⋅c
− − = −50,00 − 60,00 = −110,00 kPa
A I

P M ⋅c
− + = −50,00 + 60,00 = +10,0 kPa but there may not be a positive pressure, i.e.,
A I
tension.

Move the axial load to the toe of the footing and recalcualte the moment at this point.
M = 100 x 1m – 40 = 60 kN.m.

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The moment from the resultant force of the pressure, with a leverarm of h’/3, must be equal to the
applied moment.

h'
Therefore: 100 × = 60 with h’ = 1,8 m.
3
The maximum pressure times h’/2 must be equal to the applied axial load = 100 kN.

½ x max pressure x 1,8 = 100 kN


Maximum pressure = 111,1 kPa.

What can go wrong with retaining walls and what sort of safety factors
would one require.

The loading on the footing comes from the soil pressure, water behind the wall, the weight of the
wall and anything else that may have a vertical component. The resistance comes from friction
between the soil and the concrete and vertical soil pressure.

The active soil pressure depends on the natural rest slope of the soil and the pressure is given
by:
p = K a ⋅ ρ s ⋅ g ⋅ h where Ka is the active pressure coefficient, h is the height measured from the
surface and ρs is the density of the soil. The active pressure coefficient will be in the region of
0,33 to 0,4 and the passive coefficient will be about equal to the inverse of the active coefficient,
i.e., 3 to 4.

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P1 to P4 are the vertical forces. The horisontal forces consist of the passive soil pressure, the
active soil pressure, the water pressure and the friction force between the soil and the concrete.

What can go wrong:


1 The wall can slide if the friction force and the passive soil pressure are less than the
active soil and water pressure. A safety factor of 1,5 is usually accepted as being the
minimum value.
2 The wall can overturn about the toe if the resistant moment is less than the
overturning moment. A safety factor of 1,5 is usually accepted as being the minimum
value.
3 The soil pressure under the base may become too great. This will depend on the type
of soil.

Example: Determine the maximum height that a double skin brick wall (230 mm thickness) may
be used as a retaining wall so that there is no tension in the brickwork. Also calculate the safety
factor against overturning and the safety factor against slip if the friction coefficient of the wall on
its footing is 0,6.

Assume that the soil has a density of 1800 kg/m2, the wall a density of 2000 kg/m3 and the active
pressure coefficient = 0,3.

Pressure at the bottom of the wall = 0,3 x 18 x h = 5,4 h


Total horisontal load = 5,4 h x h/2 = 2,7 h2.
Moment at the base as a result of horisontal load = 2,7 h2 x h/3 = 0,9 h3.

2000 × 10
Vertical load P = 0,23 × × h = 4,6h
1000
For there to be no tension:

P M ⋅c
− + ≥0
A I
c = 0,115 m
A = 1 x 0,23 = 0,23 m2
1 × 0,233
I= = 1,01392 × 10 −3 m 4
12

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4,6h 0,9h 2 × 0,115
− + ≥0
0,23 1,01392 × 10 −3

h < 0,443 m

Safety against overturning:

Take moments about the toe. The moment causing overturning = 7,824 x 10-2 kN.m

The moment resisting overturning = 2,038 x 0,115 = 0,2344 kN.m

0,2344
Safety factor against overturning = = 2,996
7,824 × 10 − 2

Sliding resistance force = friction coefficient x vertical force = 0,6 x 2,038 = 1,223 kN
Horisontal force that causes sliding = 2,7 x h2 = 2,7 x 0,4432 = 0,530 kN

1,223
Safety factor against sliding = = 2,31
0,530

HOMEWORK
A 2 m high tripple skin brickwall has fill behind it. How high may the fill be before tension occurs
under the base of the wall. Also calculate the safety factor against overturning and the safety
factor against slip if the friction coefficient of the wall on its footing is 0,55. Assume that the soil
has a density of 1800 kg/m2, the wall a density of 1800 kg/m3 and the active pressure coefficient
= 0,33.

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