At Lowes as well as my local hardware store (McLendon's), they are selling Ez-Drain, a french drain system that basically seems like styrofoam peanuts surrounding a corrugated plastic drainage pipe encased in mesh sock. It's then buried under the soil – no need for gravel. My questions are:
Anyone have any experience with this or recommend this?
Also, seems like a simple concept – can I simply make this myself rather than buying it retail? (i.e. just buy some peanuts and use some landscape fabric as a sock around a corrugated pipe?)
It sounds like you are describing a curtain drain. This can be done on the inside or outside of your foundation. You can build one yourself, but its a lot of work.
This is simply a trench. If you are building it outside, it's dug from the wettest area of your yard to a lower spot. It doesn't have to be deep (12" - 18" deep is perfect) but it does have to slope downward to that lower area. Once it is dug, you would add 2 or three inches of gravel stone into the bottom and then lay a perforated pipe on top. PVC is the best material to use for this as it doesn't crush like the flexible black plastic pipe that landscapers like to use.
Once you have the PVC pipe in place, cover it with more gravel until it is completely buried. Then if outside, add a layer of weed barrier (a burlap like cloth that will stop the soil from clogging the pipe) and fill the hole back in with soil.
A much easier way to do this is with EZ Drain, which has the drainage pipe, aggreate and filter cloth all in one modular assembly.
If the drain is inside, make sure that the whole system drains to a sump pump and that the sump is in a place you can see.... not behind drywall, for example.