How to Improve Drainage in a Small Yard
LESLIE: Eric in Michigan is on the line. How can we help you with your water problem? What’s going on?
ERIC: I’ve listened to you guys’ podcasts many times and have heard you talk about the basements and having your eaves drop clear and downspouts 4 to 6 feet away. Well, I’ve done that. I keep them clear and I still keep getting water in the basement: just a teeny little bit around the corner.
And I was wondering if maybe you guys had an idea if the water is coming in just because the ground is getting so saturated when it rains. I don’t have very good grading and there’s no real way to get any better grading, because I’m so close to the neighbors. I didn’t know if you guys had any ideas besides going through and putting in that really expensive thing that they put in basements.
TOM: OK. So, yeah, first of all, let’s just review what you have done. So you have gutters and the gutters are clean and they’re free-flowing. Is that correct?
TOM: And the downspouts, they are extended out from the foundation?
ERIC: Yeah. About 6 feet.
TOM: About 6 feet. And once that water drains from the downspout, does it continue to move away from the building or does it – circling back towards the foundation?
ERIC: It’s very level right where it’s at; it doesn’t really slope away. So I mean I don’t know if it would circulate back towards the foundation but …
TOM: Let me ask you this: the leakage that you are getting, is it consistent with storms? In other words, you get a pretty nasty storm, bad rainfall and you get more water?
TOM: OK. So we absolutely know that it’s sourcing from surface drainage; this is not a rising water-table situation. It’s going – the solution is going to be in this drainage in the foundation perimeter. And you say you can’t improve the grading. What do you have around the foundation now? Is it grass? Are there plants? Mulch? What?
ERIC: It’s just grass.
TOM: It’s just grass? And you’re so – and how close are you to the neighbor?
ERIC: Oh, 15 feet maybe?
TOM: Alright. Well, you’ve got room to grade. What you want to do is just deal with the first 4 feet away from the foundation. That first 4 feet needs to pitch down 6 inches.
TOM: So to do that, you would add clean fill dirt, not topsoil.
TOM: Topsoil is very organic and it’ll hold a lot of water. But clean fill dirt added to the foundation perimeter, tamped in place with a tamping iron – you know, it’s a stick with a big metal plate at the bottom of it – so it’s solid, really packed-in well. And then on top of that, you can plant more grass, you can lay some sod. Now is a good time of year to do this, because it’s cool and it’s damp and it’s not hot. And so that means that the roots have a chance to really take hold before next summer happens.
The purpose of that is just to prevent erosion. If you don’t want to put grass, you could put stone or mulch. But that first 4 to 6 feet is the most important area to make sure it slopes away from the building. And this way, if you do have any water that’s ponding back – because I suspect that’s what’s happening – it’s going to stop that from getting too close to the foundation.
Now, the other thing to do here is you could take the downspouts and pipe them underground, away from the locations, and then discharge the water somewhere else. If your yard has any type of a slope where you could get away with this and actually pitch away the underground pipe and then have it poke out somewhere so that it discharges to grade somewhere else away from the house, then that’s another option.
ERIC: OK. Do you think it matters – the windows in my basement are – the bottom of the windows are level with the ground. Would you recommend putting in a window well around them and then …?
TOM: OK. So, yeah, in that case, you would put a window well around it because this will enable you to get the soil up higher.
TOM: Because you don’t want to cover the windows. So you would put a window well. Don’t worry about covering the window well; just put the window well against the foundation, throw some stone in the bottom of it. And this way – and frankly, if the soil is level with the sill, you probably should take some of that soil out so it’s a few inches down. Throw some stone in the bottom of it and that actually will keep your windows cleaner because when the rain hits it, you won’t have mud splatter up on the window.
ERIC: Sure, sure. Well, I think that answers my question. I really appreciate your help.
TOM: Alright. I think you’ve made some progress. You’ve just got to make a few more tweaks and you should be there.
ERIC: Alright. Thank you so much.
TOM: Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.