French Beechwood Handle

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How to Build Your Very First French Drain or Curtain Drain

How to Build Your Very First French Drain or Curtain Drain

OK, in a nut shell, “dig a ditch and fill to the top with rocks”. Seems too easy but it’s true. Let us start with what defines a ditch. I think a ditch acts to collect water and run it (the water) down the hill, if it didn’t run down hill it would be a lake or swamp. The Romans built aqueducts, a fancy name for ditch. Some farm areas use canals. Ultimately they are all just ditches that take water to another place. So back in your yard you must have some water that you want to go to another place, and you think a ditch will do the job. First, have you tried getting the water to not be there in the first place? Water appears in yards from several sources. Some just flows across the surface down the hill, kind of like a ditch all spread out. Some water flows through the ground following a crack or geologic feature. Some really nasty water is really a lake only under the ground. Your roof could be the source of your water too. Lets cover the roof right now, you need to go out in your yard while it is raining hard (use your umbrella) and observe what is going on. If water is pouring off next to house or not going down the downspouts, a French drain will not solve your problem, if you have a close neighbor with gutter problems, you should have a talk with them next. Now while out in the rain observe where the water flows. A properly graded yard will not be level. It will have a high point and a low point. The correctly graded yard will cause water to flow away from the house, and around the house. Your house is not meant to be a dam. At no point around or near the house should there be standing water, no puddle, no lakes. A distance of six feet or more in all directions from house should be positive drainage. Now we can talk about your French Drain or curtain drain. A curtain drain is normally not your first choice and certainly not an answer to improper grading, however after 25 years in landscape construction I know there are times when they solve problems short term and in theory permanently. If flowing surface water is the culprit I try to contain it where it enters property, before it reaches the lawn and turns it to swampland, a good place for a drain is between the lawns and planting beds, hopefully this will dry out the basement and the lawn while being a minimally disruptive installation. This is what happens in your French Drain, water flows into your ditch, that’s it. Your ditch must be sloped all the way to the street or your ditch fills up. Your ditch must be dug deep enough to intercept underground flowing water (geologic feature, spring or crack) If you have an underground lake (high water table) your ditch will only drain (lower the level) the lake to the level of the bottom of your ditch. You may be thinking I’m straying from the subject but in my experience many people don’t grasp the basic physics that water flows down hill. I have done many jobs where the home owner after being told what he wanted to do would not work, still went ahead with the job. Now for the actual construction of your curtain drain, after you have accurately measured elevations and know for certain the water will flow away you can dig your ditch. Make it as narrow as you can, many rented trenchers can dig three feet deep and some only 3” wide. Try to make ditch constantly uniformly sloped. You can connect many together ditches together. Lay perforated pipe in the ditch bottom with the perforations up not down. Many times it is a good idea to place a filter fabric directly on top of pipe, or buy pipe with a sock on it already. Back fill your ditch with drain rock. Drain rock is special rock without “fines” these are the little pieces from dust to sand to pebbles that pack together slowing down water flow. You can use either round or crushed rock. Now here’s a problem you must address, if you are catching surface water, the water must fall into your ditch. You can not cover drain rock with bark dust, sod, dirt or allow weeds and grass to grow over the rock. This means you must maintain your drain keeping it uncovered. A 12” wide rock ditch is easier to maintain than a 3” wide trench. Some people will disguise their drain as a dry creek bed. OK what can you do if it is up hill away from house and yard? Simple run the pipe and ditch to a sump (buried box) and install a sump pump and piping up up and away. My experience has been that surface water curtain drains work well if maintained, but proper grading is nature’s way. High water tables and subterranean streams generally have mixed results because you are asking water to flow horizontal through the ground which is a slow process and likely that water is replaced at about the same rate it is removed. I hope what I have written has supplied you with a little humor and helpful ideas. I know you’re probably not real thrilled with your prospects so my comments may seem a little dry (ha) Some soggy yards like mine for instance grow horrible lawns but wonderful gardens with ferns and mosses that need no watering. Good luck. John 2010
Trip Talk USA

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