Q&A / 

Water Puddles on Concrete

DEAR TIM: When it rains or snow melts, I have large water puddles on the concrete sidewalk in front of my house. The puddles have at least 2 inches of water at the deepest point. This sidewalk in parallel with the city street that has a modern rounded curb. It's dangerous in the winter as the water freezes and becomes a skating rink. The neighborhood kids love to play in the water, but I want to get rid of it once and for all. What are all my options? Bobby O'S., Canton, MI

DEAR BOBBY: Your neighborhood moms are probably going to thank you, although some may get pleasure watching their kids play and jump in the water. I remember riding my bicycle through water puddles like that for fun. It's sad that as we grow older the magic of puddles transforms to misery.

The photo you sent was excellent and really helps me give you rock-solid advice. You've got a few options and the good news is I believe you'll be able to eliminate the puddles with a days work and minimal supplies.

The puddles on this sidewalk are unacceptable. They can be eliminated with a little bit of work. Photo Credit: Bobby O’Steen

The puddles on this sidewalk are unacceptable. They can be eliminated with a little bit of work. Photo Credit: Bobby O’Steen

The first thing you need to do is determine if the street edge of the sidewalk along its entire length is higher than the top of the curb at the street. Looking at the photo it's crystal clear that's the case across the street from your home. I can see your front yard slopes to the sidewalk and I'm hoping this same slope continues to the curb.

If I was there, I'd use my laser level to do this or my old-fashioned builder's transit. You probably don't own these unique tools so you're going to have to use a 4-foot level, a straight board and some scraps of 2 x 4. You'll need a helper to assist you to make this easy.

You need to place enough 2 x 4s on the sidewalk at the deepest point of the puddles so the bottom of the straightedge board clears the grass in between the sidewalk and the street. If you place two pieces on the sidewalk, you need to place two pieces on top of the curb as well. When you do this and place the straight board on the blocks and the level on the board and look at the bubble in the level.

What I'm hoping for is when you look at the level, the bubble in the vial is crammed up against the house side of the vial. This means, assuming you have equal numbers of scrap 2 x 4 under each end of the board, that the sidewalk is higher than the top of the curb. This is what you need to make this job easy.

Before we tackle solving the problem, let's compare your sidewalk with a normal roadway. Roads are normally constructed so they're higher than the surrounding ground. Water on the road naturally flows to the culverts on the side of the road.

In your case, and many modern subdivisions, the road is lower than the surrounding ground. Water that flows to the street is diverted to storm sewers along the curb. You have one of these right in front of your home.

I feel the root of the problem is the grass that's between the sidewalk and the street. It's preventing the water from draining to lower ground. It's a miniature dam.

Assuming the curb is lower than the sidewalk, you might solve this problem by digging a 3-inch-wide channel about 6 inches deep along the entire length of the sidewalk on your property. I'd then dig two connecting trenches that cross the grass and run to the curb at the street. Be sure you call 811 to have all the utilities marked in this area. You're digging very shallow trenches but I've seen cable TV lines buried 2 inches deep in public right of ways!

The trenches you dug need to be filled with rounded gravel that's no smaller than the size of a grape. Water will disappear into gravel this size and it will flow on it's own towards the street.

If you don't like the look of the gravel strips, then you have to get rid of the pesky soil at least in one or two areas and make a gentle swale where the soil acts like a green gutter to channel the water to the top of the curb. If the curb is lower than the sidewalk, this is a very viable option, although it will take some effort to get the grade just right.

The water will probably still puddle if you go the grass swale option, but it will drain to the street in a couple of hours. This could be problematic in the winter if you get a cold front that passes that drops the temperature below freezing in just an hour or so.

If you discover the sidewalk is lower than the curb, eliminating the puddles becomes a major job. The sidewalk may have sunk because of poor fill conditions under it. Companies can pump grout under sidewalks to lift them, but this is an expensive proposition. You can also do a thin concrete or stucco overlay on top of the sidewalk to get it higher than the curb and so it tilts ever so slightly towards the curb at the street.

My gut tells me that the problem is the soil strip between the sidewalk and curb is just too high and once regraded, your puddle problem will be in your past.

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