How Do You Tell If a French Drain is Working? (Complete Guide)

November 24, 2022

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Homeowners often wonder how to tell if a French drain is working. First, a contractor buries French drains underground, so you can't just look and see if they're operational. Second, French drains might suffer damage over the years. Therefore, it's essential to check and ensure they're always operational.

A foundation repair and waterproofing contractor might note issues with your property's French drain. However, you might also consider signs that the drainage system isn't functioning as it should. Then, you'll know when to call for an inspection and potential repairs. As needed, check out a few signs and discuss your concerns with a waterproofing contractor near you.

What is a French drain system?

Before discussing how to ensure a French drain is working, it's helpful to note how they work! French drains are perforated PVC pipes buried a few inches underground on a gravel or rock bed. Those perforations in the pipes collect moisture from the soil.

Then, the pipes direct that moisture away from a structure to a street or landscaping feature. They protect foundations from damage and ensure healthy soil conditions around your property. French drains can keep your landscaping or garden watered without sprinklers or other systems.

French drains offer many additional advantages versus other waterproofing options. One, they're buried underground, so they don't interfere with a property's appearance. Two, they require little excavation for installation. Finally, they're affordable, and many property owners can even install them as a DIY project.

However, one downside to French drains is that you cannot see them at a glance since they're buried. In turn, a property owner should know signs of issues with these features. You can then know when to call your waterproofing repair contractor!

how to tell if french drain is working

How to tell if French drain is working correctly?

A full-scale inspection by a professional can tell you if a French drain is working correctly. But, in the meantime, note some suggestions for checking on that system yourself. These simple tips can alert you to clogged drains or needed repairs.

  • Since French drains absorb moisture in the soil, note that standing water is a common sign of French drain damage or clogs if your lawn seems soggy or overly damp.
  • French drains direct water away from foundations to keep them dry and stable. As a result, you might note any dampness around the basement or a structure's lower levels.
  • In addition to dampness, note signs of excess moisture in your structure's interior rooms. This includes mold growth, mildew under carpeting, and musty odors.
  • A property owner might examine a small section of that French drain. To do this, dig up a small area of the gutter. Then, check the gravel or rock under it for excess moisture. Flooding means at least that section of the pipe is clogged or needs repairs.
  • Check the endpoint of the drain. This refers to where the drain empties or directs that trapped water. If your installer buried that endpoint, dig around it carefully. Then, run a garden hose at a point several feet above the endpoint and note if the water drains. If so, the pipe is in good condition.

Can French drains get clogged?

Even the highest-quality French drains might clog over time. Dirt, sediment, and other debris can make their way through those perforations. Then, if the gutters don't push water through quickly, clogs form. Additionally, cracks and further damage allow even more sediment into the pipes, risking more giant clogs.

Most contractors suggest cleaning those drains once per year or as needed to keep them clear. A snake meant for outside pipes can work through clogs. Also, you must repair or replace damaged pipe sections. This keeps out sediment, leading to even more clogs and more risk of damage.

Above all, ensure the pipes angle or slope correctly during installation. Without proper sloping, water might sit in the pipes rather than drain out. In turn, standing water means clogs and damage! A French drain installer can check if your property's pipes need realignment or other adjustments.

How to tell if a French drain is clogged: Steps to follow

1. Locate the french drain and assess the situation.

2. If the clog is minor, try to clear it with a garden hose or plunger.

3. If the clog is more serious, you may need to use a snaked or auger to clear the drain.

Ultimately, it's important to make sure you have a properly installed french drain in the first place.

What causes problems with drainage in the yard

Problems with property drainage include a variety of factors, including soil type, the age of the drainage system, and whether drainage was installed correctly. In some cases, inadequate grading or a lack of slope may be to blame for poor drainage in certain areas. In addition, too much mulch or soil can cause problems by blocking rainwater from draining. Other common causes of poor drainage include clogged downspouts, blocked gutters, and collapsed or cracked drain pipes. Additionally, soil compaction can lead to drainage issues as it prevents water from seeping into the ground.

This may include installing a french drain or sump pump or regrading the area. Whatever the cause of your drainage issues, it is essential to address them as soon as possible to prevent damage to your yard and home.

Should there be water in my french drain?

There is no definitive answer, as the water level in a french drain will depend on the specific situation. However, in general, it is usually recommended to keep the water level below the top of the pipe. This helps reduce the risk of flooding, which can be caused by excessive water in the drain.

Additionally, consider installing a sump pump or other drainage device if water remains in your french drain for long periods. It is also vital to ensure that the pipes are correctly sloped and sized for optimal drainage. Ultimately, the water in your french drain depends on local conditions, such as rainfall and soil type. Consulting with a professional may be necessary to ensure your system works properly.

installing a french drain

Why do French drains fail?

French drains might fail for various reasons, but some simple repairs usually get them operational again. Check out why your French drain system might fail or otherwise need repairs or replacing over the years:

  • Improper sloping risks clogs, as said. So if you plan on a DIY installation, you must check the drain's slope as you work.
  • Along with sediment falling through pipe perforations, roots growing from the ground can push through those pipes: these roots risk clogs, cracks, and other damage.
  • Clogged endpoints can also cause water to back up in those pipes. In turn, they might crack, or clogs might form.
  • Not burying the lines deep enough or covering them as needed can risk damage. Lawnmowers or even heavy foot traffic can then mean pressure on those pipes and resultant damage.

French drains in winter

Installing a French drain below the frost line ensure it works during winter months! French drains don't typically hold so much water that they suffer from freeze-thaw cycles. Additionally, proper sloping or grading provides they empty that moisture quickly, reducing the risk of freezing.

Moreover, an installer typically covers French drains with fabric filters. That filter helps prevent overly cold water in the gutters. In turn, most French drains work during wintertime to keep the soil healthy and avoid flooding.

The longevity of a French drain

As with virtually any other project around your property, a higher-quality French drain outlasts a lower-quality model by many years! Durable pipe materials installed by a professional, can last some 25 years before they need replacing.

Lower-quality materials might crack or shift more readily. In turn, they might only last 5 to 8 years before it's time for new drains.

Also, note that regular scheduling cleaning of the French drain can keep it in good condition. Clogs risk water damage to a structure's foundation and the drain itself! Clogged materials push against drain pipes and risk cracks and other costly issues.

Are French drains a good idea?

A foundation waterproofing contractor can suggest the best solution for your property, considering the foundation design, soil conditions, overall moisture, and your budget.

In some cases, your contractor might suggest waterproof membranes around the foundation. These offer excellent protection but involve excavation, which makes them somewhat expensive. Also, sump pumps help redirect water but can also be costly.

On the other hand, French drains offer sufficient protection for most structures at a cost-effective price. They also keep soil healthy and are easy to maintain over the years. To find out more, call a waterproofing contractor near you.

Lansing Foundation Repair Experts is happy to help explain how to tell if a French drain is working. Hopefully, this information is helpful for your property. For expert services you can trust, call our Lansing foundation repair contractors. We offer FREE inspections and price quotes for reps, including underpinning, leveling, and patching. Additionally, ours is the team to trust for all your foundation waterproofing needs. So to get your property started, fill out our contact form and call us.

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