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Residential Marine Bulkhead Construction: Knowing your Options

A marine bulkhead is a vertical shoreline structure that mainly retains soil. It can be built from a variety of materials including vinyl, concrete, steel, and wood. Every material has its own benefits and drawbacks. For instance, wood can be the least expensive; however, it tends not to last long because of marine organisms and decay.

Importance of a Bulkhead Inspection

If you are looking to buy any waterfront property, ensure you hire an inspector to examine the bulkhead, dock, and seawall. When the bulkhead has deteriorated, it may need maintenance or has reached its service life. Sometimes, the damage in the bulkhead may be caused by loading it more than its capacity. For examples, the home may have a swimming pool installed following the bulkheading. Such construction adds a tremendous amount of additional weight that the bulkhead was not designed to sustain.  Also, the bulkhead and seawall fail because of undermining as a result of hydrostatic pressures and natural erosion. Additionally, marine organisms, soil pH, and corrosion can damage materials in a way that an average home inspector may not be able to discover.

Common Bulkhead and Seawall Materials

Concrete is one of the most durable materials for bulkheads and seawalls, offering more than thirty years of life to the construction. Bulkheads can also be made from steel sheet piling. This material offers great strength characteristics and comes with an interlocking seal. However, steel tends to rust over time, particularly in salt water environments. Also, the material must be coated and maintained. A vinyl bulkhead material promises to last more than fifty years. It is available in different colors and does not rust, corrode, or decay in the marine environment. While this option is a little expensive, it can still be the best choice.

Moreover, aluminum is a material used in bulkheads. Sheet pilings made from aluminum offer great resistance to corrosion; however, as the material isn’t as strong, the allowed exposed wall height is minimal. Wood is probably the most common material of choice in residential marine bulkhead construction. A lot of property owners prefer a wood sheet, wale, or pile system for their seawall bulkhead configuration. As long as it is properly treated, wood can have a service life of about two decades. Pressure treated pilings and lumber have been treated with a preservative that makes wood resistant to marine borer attacks which cause wood to decay.

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