You’ve got some drainage issues around your home and are hoping that fixing them will improve your foundation problems. Maybe you want to prevent foundation problems with better drainage. Or perhaps you just have a swampy mess around your foundation that you need some help controlling.
Either way, you’re looking for some answers and guidance because that swampy mess in your yard is out of control.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, 35+ years of experience tell us that the relationship between your foundation and drainage is an important factor in foundation health. We know better than anyone that changes in moisture levels can affect your slab-on-grade or pier and beam foundation, and not in a good way . . .
This article will take you through 6 steps to work on *in order* to give the drainage system around your home some much-needed lovin’. Now, these steps might not fix your foundation issues or stop a foundation settlement, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have merits and importance for home maintenance.
6 Steps to Improve Drainage Around Your Foundation
Go through these six steps in the order listed below, and evaluate the results after each step for a while to see if your drainage woes can be alleviated.
In other words, you might not have to go through all six steps to improve the drainage situation around your home. Try one, and then wait and watch. There’s no sense in taking the time and money to *do it all* if it’s only necessary to do a few. Look . . . I’m saving you money already!
Speaking of time and money, another thing to consider is that each of these steps will both take time to accomplish and cost you some scratch. Handling drainage issues is a long, slow row to hoe. So take your time and be patient, because there is not always a quick *snap your fingers* fix to this kind of problem.
1. Install or Improve Your Gutter Situation
Gutters serve several functions for your home’s “living system.” Gutters keep water coming off of your roof from concentrating in one spot causing a hole to form. Gutters keep water from dripping off the edge of the roof and creating an unsightly grassless gully around the edges of your home. They keep water from dripping onto people as they enter or exit your home.
Gutters also keep your foundation from getting exposed to too much water, IF they are installed and working right. They can also have the opposite effect and cause problems if they are not installed right or working properly.
Why Gutters Are Important for Your Foundation
Why are gutters important for your foundation anyway? Good question. Keeping standing water away from the edge of your home minimizes the expansiveness of the clay soil and its impact on the structure of your home. The expansive clay soil that we commonly have here in Texas can increase in volume by up to 10% when wet.
Exposing your home to the strong forces of expanding soil every time it rains will weaken the structure of your home over time. It’s kind of like bending a paperclip repeatedly. The first time you bend it, it’s fine and it can bend back into place. But bend it back and forth over and over again and what happens? It weakens and eventually breaks.
Keeping your slab away from these expansive forces that can weaken your home’s structure will minimize opportunities for foundation problems. This is doubly true for pier and beam homes and other crawl space foundation types that we have in the area.
Soil expansion can happen both on the edge of the home as well as underneath the home with crawl space foundations. But the excess moisture and standing water are an even bigger concern than soil expansion for these foundation types.
Too much water and moisture in a crawl space create problems like mold and mildew under your home or wood damage that causes uneven, spongy, or bouncy floors.
If You Do NOT Have Gutters on Your Home
If you do not have gutters, this is the time to get some installed if you are experiencing standing water near the edge of your home that pools after rain and sticks around for a while before it *magically* goes away at some point.
The thing is that it isn’t magic, it slowly absorbs into the clay soil and the clay soil expands as it sucks in that water and can cause problems if it happens all the time.
If You DO Have Gutters
If you do have gutters, are they in good working order or are they gunked up with debris or not flowing properly?
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen gutters with weeds growing out of them and dirt weighing them down. Gutters don’t do any good if they are not flowing unobstructed. When they are weighed down with excess plant matter they can bend or separate and cause other water damage to your home.
Clean out your gutters (at least twice a year in spring and fall) and make sure they are pitched correctly to allow water to flow and not pool in the gutter. Don’t forget to allow time to evaluate how your gutter improvements have impacted your drainage issue. See how things are working before deciding if moving to the next step is needed.
2. Extend Downspouts to Protect Your Foundation
For some strange reason, when downspouts are installed with a gutter system they empty out too close to your foundation. I would say that the overwhelming majority of homes do not have downspouts draining far enough away for maximum foundation health.
Ideally, you want downspouts to let water out about 8 to 10 feet away from your house. This is pretty far and rarely do we see it done this way. But you want to keep that expansive clay soil from taking on excess water when it doesn’t have to. To avoid causing stress on your home and foundation, the downspouts should be extended.
Burying drain lines underground and connecting them to the curb or other drainage paths make it an invisible system that keeps your yard looking nice and your foundation and home free from standing water. Evaluate the system for a while before deciding if more drainage measures are needed.
3. Improve or Create Surface Drainage
Sometimes your drainage issues are not improved through gutters or downspouts, because the problem is not caused by water coming from the roof. Sometimes you need to improve drainage issues in other areas of your yard like uneven or improperly sloped ground or where larger concentrations of water tend to pool.
Regrading aka Resloping and Filling
Yards should be gently sloped away from your home and not have uneven spots where water can accumulate. Regrade the yard by bringing in new topsoil to return to a proper slope that moves water away from the home and fills in any unevenness or random holes.
Swales aka Ditches
A swale is another type of surface drainage that helps move larger amounts of water. A swale is basically a gentle ditch that is dug to foster heavier drainage in a certain area and move it downhill away from your home. You sometimes see these on roadsides where street gutters are not present. The same idea can be used in yards when appropriate to move water away from your home.
Catch basins are another “water mover” that can keep water from pooling where you don’t want it to. But instead of using the ground to naturally form a slope or ditch, a catch basin is an artificial item that is strategically placed in a key location to handle larger water volumes.
Catch basins installed to handle surface water drainage might look like a grate in the ground from above. Below the ground is a box, a larger “bowl” or basin that catches the water. Then, an underground pipe attaches to the basin that is connected to other drainage systems like your street gutter system.
4. Evaluate and Improve Drainage of Hardscape Surfaces
Maybe it’s not the roof or the ground that causes your water accumulation problems, maybe it’s your patio, sidewalk, or porch.
Look over all your hardscape surfaces including pavers, decks, and the others mentioned above. Do all of these surfaces properly slope away from your home and foundation? Or do some of these surfaces hold water or cause water to flow towards your home instead of away from it?
See what’s going on under your deck. Most homeowners don’t think about drainage under a deck because well . . . it’s out of sight. There could be some water accumulation problems going on under there that need remedies and have drainage problems similar to homes with crawl space foundations.
Don’t forget to watch, wait, and evaluate how each step of drainage solutions works before trying the next strategy. You don’t need to do everything listed in this article, only enough to fix your drainage problem.
5. Consider French Drains for Underground Drainage
French drains stealthily move water where you want it to go or help water move under or through an obstacle like a retaining wall.
These drains on the surface just look like gravel or a rock path, but under the rocks is a pipe with holes in the bottom that let water flow in. The pipe then guides the water downhill and away from your foundation to let out or it connects to another underground drainage system.
French drains sound simple, but they are highly complex, multi-layered systems to properly install and maintain. The drain must maintain an appropriate and continuous angle to facilitate water flow. French drains also have to be monitored for clogging. Since they are underground and made to be *invisible*, it’s hard to know when a french drain might start to have blockages.
We could seriously write a whole other article on french drains (maybe someday we will . . . ) but what we’re trying to say here is that french drains should not be taken lightly and we suggest using a professional to get help installing one properly if your yard situation could benefit from it.
6. The Sump Pump is Your Last Line of Defense *For Crawl Space Foundations Only*
After you have gone through all the other steps above and you still have a drainage problem, your last line of defense is a sump pump. Sump pumps are commonly used in basements, but can also help with under-home drainage issues in the case of crawl space foundations. They are capable of moving many gallons of water and prevent flooding situations.
A sump pump is a mechanical pump and basin that catches the water and pumps it out of your home or out from under your home. The “sump” in sump pump is the basin or pit or whatever is collecting the water. Not sure why it’s called a sump, but that’s a topic for another time . . .
The pumps are electrical machines so they depend on power. Some models have battery backups built-in to handle power outages, otherwise, you would buy a separate battery backup unit to use with your sump pump if it doesn’t come with one.
Why You Should Try Sump Pumps Last
All of the other solutions in items 1 through 5 were systems that try to “work with” gravity and the natural flow of water and divert it where you want it to go. This is why we suggest trying all the other strategies first, to see if you can work with the water naturally or without mechanical help.
But if none of the “natural” strategies works to take advantage of the flow of water and use it to get the water out, then the sump pump is your guy. A sump pump can move water where it doesn’t naturally want to go, like up and out of a deeper crawl space or from a place where it’s stuck and there are no alternatives to move it.
We could also write a whole other article just about sump pumps someday, but today is not that day . . .
Our main point here is that you should try other things first before a sump pump, that way you don’t have to buy and maintain some sort of machine that makes noise or could have other problems that mechanical things tend to have. But if you have exhausted all the other options and it’s the only way to get the water out, then it’s needed and you should do it.
Who Can Help Me With My Drainage Issues Anyway?
Now that you know what order to go through in working on drainage issues, you’re probably wondering who can help you with this stuff. Well, it ain’t us but we know some great contractors that do this work.
You can’t just have any ol’ dude with a lawnmower and a shovel who claims to be a *landscaper* do drainage work for you. Drainage is a complex world that also requires common sense applications. Professionals know how to take advantage of gravity and make things as low maintenance as possible for you as well. It’s best to call in an expert with so much to consider.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we work with a code of integrity and excellence in our services. Over our 35+ years in business, we have run across other contractors that share in our strong work ethic, and value putting you first.
We get asked for recommendations all the time for drainage contractors, so we put together a list of professionals that we know are up to the job. Check out the, “4 Best Contractors for Drainage Issues Around Your Home Foundation,” to see who’s on the list and ready to help you out.