Q&A / 

Yard Drainage Solutions

DEAR TIM: I’m building a new home and am quite concerned about possible flooding that could happen. I built on a hill and the land slopes towards my home. The builder didn’t put in much of a ditch at all and it seems like bad things could happen with a very bad storm or extended period of heavy rain. Please look at the photo and tell me what you think. How do you correct a problem like this? What would you do if you were me? Theresa P., White River Junction, VT

DEAR THERESA: Congratulations on your new home! I remember the excitement my customers would exude as I transformed their dreams into reality. But I don’t want any water to ruin your new home and your possessions, so we need to solve the problem I see in the photo you sent. What I see is nearly identical to what’s happening at a new home construction site in my own neighborhood!

My college degree was in geology and I had a particular interest in hydrogeology and geomorphology. Hydrogeology is the study of ground water and geomorphology is the study of surface features of our Earth. The knowledge I gained allowed me to build bone-dry homes for myself and every customer.

Storm water is going to rush down the hill on the right and overwhelm this home!. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Storm water is going to rush down the hill on the right and overwhelm this home!. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Storm water is going to rush down the hill on the right and overwhelm this home!. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

If you watch the local and national news shows, you’ll see from time to time video of water pouring down hillsides at homes. What you’re worried about is very real and the quantity of water depends on how much land is above you and if that water is aimed at your home because of the natural funnel shape of the land near your home.

The first thing you might reference is the building code. However, realize that it’s a set of minimum standards. What that means is that if your home meets the building code it’s like getting seventy percent on a test. In other words, you passed by the skin of your teeth. In almost all cases it’s easy and not too much work to exceed code standards.

The last time I checked the building code said the ground surrounding a home must have 6 inches of vertical fall in the first 10 feet of horizontal distance away from the foundation. I can tell you that I see many homes that do not meet this and based on your photo I know for a fact yours doesn’t.

For an extreme example of how to handle water around your home, just look at the ditches you often see along country roads. The ditch might be 24 or 30 inches deep, often more. The drop off from the road shoulder can be steep. I’m not recommending you do this in your yard, but there’s surely a compromise.

What I always tried to do on the houses I built was to have the soil around the house come no closer than one foot from the top of the foundation. Then I’d slope the ground at least 1 foot down from the house in the first 10 feet of horizontal distance.

That might sound extreme to you, but believe it or not it’s a fairly gradual slope. Since you’ve not yet landscaped, now’s the time to get a small bulldozer in or an excavator to remove the soil to create the small swale in your yard.

This swale needs to have a slope in it so any water on the surface continue on around the house and flow to the lowest part of your lot where it would have flowed naturally before your home was built. Remember, it’s often illegal to divert water onto adjacent land that didn’t receive that amount of natural runoff before you built your home.

Often on my jobs, I’d install a hidden linear french drain in the bottom of the swale to capture underground water flowing through the soil. This water you can’t see can cause chronic seepage into basements and crawlspaces.

Once the yard is graded and you have this gentle channel that captures and redirects the water around your home, you put a narrow slit trench in the bottom of the swale. This trench only needs to be about 6 inches wide and usually 2 feet deep. The trench continues around the house and once the ground starts to slope away, the bottom of the trench gets shallower and shallower until it eventually breaks through to the surface.

I’d put a perforated drain pipe in this trench and fill the trench with washed gravel about the size of walnuts or pecans. You don’t want any sand in this gravel. The larger gravel allows water to flow rapidly down and into the perforated pipe. Once in the pipe, the water quickly goes around your home and exits in your yard where it won’t cause any harm to you or your possessions.

Remember to pipe all your roof water using solid 4-inch pipe to the lowest spot on your land. Don’t allow your builder to install useless splash blocks that just stop the dirt from eroding at the bottom of the downspout. If you allow all that roof water to just discharge around your home into your grass, you’ll add to the possibility of severe flooding in periods of heavy rain.

Splash blocks don't do much to channel water away from the foundation. © 2017 Roger Henthorn

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3 Responses to Yard Drainage Solutions

  1. Hi, our new apartment is in the uk and has been developed in the basement of an old mansion house. We have had terrible flooding in the Yorkshire region of the U.K. In the past few days and water is now pouring through the cellar which is on the same level as the apartment and through the walls of our apartment from the cellar. The damp proofing or tanking which the builder installed has been breached from the cellar side. We moved in six months ago, according to a resident who has lived in the house above for 11 years, she made the developer of our apartment aware of the previous flooding problem via a video she took at the time. Should this developer by rights have fitted a pump if he knew the situation and would he be liable to rectify this problem now?

    • Linda,

      I've seen stories and video featured on the International News about this flooding. I'm sorry you're impacted. Here's how I feel about these situations.

      It's my opinion that regular people have to take personal responsibility for their welfare. This means that when you select a place to live, you stay away from water. It means living up on a hill.

      My college degree is in geology and I know enough about rivers, streams, and creeks to treat them with the utmost respect. Most of what I was taught is common sense.

      You - meaning you and all others - know that floods happen. This means you need to find out how high flood waters have come in the past 500 years when you look at property.

      Now as for the pump, what happens if the pump gets overwhelmed because the water gets too deep or comes in too fast? Who's fault is that? See what I mean? What happens when the flood waters cut off electricity and the pump fails to operate? Don't EVER live where you need to depend on a pump. Live in a place where Mother Nature's gravity solves all your problems and keeps you DRY.

  2. Hi Linda

    Sorry to hear of your predicament .... especially over the festive season.
    I have a slightly different take on this from Tim.

    As a non-builder (and customer) I think you do have a right to expect that a professional builder will have considered all the aspects and that he will sell you a product that is fit for purpose.

    The things I think you need to look at are:

    1. What is the 100 year flood level ?
    If the flood is in excess of the 100 year flood level then the builder would not have been expected to anticipate this.

    .... however

    If the level is below the 100 year level (and especially as he was informed about the possibility of flooding) then as a customer you do have a right to expect that a professional builder would put in place a sensible potential flood prevention system.

    2. Whether or not the correct method to manage anticipatable flooding is a correctly sized pump or some other means will depend upon very specific localised factors

    3. Possibly tanking it to the height he did was the reasonable thing to do - but only local inspection & investigation could tell you that.

    I know if I had built the home and hadn't reasonably considered the consequences of potential flooding I would deserve a claim.

    My Best Wishes to You and Your Family.

    Registered Builder

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