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How to Install a French Drain in 10 Easy Steps

Posted by: Erika Green on March 8, 2016


After a heavy rain, does your lawn typically resemble swampy marshland? If so, you may need to install a French drain. Drainage issues can lead to pooling and even mold or water damage around your home. With a French drain system, you can redirect runoff water and make that yard space usable again. The best part? It’s something you can tackle on a Saturday – with a little help from The Home Depot Rental.

What You’ll Need to Install a DIY French Drain

Steps for Installing a French Drain System in Your Yard

Once you’ve gathered your materials and necessary equipment, it’s time to get started with these easy steps for installing a drainage system in your yard:

Step 1: Make a plan for your new French drain system

Determine where water is collecting and plan to install your catch basin at the base of that area. You’ll also need to figure out where the French drain will redirect the water. You’ll want to redirect the run-off away from your home and neighboring residences so look for existing drainage or bodies of water. Sometimes, the easiest way to divert run-off is curbside.

Step 2: Mark the location

Once you’ve identified the location of your French drain installation, mark it with spray paint or stakes. Depending on the depth of the area and the width of your drain, you’ll want to use an appropriately sized trencher to make digging easier. Don’t forget to check with any neighborhood association for permission as well as familiarize yourself with local zoning restrictions before digging.

Step 3: Call 811

Call 811 at least 48 hours before you plan to dig to avoid accidentally hitting underground utility lines. The 811 center immediately alerts the appropriate utility companies of planned digs. Professional locators are then sent to the requested dig site to mark the approximate locations of underground lines using flags, spray paint or both.

Step 4: Determine the slope

A French drain needs a slope with 1% grade or more to redirect the water properly. You can also think of it as roughly 1 inch of slope for every 10 feet. The stake and string method is effective for measuring the difference in elevation. If you’re looking for a more detailed method to calculate your slope, click here.

Step 5: Break ground

After you’ve determined your location and slope, and have contacted 811, it’s time to break ground using your trencher rental. The starting point of your French drain system is contingent upon the placement of your catch basin and from there you’ll run the length of ground until you reach your run-off location.  

The width of your French drain system should be approximately 6-12 inches wide and at least 18 inches deep. For full instructions on how to use your trencher rental, be sure to check out the operations manual.

Step 6: Lay the landscape fabric

Landscape fabric, sometimes referred to as filter fabric, prevents soil and weeds from clogging the drain. You’ll want to line the bottom of the trench with the fabric, as well as both sides.

Step 7: Line the trench with gravel

Pour and compact 1-2 inches of gravel into the trench, over the top of the landscape fabric. Gravel acts as bedding for the pipe and allows for easier drainage in between the stones and into the soil beneath. You can use a manual tamper to compact the gravel or opt for a jumping jack compactor for a quicker, less labor-intensive process.

Step 8: Place the corrugated pipe

With the catch basin or grate installed at the point where water pools the most heavily, secure the pipe fittings along the trench to extend from the catch basin to the outlet point. Be sure the holes or perforations face downward and that all connections are tightly secured. You can test the flow of the drain by pouring water through the system.

Step 9: Add the finishing touches

Once you know your French drain system is working properly, cover with more gravel and the remaining landscape fabric. Dress the trench with topsoil and the dirt from your excavation.

Step 10: Ongoing Maintenance for Your DIY French Drain

As with any outdoor DIY project, you’ll need to maintain your French drain. That means reseeding the surface or covering with extra gravel as needed. Regularly inspect and clean the grate or catch basin to ensure it doesn’t get clogged with debris.

Ready to find the supplies and the equipment you need? The Home Depot Rental is your one-stop shop to get everything you need for your DIY French drain installation.  

Tags: Trencher, French Drain, How to install a French drain, French drain installation, French drain system, DIY