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French Drain Installation: Common Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

French Drain Hero

When you hear the word “French”, you might think of culturally sophisticated foods, fashion, and art, but when it comes to French drains, you’re really only dealing with a trench in the ground — right? Maybe not. Installation of a French drain is a functionally comprehensible form of irrigation, but it can be technically confusing to install. When executed correctly, however, this landscaping feature will immensely improve your yard drainage, preserving structural integrity of foundations and the overall health of your lawn for years to come.

Many homeowners decide to try to install their own French drain, and while it can be done, it’s not always done well. There are common mistakes DIYers run into during this irrigation process, but knowing which mistakes to look for can set you up for a greater likelihood of success. Read on to learn more about French drain installation, and be sure to contact Twelve Oaks Landscape Co. for more valuable information on irrigation and drainage solutions for properties in the Eastern Alabama region. 


A Brief & Humorous History of the French Drain

The design of a French drain is simple but sophisticated, and although its name seemingly alludes to the verdant countryside of France, it actually may have been invented by an American named Henry Flagg French in the mid-1800s! More important than the humorous history behind its creation, a French drain is an effective irrigation solution for yards of all kinds, especially those that have to accommodate the heavy rainfall and humidity of climates in the Deep South region. 



What Is A French Drain? Why Install One For Your Lawn?

You may be surprised to learn that a French drain is little more than a trench dug into the ground, which is then filled with rocks or gravel. That’s right: this “drain” doesn’t feature any European stainless steel fixtures or filtered water!

A French drain works thanks to the indented structure of the ditch combined with a perforated cover of stones and a drainage pipe. The way it conducts water flow relieves pressure from the ground and redirects excess water away from the yard and foundation of any nearby structures or property foundations. 



French Drain Installation Mistakes

Now that you understand the basic function and structure of a French drainage system, it’s time to tackle the most common problems and mistakes that can be encountered during its construction and installation. 


Mistake 1: Digging Blindly

Before you break out the shovel and start digging, you’ll need to make a phone call. If your property has any water, electrical, or gas lines buried underground — and it definitely does! — be sure to make a phone call to 811, the national “call-before-you-dig” number. Since your French drain will likely span between 2 to 8 inches down into the ground, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter some pipes or lines along the way. Avoid unnecessary repair costs and property damage with a quick call, then move on to make sure you’re not committing Mistake #2!


Mistake 2: Using The Wrong Pipes

There are several viable options when it comes to selecting drainage pipes for your irrigation plot, but no matter which one you choose, be sure that it’s perforated and made from plastic. Any kind of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe is a great option because it is malleable and perforated with miniscule holes rather than slits; the former is easy to clean and clogs less easily, whereas the latter is inefficient and nearly impossible to rid of built-up dirt and debris. There may be an overwhelming assortment of pipes at your local hardware or home improvement store, but so long as you find one that’s an appropriate size with smooth, rigid walls and semipermeable PVC, the fruits of your labor won’t get flushed down the drain. 


Mistake 3: Installing Drain Holes In The Wrong Direction

Many people assume that drain holes should be facing 180 degrees away from the foundation of the house and therefore pointing in a horizontal direction. In actuality, you always want the holes of your French drain’s pipes to be pointing downward and towards the soil. This may sound counterintuitive, but keep in mind that a horizontally laid pipe will filter out water less quickly than one with gravity on its side. So long as you keep drain contents as low as possible and point them in the proper ground-facing direction, you’ll likely avoid any overflow issues.



Mistake 4: Selecting The Wrong Stones

The stones you use for your French drain have a crucial influence on the efficacy of the build, whether they’re a form of coarse gravel or a large and tightly packed mound of masonry. When you go to shop for your drainage rock, note the difference between base stone and clear stone. Base stone is typically rougher and dustier, as it has not been washed or treated in advance. Clear stone has been rinsed and cleansed of the fine dust particles produced from quarrying and stone-crushing processes. 

Why does a bit of dust matter? It’s more than an aesthetic issue. Fine dust particles, if used in your French drain system, will eventually be rinsed in the drain itself, causing the bits of debris to empty into your PVC pipes and clog them. Over time, the abrasive texture of the dust particles may damage or compromise the structural integrity of your pipes’ plastic coating, increasing the likelihood of breaks, cracks, and bursts in the future. 


Mistake 5: Not Hiring Professional Help

It’s understandable that many homeowners take pride in their DIY abilities, but there are certain projects that can benefit immensely from a bit of professional help. Whether you just need advice on selecting the right drainage pipe and stones or you need major modifications made to your landscape and retaining walls, a professional landscape management and construction crew is the way to go. 



Twelve Oaks Landscape Co. services cities across Eastern Alabama, as well as areas in Georgia and Tennessee. So whether you’re in Chattanooga or Madison County, we’ll help you avoid these French drain installation mistakes and ensure that your irrigation systems are never a problem, just a solution. Still wondering “Why Twelve Oaks?” Simply contact us today to learn more!

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