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Gardening, Lawn Maintenance, and Landscaping Articles written by Kim Lewey

Drainage Solutions for Your Home

written by Kimberly Y. Lewey


How frustrating is it to have standing water in your yard every time it rains?  How about moisture or mildew around your foundation?  Or uneven turf areas where the grass refuses to grow because of excessive moisture?  These problems are just a few of the typical drainage concerns homeowners face every day.  Our discussion will focus on the common reasons for outdoor water problems and how to resolve them as well as mention a common drainage misconception.

So what does cause most outdoor water problems?  There are three primary reasons for drainage concerns – 1) Improper grading, 2) Soil settlement, and 3) Non-perkable soil.  Improper grading can elicit improper or uneven slopes causing water to settle in pockets.  Standing water may be evident not only in the turf area but around the foundation and plant material.  It may also slope toward the house causing additional problems within your basement or garage during heavy rains.   Soil may also settle unevenly and/or excessively depending on the type of soil prevalent in your area.  If little or no topsoil is used in the building process to complement the grading of the foundation soil, weather patterns may settle the soil unevenly.  Non-perkable soil does not allow the water to properly drain into the ground.

If you are fortunate to watch the construction of your home, you should also pay attention to the finished landscape surrounding your home. Pay attention to the type of soil that your home sits on.  Clay soils and non-perkable soil have different consistencies and proper grading becomes an important element of finishing the landscape around your home.  You can also add Perma-Till to help break up hard soil (non-perkable) or clay soil.  Perma-Till is a small pee gravel-type rock.  Screened topsoil can help make the soil a better consistency and grading with a proper slope will help ensure that future drainage problems will not occur.  Also, if you are not sure, ask if the soil “perks” before purchasing an unfinished home.  If it does not perk, ask to have topsoil put around the foundation and plant beds.

However, if you did not oversee the construction of your home and surrounding landscape, how can you now correct a drainage problem?  Similar to the reasons for drainage problems, there are three main ways to resolve them – 1) French drains, 2) Fill in the low areas with dirt, and 3) Re-grade the problem area.  French drains may consist of corrugated pipe with gravel or gravel only, but either must have a sloped ditch in order to be effective.  Standing water in the turf area may be diverted through a hole filled with a gravel catch basin that connects to the French drain piping.  It discharges the excess water through a pop-up emitter to a safe area like a sloped ditch.  Excessive water build-up around plant material may utilize a specialized catch basin and atrium grates in conjunction with the pop-up emitters.   Moisture around foundation or basement walls may utilize a catch basin and grates to remove water from the downspouts and away from the foundation.  A channel drain and grates may collect standing water across your driveway or sidewalk area.  Every situation is different so consult with your landscape professional before making a final decision regarding French drains versus re-grading or fill-in dirt.  If budget is an important factor, ask about the long-term effects of each solution.  Ask enough questions to make sure the contractor is knowledgeable and get a second opinion if warranted.

Now that we have discussed drainage problems and solutions, what purpose do retaining walls serve?  As the name implies, they are walls that only retain or soften banks or severe slopes.  They can be used to divert water in only a small percentage of situations; berms or terraces would be more effective to divert water.  So, if a retaining wall is advised for a drainage problem, ask more questions.

If you are still awake after reading this article, then you have had the misfortune of experiencing outdoor water problems or need help now.  While not the most glamorous subject, drainage problems are fairly common and may develop over time but may also have been the result of cutting expenses at the end of a construction project.  Whatever the reason, they can usually be corrected, and many times are much less expensive than you would expect.  Consider your end result and select the professional and solution that best fits the situation.

Reprinted with permission from Boom! Magazine, April 2011