Lawn Drainage Solutions

Rain in yardAre there areas of your lawn where the grass grows faster than anywhere else? Do you get a small pond in your yard every time it rains? Have you noticed water stains on the walls of your basement? These are all signs of a drainage problem in your yard.

Left uncorrected, water drainage problems can range from annoying (such as mosquitoes breeding in a puddle) to devastating (such as a foundation wall being compromised).

Signs you have a drainage problem in your yard

  • Standing water after it rains
  • Water pooling underneath drain spouts
  • Areas of the lawn where grass grow faster 
  • Water stains on the foundation of your house

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3 Common Drainage Problems and Their Solutions

Problem: Water getting into basement

The most common cause of water infiltration in the greater Milwaukee area is poorly graded lots—caused either by a developer not grading the lot properly or the soil near the foundation of the house sinking over time.

A properly graded lot will slope away from your house. There should be a drop of 6” for the first 10 feet (a 5% slope). Ideally, the slope will channel water out to the street or to a storm sewer. If your lot slopes toward your house, or has spots that sit lower, you’re going to have a major drainage problem.

How serious an issue is this? In a word, VERY!

When water accumulates around the foundation of a house, it inevitably leads to water in your basement—which leads to mold growth. Over winter, water in the soil around your foundation wall freezes. As it freezes, it expands and causes cracks in your foundation wall. Over time, the freeze/thaw cycles we get in Wisconsin can actually cause the wall to buckle inward and, in extreme cases, collapse.

If the problem is a small area around the foundation of a house that has sunken over time, it’s possible to add soil and grass seed to build it up to a height above the rest of your landscaping. When this isn’t feasible, though, the fix is to re-grade the lawn. This is a major project, and you’ll need an experienced landscaper to survey your lot and develop a plan for re-grading. Loomis Landscaping can handle the re-grading as well as the reseeding of your lawn.

Problem: Standing water in yard

Often, a lawn will develop drainage problems over time due to thatch that impedes water from soaking into the ground. Thatch is the organic debris that accumulates at the base of your grass. Grass clippings, leaves, grass roots—these can all accumulate to the point water ends up pooling on your lawn. The topsoil becomes compacted and the roots of the grass never get the water they need for healthy growth.

While it’s possible to dethatch small areas of a lawn using a dethatching hand tool, if your entire yard needs dethatching (which it likely does), you need a dethatching machine. After dethatching, the lawn should also be aerated to ensure water can enter the soil and reach the roots.

If thatch isn’t what’s causing the problem, you may have soil with a high clay content under where the water pools, or what’s known as hardpan—a thick, dense subsoil under the topsoil that’s nearly impervious. If either of these is the source of the problem, installing a French drain and/or a dry well can divert water from this area to another.

What is a French drain?

A French drain is a flexible plastic drain pipe that’s installed under a lawn to channel water away from one area to another. A trench, typically about 8” deep and 4” wide is dug into the problem area and  lined with pea gravel, then the drain pipe is put in the trench. The drain pipe needs to have small holes punched in the top of it to allow water to enter. It’s then covered with pea gravel and fill dirt. The area where the trench was dug will be reseeded so your yard looks normal again.

You may be wondering why it’s called a French drain. It actually has nothing to do with the French. It’s named for Henry Flagg French, an illustrious 19th century gentleman farmer/lawyer/assistant secretary of the Treasury. Convinced that wet basements made people sick and standing water in fields created harmful vapors, he published “Farm Drainage” in 1859, a book regarded as the Magnum Opus of the drainage world. French advocated what he called a cellar drain—known today as the French drain, in honor of Henry Flagg French.

What is a Dry Well?

A dry well is basically a hole dug in your yard that’s filled with gravel and sand with underground drainage pipes from problem areas of the yard connecting to it. The purpose is to channel water from a problem area to the dry well, where it can pass into the subsoil. Before a dry well is installed, a percolation test (“perc test”) needs to be done to determine if there’s an area where the subsoil can absorb water. Loomis Landscaping can determine if your lot is a good candidate for a dry well or not. If it is, we can also install a dry well.

Problem: Soil erosion on sloped lawn

Soil erosion is a common problem on sloping lots. When the rains come, water will find the most direct path down the slope. Over time, it can destroy the grass and carve channels in the soil that only get deeper and wider over time.

Controlling Rainwater Runoff with Swales

A swale is simply a shallow channel carved into the ground to slow rainwater runoff. It has gently sloping sides, so it doesn’t look like a ditch in your lawn. They are dug along the contour of the land and have a small berm on the downhill side. They slow down the runoff and disperse it across the contour where they’re dug.

Swales can also resemble mildly V-shaped trenches. These are often placed between a roadway and a property to manage stormwater runoff. At the lowest point of the swale, a French drain can be installed to channel the runoff evenly into the soil. 

Rain overflowing gutterWhat Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Gutters and Drain Spouts

The purpose of gutters and drain spouts is to channel rainwater away from the foundation of your house. If your gutters are clogged or have holes in them, water will drip straight down along the foundation of your house—ultimately entering your basement and compromising foundation walls. Similarly, drain spouts that don’t extend far enough from your foundation will allow water to get too close to the foundation.

The easy fix here is to simply keep your gutters cleared and replace any damaged sections. Your downspout should extend a minimum of four feet from your home, although six feet is recommended. Adding an extension to your downspout is an easy DIY job, but we’ll be glad to do it if you need help.

Request a free consultation on your drainage problem

Assessing the slope of a lot, especially lots that appear relatively flat, can be tricky. The most accurate way to get a reading on the slope is to use a grade laser. This isn’t the kind of tool you can pick up at your local hardware store for twenty bucks—which is why it’s a good idea to have a professional landscaper survey your lot.

If you have drainage problems on your property, have Loomis Landscaping come take a look. We’ll determine what’s causing the problems and recommend the most cost-effective fix.


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