DIY French Drains

I’ll warn you in advance that this isn’t a fun interior design post (unless you looove outdoor physical labor)! However, the amount of time that Tom and Liz spent making a french drain in our front yard warrants this special post…

As you may know, Tom moved into a MUCH older house in North Carolina a couple of years ago; Liz and I followed one year later when they got married. One of the top things on their list of things to do involved addressing a wet basement. It wasn’t wet all the time, just after long rains, and even then, the water was concentrated around a few main areas (our full basement only covers about half of the house’s footprint, the rest is a crawlspace that seems to remain dry for the most part). The worst flooding was a few inches of water throughout the basement… No fun!

Even with less intense rains, the front yard would flood.

You might think, “oh, no big deal, they want to waterproof the basement, big whoop”. WRONG-O! After talking with a few local contractors (and, let’s be honest — realizing how expensive and possibly ineffective professional waterproofing could be), Liz and Tom decided they’d try a few DIY fixes first. They wanted to hold off on adding a sump pump and save that as a last resort. They also knew that any exterior sealing was probably never going to be an option (we’re talking thousands of dollars). And with that, their DIY basement waterproofing adventure began!

They started by painting the basement walls with a sealant paint (Drylok)… This somewhat worked, but mostly just updated the walls from a disgusting faded pink to a bright cheery white. They eventually ordered a dump truck full of fill dirt and mulch to regrade out front (where the bulk of the water was coming in). While they were at it, they decided to install a french drain. They followed the steps provided by HGTV and got a bit of additional advice from a friend who had installed a lot of french drains.

In addition to the fill dirt, they used 6″ perforated drain pipe, drainage rock, and landscape fabric. They started by digging a trench large enough for the drain pipe, about 2-3 feet from the house, running parallel to the foundation. Digging the trench was definitely the most difficult part, and helped Liz and Tom find this little gem…

A completely clogged gutter drainage pipe, which was SUPPOSED to be carrying water AWAY from the house! Instead, the clogged drain was helping to explain this waterfall gushing from the gutter downspout.

After they dug the trench, they added a layer of drainage rock, and laid the landscape fabric in the trench. The perforated pipe was then placed in the trench, with the holes on the bottom. Liz and Tom decided to wrap the pipe with the landscape fabric (rather than let the drainage rock touch the pipe, in an effort to prevent the drainage rock from ending up in the pipe and clogging it up). Once the wrapped pipe was in place, they covered it with drainage rock, followed by fill dirt, topsoil, and mulch. Works great — no more flooding!

It turns out a few more of the gutter downspouts were totally clogged. After replacing these, everything seems to be staying pretty dry in the basement! There’s still a bit of water coming in through a couple of old windows, but that should be an easy fix in comparison!


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