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French Drain Installation: 5 Steps to Prevent a Flooded Yard

Kaitlyn Pacheco
Written by Kaitlyn Pacheco
Updated November 18, 2021
a flooded backyard

Kokhan O - stock.adobe.com

Fancy name, simple solution—stop your yard from flooding for good

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Considering French drain installation? If your yard becomes a mini lake every spring, you're in the right place. This exterior drain helps redirect water from a low-lying area to another location, eliminating the need for you to pull on waders just to get to the backyard shed (for more on how this works, check out What Is a French Drain). 

An interior French drain can also be installed in a basement to help prevent flooding there. Both exterior and interior drains are great at preventing potentially expensive water damage to your home. 

However, this guide focuses on how to install an exterior French drain. Interior drains require significant drilling through the concrete floor of your basement, so it’s best to hire a local professional pipe installer for that project.

Difficulty: Medium (3/5) 

French drain installation is not a complicated job, but it does require some tough manual labor in the form of digging a trench. 

Total Project Time: 1–3 days 

The more DIY experience you have, the quicker you can get the job done. Project time will vary depending on the complexity of your landscaping and the length of the piping system you will need. 

Cost: $30–$100 per linear foot

The cost to install a French drain will depend on how much area you need to cover, which will determine the amount of piping you will need. 

Tools

  • Shovel, trenching hoe, or trencher

  • Drill gun and bit (optional, only if you pick PVC piping)

  • Bucket or temporary drain cover

Materials

  • Spray paint or marking flags

  • Landscaping fabric

  • Gravel

  • Inlet grate

  • Piping (either flexible piping or PVC piping)

  • Topsoil

  • Landscaping rocks (optional)

  • Grass seed (optional)

Where to Install a French Drain

The first step to installing an exterior French drain is laying out the path you would like to place the drains. Your starting point will be in the center of the area that experiences flooding. From there, determine where you would like the excess water to drain (e.g. another body of water, the road, etc.). Mark this path using spray paint or marking flags. 

Before you begin to dig, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Direct pipes toward an elevation lower than the area you are trying to drain.

  • Don’t drain onto a neighboring property.

  • Check with the local zoning office to avoid utility lines and existing pipes. Call 811 to have someone come out and mark all buried utilities. 

How to Choose French Drain Piping

If your route is curved and uneven, use flexible piping. However, if it’s a straight route, PVC pipe is the most durable and long-lasting option. If you choose PVC, drill drainage holes every 6 inches along the length of the pipe. 

How to Install a French Drain

Follow these simple steps to install an exterior French drain in your yard. 

1. Dig a Trench

Once you have a path laid out and clearance from zoning, it’s time to start digging. For shorter distances, digging by hand with a shovel or trenching hoe will work just fine. For longer distances, you may want to consider renting a trencher to get the job done quickly. 

Aim to keep the trench between 15 and 18 inches deep and between 10 and 15 inches wide. 

2. Line the Trench

Next, line the trench you just created with landscaping fabric to keep out weeds and roots. You’ll want to leave at least 10 inches of excess fabric on both sides of the trench (you’ll be covering the piping with it later). 

Finish this step by laying a bed of gravel in the bottom of the trench—about 2 to 3 inches will do. 

3. Lay and Connect Piping

Start this step by placing your inlet grate at the top of the trench—which should be in the center of your most flooded area. 

Attach your first round of piping to the inlet grate. Continue attaching pipes together until you have reached the end of the trench (your draining point). 

4. Test the Drain

Once all the pipes are connected, it’s time to make sure water moves through it properly. Pour water down the inlet grate to test the drain. You may need a second hand here—one person to pour water and another to monitor the other end of the drain. 

5. Cover the Trench

If the test works, fill the trench with gravel until the pipes are covered. Wrap the excess landscaping fabric over the piping and gravel. Cover the trench with topsoil and pat it flat. Reseed the area if you desire. You can also cover it with more gravel or landscaping stone.

Be sure to use a bucket or temporary cover over top of the inlet grate to keep dirt and stones from getting in and clogging it while you fill the trench. 

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