How-to: Making and executing a drainage plan

by April Fortner

Hiring a professional to make and execute a drainage plan can be costly ($2,000-$4,000)! However, with some elbow grease and a little math, you can do it yourself for much less ($200-$500) and maybe even avoid some mistakes that they might have made. Here is how we did it ourselves.

The first thing to do is determine if there is enough slope on your property for it to drain with gravity. The contractors we got bids from forgot this important step. There was already an ineffective drainage system in place, but there wasn’t enough slope for it to work. You will need an inch down for every four feet of distance from where you want to drain (say, the backyard) to where you want the water to go (perhaps the street). Drive a stake into the high point and the low point, with a level string in between to measure the difference in height. If you have enough slope, you will want a 4-inch drain pipe at least 3 inches underground, perforated at the top and covered in coarse gravel where the water problem exists. Make sure the level bar shows it sloping down all along the trench you dig for the pipe.

If you don’t have enough slope, start by digging a hole (2 feet in diameter, 2 feet down) where the water collects and fill it in with coarse gravel. This by itself might solve your problem, and it has taken care of mud puddles for us in the past.

However, here we are plagued by serious clay and occasional flooding of our house, so this measure was insufficient. We dug a giant trench (by hand — it saves on a gym membership) to remove as much clay behind the house as possible. This exposed the footing and got the soil and water away from our house and also gave the water a place to collect by sloping it away from the foundation. We filled the pit with gravel. This seemed to work until we had a week of heavy rain.

When the laundry room flooded, it became apparent that we needed something else to remove the water from the backyard. We bought a 10-gallon bucket, perforated it with 1/4-inch drill bit and made a circular hole in the top. Then, we inserted a sump pump, burying it in the gravel and plugging it into the side of the house. Next, we installed a series of PVC pipes from the pump to the sloped driveway (buried about 2 inches underground, but coming up at the end) using a foot valve near the pump to prevent back-flow. We may need to remove the pump in the winter to prevent freezing, but it sure does get rid of the water!

Altogether, this project cost us around $400, a savings of at least $1,600 and one that actually worked! We plan on covering the gravel with something pretty, like pea gravel, and putting in decorative stepping-stones. If we can do this project, so can you!


A resident of Conway, April Fortner is a wife and mother of four. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics and enjoys cooking, gardening, writing and homeschooling her children. In her free time, she likes to think of creative ways to stretch their income.