How Do I Determine If I Need to Install a French Drain System?


A French drain is a trench that can be lined with landscaping fabric or one that has a pipe laid inside it to drain water away from problem areas. The simplest drains are lined with rock or gravel, and left exposed. A French drain is a very effective solution to the problems caused by standing water. No plumbing or construction skills are required to build one and when properly landscaped, they add an attractive water feature to your property.

The Problem

  • If you have water seeping into your basement or other below-grade areas of your home, water may be collecting outside and standing rather than percolating into the ground or running away from the building. You may not be aware of the problem.

    Check outside your home where the water comes in. See if the earth slopes toward the basement, rather than away. Walk around to see if you feel any spongy areas close to the house. Wait for a heavy downpour and watch which way the water runs.

    You may also have runoff from your neighbor's properties. Again, watch the water during a heavy rainfall. Check for signs of erosion that could be caused by water that funnels onto your property.

    If there are areas on your property away from buildings where water stands for more than a couple of hours after a rainfall, the water is probably not soaking into the ground as it should.


  • There must be a slope on your property. It can as slight a slope as 1 degree, but it's necessary to direct the water away from buildings and swampy areas and it must travel downward from the problem area. If your entire property is wet, you probably need a more elaborate solution.

    Take your neighbors into consideration. You don't want to direct your water onto their property. Look for an area where the water can disperse or soak into the ground harmlessly.

    If you live in an area with covenants, or restrictions on what you can do with your property, you may not be allowed to dig a French drain.

The Process

  • Installing a French drain system is a straightforward process. Dig a trench, or connecting trenches that slope downward away from the problem area. If the problem is not severe, the trench can be as shallow as 1 foot and only 6 inches wide. Pour gravel into the bottom of the trench and then fill the trench with river rocks.

    A more complex French drain has perforated pipe running down the center, protected from debris by landscaping fabric. It is then covered with soil and landscaped to look like the rest of the yard.

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