In Ohio we have to Call Before You Dig (811 OUPS) and, yes, it is a free call. They will come out and mark your utilities so you can avoid them. Since a french drain is usually 12-16” deep, in most conditions Sewers should not be a problem. Gutter or downspout runoffs may be, manually dig around these and see where they run and how deep they go and paint the ground on top to mark them.
Next determine where you would like the water to go. Obviously away from the house is most desirable and since this is the goal the trench’s usually start at their shallowest closest to the house and get deeper as we get closer to our runoff area. The runoff area can take on many configurations. If you have a storm sewer in your backyard, like I did you can open a hole in the pipe or drain box and run your pipe right into that. It must be a STORM line and not a Sanitary line. We never want to direct rain water into the Sanitary line, because the water treatment plants get over burdened and then must bypass in times of large rains and allow the sewage into our lakes and streams. Remember “Storm Drains” for Rain and “Sanitary” drains for sewage.
Lets get our supplies ready, PVC pipe, I prefer schedule 40 because it is much stiffer and wont collapse under the weight of the gravel and dirt like the black pipe on the rolls. Measure from your wet areas to your target area where the water will end up. The PVC usually comes in 10’ pieces so buy accordingly, also get PVC cleaner and glue and two caps for the ends with holes if you can find them if not drill multiple 3/8” diameter holes in the caps before installing. You can also get a sweep “T” and put a yard drain in any of the areas along the way, just be careful not to go higher than the grass bed so the Mower does not hit it and get a good strainer cover for it, so water can go in but not dirt. Next you will need a roll of Pipe Sock. This is a porous continuous sock in 300’ rolls, designed to slip over the PVC pipe when it is put to together and all laid out but before installing it into the trench.
We also need a small Mini Excavator with an 8 or 10” bucket to dig our trenches. If you have less than 50’ just consider digging by hand. We will also need some washed gravel, i like a river rock type but you can use a less expensive limestone gravel, but make sure it is washed so the water can flow past it.
Step One: Lay out your trench, high ground to low, and remember when we dig our trench we have to provide “fall” for the water to run away from our wet area. This is accomplished by dropping the trench depth about one inch every ten foot. Remember if the yard slopes toward your target it wont be necessary to change the depth of your trench, the water will run naturally. Line your Mini Excavator up facing your wet area with the target behind you and you can start digging. Small buckets of material with each scoop and lay it next to the trench.
Step Two: Put gravel in the base of your trench about three to four inches deep the whole length from the wet area to the target drain area.
Step Three: Glue your PVC Pipe together HOLES FACING DOWN, Remember water will go into our trench and flood UP into the holes in the pipe flowing towards our target. If you are having any sweep T’s with a drain you can only sock up to it and then another piece from the bottom to the drain from our target end going back to the T.
Step Four: After our pipe is Glued and has been sitting for at least half an hour and we have put our sock over it and installed our ends it is ready for install. Place the pipe into our trench REMEMBER Holes Down. Use some gravel piled on top of parts of the pipe to hold it from falling over to keep it still. Once the pipe is all in, test the fall with a level on top of the pipe you should see a slight fall through the whole trench. If the fall is good you can cover the pipe up with gravel using a small hand tamper lightly tamping the gravel into place. IMPORTANT the GRAVEL goes all to the way to the top with just enough room for about an inch of soil BUT things are going to settle a bit which is why its important to tamp your grave. I also like to use the sock and cut it open so it is a sheet about 16” wide and lay it on top of the gravel the whole length of the trench before putting the soil on top. This stops the dirt from filtering down to our pipe bed which helps it stay clean and gives it a much longer life.
Step five: remove extra soil from the side of the trench, rake as much off the grass as you can with a stiff rake or even a smooth shovel. When the area is cleaned off and only your trench is a bit higher than your yard it can be seeded. Get good starter seed, and I like to add starter fertilizer and a bail of straw and cut the bail apart and shake the sections over your trench until it covers it enough so it can barely be seen. Water the trench every second day for a month or so. I would rake the straw off now and throw it away or use it as compost for the garden.
Your Done, after abut two months you will have a fully functional French Drain, and after about four months. While you have the machine on rent you may want to dig a hole for a new tree also or a stone patio or dig out some smaller stumps.
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