How to Install a Surface Water French Drain

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A French drain is is used to remove excess water from low-lying areas that tend to get saturated. These types of drains consist of a trench that is dug and filled with gravel or stone and a top layer of sand. It is inexpensive and easy to install. The first step in installing a surface water French drain is deciding where the system should be located.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Gravel
  • Sand
  • Level
  • 4-inch diameter pipe
  • Filter fabric
  • Dig a trench in the area of your yard where excess water accumulates. The trench should be from four to six inches wide and up to 12 inches deep.

  • Create a slope in the trench so that the water will be able to drain away. Check the trench at every two or three feet with a level to make sure there is a consistent slope. Or you can first finish digging the trench and then go back and add loose dirt to create a reasonable slope.

  • Put a layer of gravel at least four to six inches deep in the trench.

  • Add a layer of coarse sand on top of the gravel. The sand acts as a filter that only allows water to go down to the gravel. The sand should be at lest three inches thick.

  • Place a layer of soil on top of the sand to cover the trench. You can then plant grass seed or add sod to complete the project.

Adding a Drainpipe

  • Place a two- to four-inch layer of gravel in the trench.

  • Lay a perforated drainpipe on top of the gravel. The pipe should be at least four inches in diameter.

  • Place a filter fabric, or fabric used to keep weeds out of gardens, over the top of the pipe.

  • Add another two-inch layer of gravel on top of the drain

  • Fill in the remainder of the trench with dirt or topsoil.

Tips & Warnings

  • The length of the trench should be long enough to properly drain water away from a building or other structure. Sand does not need to be added to the trench when using a drainpipe.
  • If you don't sand that is coarse (wihout a drainpipe), water may not properly drain through to the gravel. Dirt and mud can clog the drainpipe if you don't use filter fabric.

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