correcting french drain installation mistakes

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    • #279426

      My husband and I are installing a French drain in our back yard to solve flooding problems due to runoff that naturally flows from two of our neighbors’ properties, across our back yard, to a large natural drainage ditch in a back corner of our property. This runoff eventually flows into a culvert and then into a large creek.
      We have already made several mistakes in installation and don’t know how to correct them without it costing us alot more money, time and labor. We could use some help.
      Our first mistake was using a trencher instead of a backhoe which dug a 4 inch wide, 3 foot deep, 500 foot long trench. The trench does have excellent slope. However, the 4 inch wide perforated PVC pipe we purchased is a tight fit. We realized after the trench was dug that we should have rented a backhoe that would have dug a wider trench. But we thought we could make it work.
      Our second mistake was installing the first 100 feet of pipe incorrectly. We laid the pipe in the trench (no stone or filter fabric under it), laid Weed Block fabric on top of the pipe, and filled the fabric with about 6 inches of stone, folded the fabric over the top of the stone, then covered with topsoil.
      We know now that we should have laid the fabric in the trench first, then a couple inches of stone, then the pipe, then the 6 inches of stone. Hindsight is 20/20.
      But where do we proceed from here? We still have 400 feet to go.
      Are our mistakes critical enough to warrant starting all over again with a backhoe? Or should we just redo the first 100 feet, making sure we install the pipe correctly? Or should we just leave the first 100 feet as is and make sure we do the remaining 400 feet the correct way?
      I’m concerned the first 100 feet of pipe we installed incorrectly will clog with clay sediment, yet I have also read about French drains that don’t even use pipe, only the crushed stone. How effective would the six inch layer of gravel alone be in draining runoff if the first 100 feet of pipe under it becomes clogged? Any help would be appreciated. Thank you

    • #300831

      It’s time to call a licensed plumber that does this type of work and have them install it right.

      The money you paid out is called stupid tax by a radio show I listen to, so don’t pay any more money out for somthing that could ending up costing more with nothing to show for all your work.

    • #300832

      LOL Stupid tax. That is the first time I have ever heard that phrase, and I will be sure to use it in the near future too.

      I would follow the advice of the call to a plumber


      Take everything back out, rent the ditch witch again and ask if they have teeth that you can install ( maybe 12 ) to cut a slightly larger swath down the existing ditch you have. This will give you the ample space and ability to correctly install the piping.

      The backhoe would of been my first choice in digging. Trenchers are good for gas, water, and electric services, and thats about it.

    • #300833

      Take everything back out, rent the ditch witch again and ask if they have teeth that you can install ( maybe 12 ) to cut a slightly larger swath down the existing ditch you have. This will give you the ample space and ability to correctly install the piping.

      This was the main problem: In order for the French Drain to work the drain pipe must be surrounded by a fair amount of gravel and must be properly protected by the mesh fabric, and of course everything has to be properly sloped… It’s really not intellectually difficult to understand the principles, but you’ve got to know what you are doing when you undertake this kind of job. Still, as you’ve learned, mistakes are costly, and if you DIY this job, the main problem is the backbreaking trench work. It’s really cheaper to contract with a plumbing outfit that does this kind of work. If you want to bust your back doing it yourself, and thereby save a few bucks I’d advise you to pay a professional to evaluate your lot and tell you exactly what you need to do. Some might be willing to provide this advice for a couple of hundred bucks.

      There really are limits to this DIY phenomenon. zyou should know that even plumbers call in other plumbers to do jobs on their own houses. A couple of years ago I had a failure in my 75 year-old clay pipe building sewer. I knew exactly what the problem was and I could have fixed it myself by digging a 90 foot trench six feet deep and removing the pipe and replacing it with cast-iron and making the three tie-ins to the building drains.

      However, I did the calculations: the cost of materials and mostly the cost of my time and the backbreaking physical work (the trench would have to be dug by hand given my proximity to my nrighbor on the side of the house where the sewer was), and I concluded that a trenchless sewer outfit could do the job better and with less effort for a price that I was willing to pay (about $7000). I figured I could do the job myself for about $2000 in materials and I would have “saved” $5000. Except that I would have made a huge mess on my property and would have spent about a week or so busting my back rather than earning my living. I gladly had the trenchless sewer guys come in and do the job.


    • #300834

      Dear Plumbill, Dunbar, and NickthePlumber,
      Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my drainage dilemma!
      I had never heard of “stupid tax” before, either, but I like the expression! (It made me laugh) I guess all of us diehard DIYers risk paying “stupid tax” every time we forge ahead with a project we hope to save a few dollars on.
      In the past my husband and I have completed many DIY projects and have been lucky that we have not had to pay alot of “stupid tax.”
      We spent 13 years renovating a handyman special century home – doing all of the work ourselves except the masonry, including drywall, painting, wallpapering, roofing, siding, window installation, insulating, landscaping and minor electrical, plumbing and heating. The sweat equity enabled us to sell the home for a healthy profit. In 1998, we contracted to have a 2400 sq. ft. house built but opted to do the lot clearing, painting, wallpapering,varnishing, and landscaping as well as deck building, ourselves. We also bought all of the plumbing and lighting fixtures and Kraftmaid kitchen cabinets ourselves at sale prices. The sweat equity saved us thousands of dollars and allowed us to come under budget without sacrificing some of the “luxury” features we wanted in the home.
      Our DIY attitude comes from our 2 sets of parents who grew up during the Depression. There was no money to hire professionals – if you didn’t do it yourself, it didn’t get done. A “penny saved, is a penny earned” attitude is a hard one to lose!
      Being DIYers, though, I guess we were bound to get hit with “stupid tax” sooner or later. Who knew it would be a drainage project? After all, how hard could it be to dig a ditch and throw a drain pipe in!!?? – SO WE THOUGHT!!!
      We knew the drain needed slope and we knew we had plenty of that, but beyond that ,we didn’t think there was much more to it that gravity couldn’t handle. Little did we know how “technical” the installation needed to be. (My husband asks, “How is it farmers install miles of drainage pipe and don’t use stone or fabric?”)
      He still would like to know the answer to that question but in the meantime we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we will have to pay our “stupid tax” – the cost of which is more in sweat equity (sore arms, back and legs) than in supply costs -and move on.
      Believe it or not, we really do believe in doing things right the first time – we just didn’t take the time to research this project the way we should have before we tried to tackle it.
      At this posting, we still aren’t sure which direction we will go from here – I say we cross plumbing off our DIY list of activities and pay the professional because the “stupid tax” risk is too high. My husband likes the idea of starting over with the backhoe (what a diehard!) and installing the pipe the right way this time.
      In the meantime, as the soreness works out of my muscles, I am enjoying the bullfrog family that has taken up residence in our trenches!!!!
      Once again, thank you so much for your advice. Terry

    • #300835
      John Aldrich1

      demtam, perhaps the french drain is not the appropriate technology for diverting storm water run off from your yard. Consider installing a low, wide berm that is graded to divert the surface water into the culvert. Typically, french drains are utilized for collecting and diverting subsurface water and for lowering groundwater tables.

      » This message has been edited by John Aldrich on 10 October 2004

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