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Typical French Drain Design for Soggy Yards

! ! ! See Author's Notes at Bottom of Column ! ! !

How Linear French Drains Work

The key to understanding how the system works is knowing that there is a vast quantity of air in the upper horizons of soil. In addition, we know that gravity will pull water downslope. Furthermore, water will absolutely take the path of least resistance. It will flow down through the gravel and into the pipe much more readily than force its way past soil particles!

The French drain system will work wonderfully even if the pipe is installed dead level. It will not work if you install the pipe so that it slopes uphill. If your lot goes up and down, you will have to use a builders level or laser to set the pipe level or with a slight down slope pitch. If you pitch the pipe, 1/8 inch per foot of fall is sufficient. Of course if you want it to slope more than 1/8 inch per foot, that would not pose a problem!

The trick to the whole system is providing a means for the end of the French drain system to "daylight" or expose itself on the lowest portion of your lot. This is where the collected water will discharge. You can often disguise this pipe exit point with decorative gravel, boulders or large rocks. You may also want to plant vegetation that likes to have its feet wet! Anything will look better than a simple pipe sticking out of the ground.

Typical French Drain Design for Soggy Yards

Interconnecting 4 inch perforated pipe in a simple grid work will work well to drain a back or side yard. The system of pipe works like a maze in reverse. Water enters any of the pipes in the maze or system. One of the pipes in the maze continues around the house or the yard to a low spot. The water flows from the soil into the pipes and finally exits at the end of the pipe. Yards equipped with this system will drain in hours, not days!

The grid work of piping is installed exactly as the simple French drain. Gravity will literally pull the water from the soggy soil directly and rapidly into the grid work. Trust me, these systems work and they work very well.

Author's Notes:

You may wonder if my advice is worth anything. Well, read what Jim Sanders wrote to me when he was at the end of his rope:

"Hi, I just wanted to write to give you the results of my "Trench Drain". I have had a wet crawlspace for 15 years. Water would fill the crawlspace at times, so we actually had to drill weepholes at the base so that it would enter the basement and eventually, the sump pump.

I have tried everything. Several contractors said that the only thing we could do was to bring the water into the house via drainage tile and let it enter the sump pump. That would work, but because I live on a 6' elevation, there is no reason that I should have water problems. It became like clockwork...when it rained, we would rush home from the lake or wherever we were vacationing so that we could be prepared to start the backup generator, in case the power failed. We even had our alarm company put a sump alarm on our system, so they could notify us if we had a power failure. Battery backup was not an option, because sometimes we loose power for days and during any rain, our sump would run every 7 minutes...just like clockwork.

I found your site and read the article on the trench or French drain. At first, it sounded a bit like "holistic healing" to me. I failed to understand why a 2 ft. deep trench, 4 ft. away from the house would do any good. How could this simple thing correct an extreme water problem that has plagued me for years, cracked my foundation, settled my garage floor and ruined almost every vacation?

The Linear French Drain trench running from the house. PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Sanders
The Linear French Drain trench running from the house. PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Sanders

I decided "what the heck". I had to dig by hand using a trenching spade and a pick-axe, because the builder back-filled our property with brick and blacktop. It took quite a bit of time. Because the ground level varies so much on that side of the house, I was not able to achieve exactly 2 ft. deep. It varied from 18" to 30" in spots, but the slope was downhill. The trench is about 80 ft. long. At times, I thought about filling it all in, because I just didn’t believe that it would work.

I stoned it, put tile in, and filled it with #1 round stone. I socked the pipe just for safety measure and I also used geotext fabric on top, so I could cover with dirt and grass. I also ordered some clay and pitched from the house to the drain.

After a short rain, water is running away from the house. PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Sanders

Result? For the last month, we have had 7 or 8 torrential rains, the worst of which was last night. It rained so hard, that our lawn washed out in spots because of the high clay content. Our sump pump, that normally ran every 7 minutes during and after rain, has not turned on for 4 weeks. The silt at the bottom of the sump well is now dry and cracking. Our crawlspace has not shown a trace of water or even moisture.

Since I couldn’t see correcting the foundation cracks or the garage floor settling and tilting until I corrected the problem's source, I waited to see if the trench drain worked first.

This week, I had a company come in and perform sort of a "mud-jacking" technique on the garage floor, which worked perfectly. Also, during the past few weeks, I parged the cracks in the foundation.

A dry sump pump. PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Sanders

I just wanted you to know how this worked. I stressed for many years over this issue and the solution was nowhere near as difficult as I thought it would be.

As a side note, I went to the end of the drain tile during a hard rain to see what was happening. Water was running out of the drain tile in about the same exact volume that it previously ran out of the weepholes in my crawlspace. This winter will be interesting, because last year, the ground next to the house was so saturated that during a thaw, my sump would run constantly. I'm guessing that the ground between the trench and the house will probably be drier now going into this winter."

- Jim Sanders, Upstate area - New York

Column B175

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