LESLIE: Vinnie in Pennsylvania is on the line and needs some help with moisture buildup in wet yard. Tell us what you’re working on.
VINNIE: We recently purchased our first home and the backyard has somewhat of a swale effect, kind of like between two crests of a wave. And we’re thinking about bringing in, I don’t know, 9, 10 dump trucks’ worth of dirt to flatten it. And we’re not sure if, first if all, if that’s a good idea and second of all, what implications may come of that with effects of rain and things I’ll have to worry about with the neighbors next to me.
TOM: When you say that the yard is sort of a wave, can you be a little more specific than that, Vinnie?
VINNIE: Yeah, sure. The back of the house is level but then the yard will slowly, gradually crest like a hill and then go downwards. And then as it nears the back of the property and the alleyway, the property comes back up. So it’s almost like a low U-shape.
TOM: OK. So, let me ask you this: from the foundation outward, does the property slope away from the house?
VINNIE: It does.
TOM: Is water able to run completely away from the house, through that normal drainage?
VINNIE: Yeah. Water can normally drain away from the house.
TOM: So it’s just that it pitches downward and you want to kind of bring it up a little bit. Is that what I’m hearing?
VINNIE: Yeah. And all the way at the back end of the property, where the property meets the road in the back, that’s also the low – the level of the back of the house.
TOM: Mm-hmm. Right. OK.
VINNIE: So if we were to level it, it would be a nice, slowly grading property.
TOM: If you want to add that much soil, it sounds like you’re talking an awful lot of soil. And if you add too much of it, it’s just going to kind of wash away. Typically, if you need to raise a soil level that much, you have to use something to retain it, like a retaining wall. Either a stone wall or a wood wall. You know, adding soil to the top of that is enabling it to build up. It’s probably not the best strategy because it’s not going to have any root growth in there. It’s not going to be compacted. You’d have to get the grass to really knit and I’m afraid that you’d get a lot of erosion, especially if you get a lot of heavy rain.
If the water – is the water ponding anywhere? Is there moisture buildup in wet yard? Is that part of the issue? Is it getting stuck anywhere or is it completely draining properly?
VINNIE: Well, it doesn’t pond but because it’s so low effect, it’s definitely more wet than soupier.
TOM: So there’s a different solution to moisture buildup in wet yard and it’s called a “curtain drain.”
Now, what a curtain drain is is a drain that sits just below the top of the soil and it sits in a trench. It’s perforated pipe and the water runs to it, right? It runs to it and then it fills in the pipe and then the pipe runs further downhill and out to daylight somewhere. And then that drains that swampy area. So, that’s the way to solve moisture buildup in wet yard. And I don’t think adding soil is the solution; I think you’ve got to get rid of the water. And a curtain drain – sometimes called a “French drain” but more accurately, it’s a curtain drain – will do just that.
Sometimes we see properties that slope away from the building but then the water gets stuck somewhere in the middle of the backyard. And the curtain drain is the way to do that. Once it’s installed, you’re never going to see it because it’s below the surface. But basically, it’s a trench that’s roughly 12×12 and you’ve got some stone in the bottom of it. Then the curtain drain is covered by more stone, a filter cloth and then soil and seed or soil and sod and it becomes invisible. But as the water runs there, it falls into the trench, fills up in the pipe and then shoots out the end to reduce moisture buildup in wet yard. Does that make sense?
VINNIE: Yeah. So you don’t think that bringing in that dirt and even putting a retaining wall would help? It would be more of an …
TOM: If you put a retaining wall in, you could do it but it’s just going to be a really big job. And it doesn’t sound like it’s that traumatic to you.
I tell you what, if you want to take some pictures of your backyard and post them in The Money Pit’s Community section, we can take another look and see if we’d like to modify that answer. But I suspect that just dealing with the drainage is going to be the best way for you to handle this.
VINNIE: OK. Sure. I’ve heard of a French drain. People have been telling me about that. But I think I’ll look into that. Thank you.
TOM: Alright. You’re welcome. Good luck with that project.