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How to Achieve Better Yard Drainage

Stop dealing with water problems in your home and yard by installing this in-ground drainage system. This is a permanent, long-term solution to your wet yard. These step-by-step instructions and how-to photos walk you through the DIY installation. This project requires a lot of digging, but you won't have to deal with drainage issues ever again.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Project overview

If you happen to be among the unlucky 60 percent of homeowners who have some type of water problem in their yard, you've got two options: Sell your house and buy one of the homes from the other 40 percent, or roll up your sleeves and deal with it.

Most wet yards can be drained effectively. It's rare to have unsolvable water problems such as a low water table that pushes water up from below. If you're in this sorry situation, however, consult a pro—it's nearly impossible to fix unless you have a sump pump and a place to dump all that water.

In this article, we'll familiarize you with the products available and show you a step-by-step method of getting rid of excess rainwater and draining it clear of the house. We can't guarantee that a system like this will dry up all your water troubles, but it'll definitely help.

Determine the Source of Your Water Problem

In most cases, it's pretty obvious where the water is coming from. Often there's a slope approaching the house, a depression in the yard that causes pooling, or excess roof water draining next to the foundation. You can take care of minor foundation drainage problems by making sure the soil slopes away from the house.

Also, properly installed gutters, with a well-directed downspout that empties clear of the foundation, can be very effective. If you've already zeroed in on those solutions and still need help, stick with this article.

Call Before You Dig

As with any yard project that requires digging, you must find where buried electrical, telephone and TV cables and gas piping are located. Call your local utilities or 811.

The location of underground cables and pipe may influence the routing of your drainage plan. You may want to consider an alternate route or have the utility disconnected until the job is completed.

Now that you're familiar with the basic parts, follow our step-by-step photos. Ideally, they'll inspire and guide you as you plan your own system.

Start digging

Assuming your lot isn't shaped like a large salad bowl with the house at the bottom center, look for a spot that's lower than the house to drain the excess water. If one of those spots is right next to your neighbor's garage, resist the temptation. If the lay of the land isn't obvious, use a line level with stakes and a tape measure (see Photo 6) to check for water escape routes. Remember, you might not be able to use all the techniques we show, so pick those that best meet your needs.

Some Soils are Tough to Dig

The soil we dug up for our 70-ft. long trench and dry well was among the worst (next to solid rock) for digging. The mostly clay soil (a poor-draining type) was full of 4- to 8-in. fieldstone—a far cry from the ideal sand soil. The digging took me and a helper two solid days of backbreaking labor. With any luck, yours will be a lot easier to dig, but be prepared. Get a large chisel-point bar (Photo 1) to pry stones out of the way just to make room for each shovelful.

Buy Everything You Need for This Job at a Home Center

The dry well we used has a capacity of nearly 30 gallons. This unit can also be stacked on top of or alongside another if you need extra holding capacity. The dry well is very strong, and once you bury it, you can drive your car over it without breaking it. In fact, the dry well can be installed under a driveway. The drain inlet at the top (Photos 5 and 8) is optional.

You can also choose to: (1) drain water directly into the side port of the unit from a run of perforated or unperforated drain tubing, (2) link two or more dry well units together, or (3) use it independently with a top drain for small pooling areas. You can purchase snap-together tube in 10-ft. lengths as we did or buy a 50-ft. roll, which is difficult to transport. You'll find the tube is available in either perforated (1/2-in. holes randomly cut into the sides) or unperforated.

Choose a perforated tube if you'd like it to drain as it carries water. However, if you only want the tube to deliver water from one spot to another, buy unperforated tubing and don't use a sock. The sock (Photo 7) is typically sold in 100-ft. lengths. You can also buy a wide assortment of fittings to connect lines, as well as a fitting to attach to your downspout. The materials for this system cost about $200. We spent another $200 for 2 cu. yds. of crushed rock delivered to our driveway.

Before going to the home center, make sure you've got a good shovel, a string line and level, and a solid wheelbarrow. If you don't, buy them.

Install the dry well

Our situation is a low spot in the back yard. The only practical place to drain the puddle was along the garage and then into a downward-sloping hill toward the front yard. Instead of draining all the water to the front yard, however, we decided to install a dry well, which is merely a holding tank for a large water runoff. After a rain, it slowly drains itself (percolates) into the surrounding soil.

We also connected a 4-in. perforated drain tube (Photo 8) to the side of the dry well to help drain off and percolate overflow water. This tube rests on a bed of 3 to 4 in. of crushed rock or small river stone and slopes downhill (minimum 1/8 in. per foot) from the dry well. A sock sleeve made of a rot-resistant fabric (Photo 7) is slid over the tube to filter out any small grains of soil that would otherwise eventually collect in and clog the tube.

Connect the drain tube

Where the tube passes by the downspout from the gutter, we installed a Y-fitting and drained the roof water from the gutter system directly into the main drainage line. That line eventually emptied into the low spot in the back yard. Once all the parts of the drainage system were installed, we covered the tubes with several inches of rock. We then covered the rock with landscape filter fabric (black fabric that does the same thing as the sock) and finally tamped the soil to the surrounding grade over the rock and fabric. This meant digging, and lots of it! There's no magic number for the depth of your trench.

Figure that you'll need at least 3 in. of gravel under the 4-in. tube, 3 in. on top of the tube and about 6 in. of soil over that. Also, figure in whatever slope you need to get to the low spot.

Dealing With Backfill

When you backfill your trench, you'll have a lot of extra dirt. Keep a little on hand for settling and think about where else you might use it. You may need to rent a trash container or schedule a truck to pick up the excess.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Hammer
    • Cordless drill
    • Tape measure
    • Line level
    • Level
    • Garden rake
    • Wheelbarrow
    • Spade
    • Utility knife

Chisel point bar

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Crushed rock
    • Dry well
    • Landscape fabric
    • Drain tubing
    • Y-fittings
    • Drain cover
    • Fabric sock
    • Stakes

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 8 of 8 comments
Show per page: 20   All

November 27, 9:03 PM [GMT -5]

I am pretty handy with a shovel and don't mind working but, seems like that's a lot of work and a real waste of rain water, when it could be used in a flower garden or vegetable garden. It could be contained by rain barrels and used instead of going to waste. Water may be pretty precious some day.and pretty much like gold is now.Good idea but, Looks like a whole lotta work and time spent as well as an expense.to me.


June 12, 9:15 AM [GMT -5]

Just so i understand.. this will stop the pooling and erosion caused by the run off from the roof? Rain is creating valleys in the soil along the house. If this is not the solution could you pleas advise another solution besides gutters because i don't want those.

April 09, 4:59 PM [GMT -5]

Installed a drain system with 4" flexible plastic pipe years ago to drain my yard and several neighbors. Town actually tied into the storm drain connection for us! Remember freezing my butt off and soaked (New England around Thanksgiving), with pumps straining to keep water out of trenches. Worked great when done, but kids were very dissapointed next spring when the annual ducks did not return!

September 14, 12:37 PM [GMT -5]

Why does a dry well been installed?

March 15, 4:59 PM [GMT -5]

drainage pro:

What if you don't have the option of daylighting the end of the drainage pipe? I have a yard that doesn't slope substantially in any direction and is bounded on three sides by neighbors property.

I'm guess that once I bury the pipe and slope it, it will be several feet underground. I understand the dry well will fill too fast, but what are the options? Should I look at pumping water out of the dry well and into the plumbing drains in my house?

March 13, 11:55 PM [GMT -5]

A french drain should be completed as follows. Excavate a trench either by hand or with a trencher, or small excavator. Remove and haul away all the soil. Make sure the trench has a minimum of 1% slope to daylight, a catch basin, a swale, or storm sewer (never a dry well). Install a geo-textile fabric in the trench (not a sock around the pipe), install a rigid drain tile pipe (not black flex pipe)with the holes down, install 1" washed gravel on and around pipe, install geo-textile fabric on top of gravel, and then top with 1"-2" of soil max. or sod can be placed on top of the trench. If the area you are working in is landscaped you could potentially place a decorative stone on top of the fabric instead of the soil and it would function even better.

A word of advice. Don't install a dry well. It fills up with water so fast that all the drainage lines to it will fill up and sit full of water. If there are surface drains on the system all the debris and silt will fill up in there and sooner than later the system will be no good and you will have to call in a professional to do it right.

May 15, 3:24 PM [GMT -5]

I completed a similar project and was very happy with the results. Water drained across my driveway into the grass which caused a sloshy grass area and mud. I installed a catch basin at the point where water dropped off into the grass. I then used 10' long 4: plastic pipe. I dug a trench and connected this drain line to my existing downspout line (which I had never properly completed) with a Y connector. I then ran it out 50 more feet to drain off the side of the hill.

I then backfilled properly and finally covered with sod. Now it's late spring and I am very happy with the outcome. This was an example of how a proper plan and taking my time paid off.

May 07, 12:14 PM [GMT -5]

See also "French Drain"

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