How to Dig a Trench Around a House

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Many people require a French drain around their house to prevent water from running into the home's foundation. A French drain consists of a corrugated pipe that runs around three connecting sides of the building. The corrugated pipe rests inside a trench. As the water passes by the trench, the trench helps to divert the water around the home’s foundation.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Tamper
  • Contact your local permit office to determine if you need a permit to dig a trench or install a French drain. In some cases, the final product will require an inspection.

  • Consult your local utilities to make sure you are not going to dig in an area that could have electrical, water or gas lines. Representatives from the utility companies will come out to your property and mark the areas where you cannot dig.

  • Position the back wall of the trench between 4 to 6 feet away from the foundation. This prevents you from damaging the structural integrity of the foundation's wall and also provides adequate water filtering around the building.

  • Dig the trench deep enough to accommodate a bed of gravel between the bottom of the trench and the corrugated pipe. In addition, you need a layer of stone around the pipe and enough room to place soil over the pipe when the trench is completed. A width of 12 inches and a depth of 24 inches is usually adequate.

  • Dig the hole, using either a shovel or a trencher. A shovel allows you to control the pace and the depth of the cut easily, whereas a trencher allows you to make quick work out of the project. However, even with a trencher, you will need a shovel to help you square up the corners since you must cut trenches around three walls of the building.

  • Tamp the bottom of the trench flat with a metal tamper. A tamper pounds the soil and compacts it. This ensures that you have a solid base to your trench. It also prevents the pipe from sinking into the ground and resting at odd angles that could prevent a smooth flow of water.

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