You wake up to an idyllic day in the neighborhood.  The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing… over everyone else’s lush, green lawns and verdant flowerbeds.  Your yard, on the other hand, appears to have been built over some kind of primordial swamp: your basement floods when it drizzles, your feet squelch over your backyard on all but the hottest and driest of days, and there is a perpetual eau de la rot that seems to have settled over your property like a vengeful spirit.  You knew the realtor was smirking a little when he handed you the keys at the end of the driest August in years.

Water issues are more common than you may think, with 60% of homeowners estimated to have some kind of water-related problem.  Issues like the lay of the land may seem utterly beyond your control as a homeowner, but actually you have more power in this arena than you may think.  With a little sweat and some know-how, you can ensure that the miasma of dampness haunts you no more.

Assess the problem.

If you’ve got a damp, sodden lawn, there are a couple of different possibilities:

  • You’ve got the poor luck to have a house literally built on top of a spring, or below the water table; this will be wet all the time, no matter the weather.
  • You’ve got water building up near your gutter’s downspout when it rains.  Is the land sloping towards your foundation in that location?
  • You’ve got what amounts to a mini-lake someplace in the yard when it rains.  Can you determine what’s feeding it?
  • You’ve got a stream running from point A to point B when it rains.

If the first of these applies, stop.  Put down the article.  Call a professional.  Because guess what you’re going to get if you try to dig drainage for a spring?

If you guessed ‘a lake’, you would be correct.

If you have a downspout problem…

If you are not sure if your downspout is the problem, try measuring the slope of the land from your house.  The land should gently slope away from the house at a rate of six inches over ten feet.  If the slope is too gradual (or in the opposite direction!), water can collect around the foundation of the house, eventually damaging the foundation.  You can determine this using a simple 2×4 and a level.  Keep checking all the way around the house, every few feet or so.

If the slope isn’t right, you may need to add soil to your yard to correct the slope, or install a French drain near the downspout.  You also should ensure that the downspout is pointed away from the house rather than straight down.

If you have a mini-lake / swamp…

Your problem is likely still your downspout, so long as the squishiness of your lawn disappears a few hours after a storm.  If not, you have a spring, and once again: call the professionals.

If you have a stream running from Point A to Point B…

Then you may need to install a French drain or a drywell.  A drywell can simply be a long, narrow hole dug with a post-hole digger to allow water to drain more easily down below the topsoil.  Four feet should do it.  Get a pipe drain sleeve twice as long as the hole, and knot the bottom, then begin to fill it with pebbles and sand, shaking it now and again to encourage the pebbles to settle.  When you get close to the surface of the hole, tie off the top end.  Fill the top with loose gravel and you’re done.  This is the simplest form of drywell; if you have major water issues, you may need to go further by digging an adjoining trench that encourages water to flow to your drywell.  There are also pre-made wells you can purchase, with holes along the sides for better drainage.

A French drain is more like a trench, and may require some serious labor; however, it can really transform a sodden lawn into something you can be proud of.  You should mark out the area where you wish to dig your French drain before beginning, and ensure that the pipe you lay will always slope downward.  Then, dig a trench as deep as your sorrow about your water situation — anywhere from 2 to 6 feet depending on the dire or subtle nature of the problem.

Lay down plastic pipe with perforations directly onto the soil, and then cover the pipe with LOTS of washed gravel, and back-fill with topsoil until the slope of the soil is right again.

Remember: call before you dig!

Remember, friends, cutting into sewer lines, buried electrical cables, or gas lines can make you very sorry in the long run.  Be sure to call the local governmental office to ask about utilities or dial 811 to inquire as to where these lines are located and then, dig elsewhere.  You can also call your local utility companies a few days before you begin your project and get them to mark the locations of the lines themselves.

No matter how daunting your water problem, it turns out even Mother Nature can be reasoned with.  This is definitely an issue you can tackle, with the right tools!