Different Types Of Drainage Systems: Which One Is Best?

If you are like me I knew I needed a yard drainage system, my problem was which one to get. I spent some time researching all of the different types which is the first step to figuring out which one is best for you.

There are four different types of drainage systems are Surface, Subsurface, Slope, and Downspout or Gutter Drains. The best drainage system for your home depends on multiple factors to include where the water is coming from, where it naturally drains to, how much water there is, and many others.

Knowing the types of drainage systems is the first part of the battle. Finding out which one is best for you is entirely different and demands good research before you put time and money into it. Below we will cover all of the major types of drainage systems and delve into what some of the benefits of each type might be.

Surface Drainage Systems

Surface drainage systems involve removing excess water over the surface of the land and generally this is accomplished with the use of ditches or series of constructed drains. The land may be graded to assist in channeling this excess water to these areas. This method is most commonly used in large scale or farming applications due to its cost effectiveness. This is however at the cost of looks and usability of the land.

If you are concerned with draining water in your garden beds than check out this article where we talk about the best tool for garden bed drainage.

Residential application is less common, however can still be useful. There are some things that need to be considered prior to utilizing surface drainage as a viable means of water reduction.

  • Type of soil
  • Grade of your lawn
  • Vegetation on your lawn
  • Where can you drain too?

When considering the list above it is easy to breeze over one of these points, however if you do than it may make any drainage system you set up a bigger problem than it was to begin with. Soil that easily erodes away can cause a growing trench in your yard which can be a hazard to people or animals that may traverse it. If your land is often traversed than consider if possibly a fence or some natural barrier can solve this problem. A dry creek bed made with stone is a particularly beautiful way of directing water run off and making it a beautiful low maintenance addition to your lawn.

Dry Creek Bed courtesy of Fred Ortlip

The grade of your lawn could be the biggest cost or consumption of your time. A bumpy lawn may take a significant amount of time to level. Digging up all of the sod on your lawn to move the dirt underneath is quite a chore. If your considering this option here is a helpful guide to leveling your lawn and will give you some things to consider before jumping head first. Remember your lawn has to have an angle(or grade) to it. This can be combined with a another drainage system that uses the natural grade of the lawn to move the water quickly away(such as a trench drain)

Vegetation can help to hold the soil in place. Plants dig deep for their roots and can hold significant portions of the earth, but if their roots are near pooling water it may be more detrimental to them than helpful. It may even be helpful to plant bushes or a particular type of grass that holds firm and will not allow the earth beneath it to quickly erode away while at the same time slowing the flow or water and absorbing it a little. A swale utilizes this concept as well as a shallow ditch while adding a nice aesthetic touch.

Where will the water drain too is a question you have to ask. Are you just going to create a bigger problem for yourself or can you direct the water to an area that already drains well? Perhaps combing this method along with an installed subsurface drain will be the perfect answer you seek.

Subsurface Drainage Systems

French Drain. Image Credit LDHP Cynthia J Steward.

Subsurface drainage systems remove the water from the area directly beneath the plants by allowing it to rapidly drain lower in the water table. This can either be done by digging very deep trenches and allowing them to stay open or by installing pipes into ground and various fillers prior to covering it back up. The ladder is a significantly more practical use in suburban environments and allows for more traffic across it.

Lets consider the more common and more useful of the two where you bury pipes made out of clay, concrete, or corrugated plastics. A french drain is a perfect example of this type of drainage system. It can be a beast to install, and you have to make sure you are using high quality products because they will certain be taking a beating over time. Below you will find general guidelines to installing this type of drainage system. This is by no means an all inclusive guide, and if you have a lot of questions than please contact a professional.

When you dig deep into your lawn it can potential hit service lines which can cause massive damage both to your home as well as your wallet. Check out this article that gives an easy way to determine how deep you can actually dig.

  • Determine the design and mark you layout. (Remember the grade of your lawn)
  • Dig the trench. It should be a minimum of 18 in deep, be large enough to fill stone around your piping, and have a slight grade to allow the water to naturally flow to the outlet.
  • Line the trench with a fabric to preclude dirt, roots and other things that may slow the drainage.
  • Pour and compact gravel into the bottom, remember the grade!
  • Place your piping with holes at least every 6 inches facing down. This can be drainage hose, PVC pipe, or something else. Make sure it will last the test of time…and water.
  • Cover with gravel and filter fabric rapping it around the gravel just below the ground level.
  • Backfill topsoil onto your trench mounding it slightly to allow for natural compression.

Again, this is not a complete guide and if you want a step by step guide look here. To get a professional installation you are looking at between $1,000 and $2,000(depending on the length), but getting the materials and doing it yourself can be somewhere in the ballpark of a few hundred dollars for a small one too a little under a thousand for larger yards.

Slope Drainage Systems

Slope drainage systems are used to protect slopes from eroding away by concentrating the runoff at the top of the slope and using a pipe to transport it to the bottom. By using a natural low point at the top or installing another drainage system there you can direct the water to a flared opening that will allow the water to enter and rapidly move down to the bottom or be redirected to a pond or river elsewhere.

While it is not often to see residential applications this can be a good solution for directing water away from a retaining wall that may suffer damage if left to hold back the increasing weight of water soaked soil. If installed slightly beneath the surface in a steep sloped yard it could save it from only getting steeper. This method can also be combined with another subsurface drain to bring water to a lower point or direct the flow to a street storm drain.

Downspout And Gutter Drainage Systems

This drainage system is pretty specific to man made structures and conveniently your home probably already has one. This can, however, be the cause of your problem rather than the solution. If you have ever seen water rushing off of your roof passing the gutter, a mud pit or eroding soil at the exit of your down spout, or worst case scenario water coming from behind your houses external wall. These are common problems, but don’t worry that means that they have common solutions.

If you see large amounts of water leaving your roof at odd places or your gutter just doesn’t have any water coming out of it you could have pretty bad clogging in your gutters. Adding a gutter filtration system could solve this problem, but it could just mean that you need to spend a Sunday afternoon on a ladder cleaning it out. If not, having someone come to to do it after every fall could be all of the answer you need.

Mud pits or rivers flowing down your yard could be solved using a similar concept from the slope drain system by extending your downspout. Your house is clearly collecting the water, you just need to add that tunnel that will direct it right past your lawn onto the street next to the storm drain. It would get there eventually, but you are just making sure it does not take your yard with it.

If you want to extend your downspout but avoid the ugly look that it may have for your home than check out this article that talks about it.

Which One Is Best For You?

Lets again ask yourself some questions.

  • Does my lawn already have a grade?
  • What type of budget do I have?
  • How much does my property actually get traversed?
  • Could it be a safety risk?
  • Do I care what my drainage system looks like?

There are a lot more questions to ask, but these will get you started. Narrowing down which type is for you can be hard if you don’t know what they are, but hopefully now you are no longer asking what your options are. It really does depend on your situation and property.

What you can say though is that for most common suburban applications some type of subsurface drain like a french drain is safe and sometimes you can’t even tell it is there. If your closer to the budget friendly options than making a swale or dry creek bed can be a good option. Lastly, you don’t want your own home to be the cause of your problems so extending your gutters downspouts either above or below ground reliving to the street can be a quick solution.

Manny Moore

Getting my hands dirty and building a place that me and my small family love is a driving factor for what I do and how I do it. I want to share what I have learned and practiced so that it is just that much easier for everyone to have another tool in their tool belt. Your home should be a place that you love and feel comfortable in and your backyard should be no different.

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