How to Fix Water Drainage Problems in a Yard

May 27, 2018

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If you’re a homeowner, it’s vital that you address any water drainage problems in your yard as quickly as possible, as improper drainage can mean damage to a home’s foundation. This leads to cracks in the foundation, water leaks, a flooded basement, and even mold in the home.

Water drainage problems in a yard can be addressed with underground trenches, above-ground trenches, better grading of the property, or even with certain plants and vegetation.

To better understand how to fix water drainage problems in your yard, it’s good to consider how and why most drainage problems occur in the first place. It’s also good to consider why poor drainage is such a serious problem, so you know the importance of addressing this problem on your property!​

water drainage problems in a yard

Why you need to install a drainage system in your yard

If you’re not a landscaper or structural engineer, you may not realize why a residential yard needs good drainage! You also may not realize how improper drainage of your property can mean damage to a home itself, as well as to a garage, shed, and other such outbuildings.

Note what water puddles or overly moist soil might mean for your property:

  • Standing water often attracts mosquitoes and pests that are looking for a water source. This includes rodents and termites who might then make their way to your home itself.
  • Overly moist soil and standing water encourage the growth of fungus and other diseases that kill your lawn and even mature trees on your property.
  • Moist soil does not provide a good base for foundations, even for smaller structures, so a shed, barn, garage, or other such outbuilding may begin to shift and settle.
  • Concrete surfaces and patio pavers may shift and move when placed on soft, moist soil, causing them to crack or chip.
  • Moisture in soil can put pressure on a buried water tank or an in-ground pool, also leading to cracks and other such damage.

While all of these problems can be an annoyance and result in some costly fixes, the biggest concern for a homeowner with poor drainage on their property is the damage it can do to a home’s foundation. When moisture collects and sits next to a concrete foundation, this can soften and weaken the material, and allow cracks to form.

When a home’s foundation is soft and cracked, the home may then settle and shift. This can lead to cracks along interior walls, floors, and ceilings, and along the home’s exterior building materials, including brick and aluminum siding.

These cracks are not just unsightly; they allow in cold air during wintertime and warm air during summer months, increasing your utility bills. They can also be used as a means of access for insects and rodents, and other unwelcome pests!

Your home’s exterior walls and foundation also need to be solid and in good repair to protect the home from outside humidity. Too much humidity in the home increases the risk of mold developing, which is very hazardous to your health, and very costly to clean!

All of these are reasons why a homeowner should fix water drainage problems in their yard, as soon as they know their property has drainage issues.​

water drainage problems in yard

Common reasons for landscape drainage problems

If you understand the reasons for common landscape drainage problems, you might better understand how to fix these problems on your property! Note a few of those reasons here:

  • If a home’s gutters are clogged or undersized, water will run over their sides and flood your lawn. If gutters have pulled away from roof eaves, this will allow rainwater to run off the roof and behind the gutters, also flooding your lawn and property.
  • Poor elevation at the foundation is another reason for landscape drainage problems. Simply put, your home’s foundation should be slightly elevated, so that water will run downhill and away from the home, into a gutter, alley, or street.
  • Not placing certain plants far enough from the home, or placing them in the way of water runoff, can allow your property’s soil to hold water and moisture. Oversized landscaping features, such as heavy stones or border walls, can also block proper water runoff.
  • Paved surfaces and underground structures, such as built-in pools or septic tanks, can cause the property’s soil to hold moisture rather than drain away.
  • A homeowner doing their own excavating work often results in soil drainage problems. If you dig a spot for a new garden or underground water tank, for example, you might compact the soil too much, so that it then holds water. You might also fail to properly grade the soil when you fill in excavated areas yourself.
  • An outbuilding like a shed or detached garage can create a type of dam on your property, so that water and moisture get trapped. These types of structures should be carefully planned so that they’re not in the way of proper drainage.

How to fix water drainage problems in a yard

Now that you know a little bit about common reasons for drainage problems in a yard, note how to pinpoint why your yard may have drainage issues, and how this can be addressed.

If you notice that your home has water stains on the outside walls, or if you see sheets of water running over the gutters when it rains, have those gutters checked for needed repair or replacement. Leaf guards can also keep gutters free of debris, so they aren’t as likely to clog.

If there are water puddle around the home’s downspouts, you might need extenders or trenches. These pieces sit at the end of a downspout and help to direct water away from the home and yard, and into the street or a nearby gutter. You can buy these extenders yourself and simply place them at the end of your home’s downspouts.

A quick test to see if your property is sloped properly is to pour a bit of water on your home’s driveway, near the garage or house itself. Note if the water tends to run toward the street. If not, your property may need to be sloped or graded, and it’s often good to call a landscaper to handle this for you. They can add soil around the home itself and then press it down properly, creating a slope or grade that runs toward the street.

Underground trenches or drains can be added to a property. These are usually made with standard PVC pipe that is cut in half lengthwise, so that the pipe then becomes a type of trench. They then help direct moisture away from your home. Underground trenches can even help keep a landscaping feature watered, as they can be directed from the home to a nearby flowerbed, vegetable garden, and the like.​​

Yard drainage solutions you can do yourself

It’s typically best to rely on a professional landscaper or excavator to tackle drainage issues in your home’s yard, but there are a few solutions you might try yourself when it comes to keeping your yard’s drainage under control.

  • A swale is a type of dry creek or trench you can create yourself. Dig a very shallow trench from the home to the street or gutter, making it a bit deeper as you get nearer the street, so that it slopes downward. Line the swale with decorative river rocks so that it looks attractive, and it should then direct water away from your home.
  • A rain garden is a collection of plants that need large amounts of water, and which can be planted in areas of standing water on your lawn. Use iris, aster, a variety of lilies, and foxglove plants and flowers in a rain garden.
  • If you notice that your home’s concrete or stone walkways seem to shift out of position and often crack or chip, they may be blocking water from running away from the home. A simple DIY solution is to remove a few sections of these walkways and replace them with river rocks or gravel. Rocks will allow more moisture to drain away than solid concrete or stone, so that water doesn’t get trapped behind those walkways.​

Mistakes to avoid when installing a drainage system in your yard

If you’re thinking of trying any of these DIY drainage solutions for your yard, you might first note some mistakes to avoid. This will ensure your chosen solutions works as expected, and that you don’t actually do more damage than good when trying to address drainage issues on your property!

  • When planting a rain garden, be sure to use flowers and plants that are native to your area, and which will easily bloom in your standard climate. Don’t assume that any marshy plant or flower that needs added moisture will grow and thrive, as you still need to consider your yard’s sun exposure, the climate in your area, and so on.
  • If you add extensions to your home’s downspouts, be sure they’re long enough to sit flat on the soil, and don’t simply point these at the ground. Pointing extenders at the ground can mean allowing rainwater to simply pool or get absorbed in that area, rather having it run along the ground and into the street or gutter.
  • Never dig any large trenches or ditches in your yard to address drainage problems; always start with something small, and then monitor the condition of your property’s soil over a few weeks and even months. If a smaller trench or swale doesn’t address your yard’s drainage issue, you might widen that trench, but remember that large excavations can cause soil runoff and drain away too much moisture, so that your lawn and landscaping then begin to wither.​

What not to do when trying to fix water drainage problems in a yard

To avoid as many mistakes as possible when trying to fix water drainage problems in a yard yourself, you might note a few things to avoid altogether, to protect your home and your property:

  • Never try to install new gutters yourself, as this requires a bit of skill and knowhow. Like your property, gutters actually need to be angled slightly, so that water runs to the home’s downspouts. Gutters also need a certain number and type of connector, so the weight of water doesn’t cause those gutters to fall away from the home’s roof. To ensure your new gutters are the right size and type for your home, and are installed properly, leave this job to a professional.
  • It’s also good to leave the installation of any underground pipes to a professional. Burying pipes too deep and not adding the right aggregate base to the trench that’s dug can allow the pipes to eventually sink and come out of position. Not installing enough pipes or not installing them at a proper angle can also mean simply moving standing water or moisture problems from one area of your property to another! Avoid these risks by calling a professional excavator to handle any underground installation job.
  • Never install a rain garden over a septic tank or underground water tank. If your home has standing water or too much moisture in these areas, this often means the tank is leaking! Have this equipment inspected for needed repairs before you plant anything over it, and avoid adding plantings that would restrict access to these tanks for when they need to be cleaned or repaired.
  • Always ensure that you direct water runoff to the street or a gutter, and never to a neighboring property, as you may then be financially responsible for any water damage their home suffers because of your DIY drainage solutions. If you want to direct moisture to a garden or landscaping feature on your property rather than the street, it can be good to leave this to a professional excavator. He or she can then ensure that underground moisture goes where it’s intended, and doesn’t get directed to any neighboring properties.
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