The typical American home is under siege—24/7, 365 days a year—by a steady onslaught of water. Seeping into every available crack, working its way between roof shingles, and trickling down basement walls, contributing to mold growth, material rot, and generally just making a mess of things.
Homeowners know all about the risks associated with flooding—which causes an average of $50 billion worth of damage in the U.S. each year—but it’s easy to overlook the damage potential of everyday seepage. It rarely accounts for much accumulation at any one time, and for the most part goes unnoticed for years.
Left unaddressed, though, this threat can cause massive damage to residential homes.
And, unlike floods, seepage can impact any home, new or old, no matter where it is located.
“In the spring, melting snow and April showers conspire against your yard, unleashing a deluge of water on to just-thawed ground,” writes Caitlin O’Neil in This Old House magazine. “To add insult to injury, yards are often improperly graded, creating perfect puddle conditions. Soggy, uneven ground can spell doom for lawns and plants; saturated roots loose oxygen and plants suffocate. When the runoff is finished wreaking havoc outdoors, it often heads for your cellar next, running in through cracks or leaks in the foundation, where it can warp floorboards, rust appliances and turn finished rooms into mildewed messes.”
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that a properly designed and maintained home drainage system can go a long way toward mitigating these risks, directing water safely away from the home before it can do any lasting damage. Here are three key areas to address to ensure safe, effective drainage at your home or business.
As incredible as it may seem, not every structure has gutters installed along the roofline to collect rainwater and snowmelt from above and direct it away from the foundation. This situation allows water to run straight off the roof and collect around the base of the home, creating the perfect environment for seepage.
Properly installed—and maintained—gutters are key to any successful residential drainage installation. In addition to regular cleanings to remove leaf debris and other blockages, gutters need to be of sufficient size to collect all of the water that lands on the roof and direct it to the downspouts without overflowing.
Also, regularly inspect the roof for worn or missing shingles, as well as damaged metal flashing at the joints, all of which can allow water into the home.
Once at ground level, effective downspouts should include sloped extensions that direct water at least 10’ away from the home’s foundation to prevent it from leaking back into the structure.
If the downspouts dump directly into a catch basin, water should be directed away via a solid drainpipe to either a buried well—where the water can seep into the ground naturally and safely—or off the property to the municipal drainage system.
Make sure the ground around the home slopes away from the walls to prevent water from pooling along the foundation, and move melting snow away from the area as well. The first 10’ of ground closest to the home should slope down by at least six inches.
One way to do this is with hardscaping, concrete that’s installed around the perimeter of the house that literally seals off the foundation from any water intrusion and directs it where it needs to go. This type of installation can be very effective, but it’s important to maintain any concrete, as cracks and wear can allow water to infiltrate the home and render the entire system worthless.
Another solution is to install a French drain, which uses stones, gravel and other natural materials to direct water away from a home’s foundation and outer walls. Simply dig a three-foot deep trench that will carry water away from the area you need to drain, and install a perforated drain line at the bottom to gather the water. Top the drain with gravel and loose topsoil and connect the line to a collection pipe or runoff trench where the water can seep into the ground safely.
In addition to the yard’s topography (i.e. the slope) and overall drainage system, there may be natural forces at play on poorly draining properties. In fact, in some cases, the makeup of the soil itself is preventing water from draining away from the home properly.
Sandy soils and those with high organic contents tend to promote lawn drainage, whereas clay soils are less permeable and can cause water buildup. This can be corrected by planting clay-friendly ground covers that will, over time, break down and change the nature of the soil. There are also chemical soil treatment additives that can accomplish this same task in less time.
The plantings in your yard make a difference in drainage performance as well.
Traditional grass turf isn’t great for drainage, but some plants—including small trees, shrubs and some groundcovers—thrive on water and drink up a lot of it. This helps the yard divert excess water naturally without overwhelming the drainage system.
Xeriscaping is another solution. Made up of landscaping plants that are designed to reduce or completely eliminate the need for supplemental irrigation, xeriscaped yards can also be designed to promoted surface level drainage as well, incorporating stone ditches, pervious materials and elements that allow water to run off safely.