Having drainage installed in your yard, and choosing the contractor who is installing it, can be intimidating. As professional drainage installers that see yard drains constantly failing, we want to help you with your buying process so that you get the best service possible, and know that your money was well spent on your project.
This article will answer most, if not all of your yard drain questions, and help you make an educated buying decision.
Trust is an important component to figuring out who you want to work with for a project being done on your home, and we want to show you exactly who we are, and how we can provide you with exceptional service.
Unfortunately, lately we have been seeing and hearing of more and more customers being taken advantage of by contractors. Homeowners are losing lots of money on projects like yard drain installations, and our hope is that this information will prevent people from getting taken advantage of.
We understand that we are not a great fit for everyone, but want to provide you with this information so that you are able to ask the right questions to whoever you end up hiring to build your drainage system.
While drainage systems include perimeter and downspout drains, this article focuses on drainage solutions specifically for your yard. These include re-grading the area, soil replacement, and French Drains.
We understand that when doing research for a project being done at your home you want to do your due diligence, and trust the company that you are working with.
The best way to do this in our opinion is to show you what it’s like to work with us, and hear from our past customers.
As of August 18, 2023 we have 50 Google Reviews with a 4.9-star rating.
Throughout this article you will have the chance to read reviews from past customers we have worked with, and see what they have to say about us.
“Back40 Landscaping are without doubt the most professional crew I’ve worked with. They took on a large drainage job, using new technology, completed it ahead of schedule and below budget.
Sam and his crew are open communicators, professional and courteous to the client and residents of the community they’re working in.
I highly recommend and will continue to use Back40 Landscaping for any future project.”
What is it like to work with us?
After reading this document, we provide you with a complimentary phone consultation with Sam (Our owner/experienced drainage expert).
During this consultation Sam will go over any questions you have about your project, and will be able to provide you with a ballpark price for your individual project over the phone.
Once you are ready to move forward with your yard drainage project, Sam will do a site consultation with you and whoever else is involved.
During the site consultation, project details are finalized, the contract is signed, and a 25% deposit is taken to book your project into our calendar.
Who Should Be Involved in Your Call with Sam?
You are getting ready to spend your hard-earned money, and everyone that is involved in your project such as your spouse, partner or business partner should be on the call.
Having everyone that is involved in the project be a part of the call will ensure that we are all on the same page, and know what is important to each and everyone involved.
You and your spouse/partner may want your drainage project done for different reasons, and we want to know what those reasons are so that everyone gets exactly what they want, and to provide you with the best service possible.
Whoever is involved should be reading this document as well!
What Happens During Your Complimentary Phone Consultation with Sam?
Sam will ask you to confirm any measurements you have given him, answer any questions you have about yard drains, what your design budget for your project is (more on that later), and what access to your space looks like. (We need a minimum of 40 inches at the narrowest point to be able to access your space with our machines).
Once all of your questions are answered, you will be provided with a ballpark price for your specific project right there on the phone. If the price bracket matches your budget and you are ready to move forward with your project, we will schedule a site consultation as your next step.
Site consultations are $0-$500 depending on the level of design required and will be applied to your project price. It is not an extra fee.
“We hired Sam and his team to put drainage in our backyard that badly floods every fall/winter, and to also to removed some very over grown trees. Right from the start, Back 40 was extremely professional, thorough and great at communication. As with most construction/reno jobs there are surprises along the way. Sam was great at explaining our options and working with our budget, while making sure we were setting our yard up for future success and fewer problems.”
Types of Drainage solutions
The three main ways of solving your yard drainage issues are having your yard re-graded, replacing the soil in your yard, or having a French Drain installed.
You can combine any of these methods, or choose one option depending on the severity of your drainage issues, your property and your budget.
You will notice in this article that we have gone into great detail about French drain systems.
French drains have a lot of different materials, and methods of installation, and as it is the most complex system, and in our opinion is the best option for any yard drainage problems, the majority of this article focuses on French drains.
Solution #1 Re-grading the yard
All homes are susceptible to not having properly sloped land away from structures.
When your yard is not properly sloped, water will move towards your home and could cause damage to its foundation.
Most operators grade yards by eye, which leaves room for error. Near flat landscapes should be graded by a laser to ensure water will only flow away from designated areas. It takes a skilled, experienced operator to accomplish this.
Luckily we have a laser that attaches to our excavator allowing us to excavate based on an exact slope percentage. 2% slope is the minimum for lawns and most common for concrete, while 5% would be considered by the industry as the maximum for lawns.
A properly graded yard moves water away from your home by using gravity, a principle that doesn’t fail.
Solution #2 Soil replacement
Clay soil is one of the major causes for a why a yard is having drainage problems. To get a yard that is completely dry, clay soil needs to be removed, and replaced with sandy soil. By replacing the clay soil with sandy soil water will be able to percolate through the soil and into the ground.
Solution #3 French Drains
Simply put, French Drains dry out the surface and subsurface of a lawn. They transport water away from one spot and into a designated area (discharge station), making them a great option for anyone looking to fix a wet, soggy yard. By installing a French Drain, you can take your lawn from damp and spongy, and transform it into a dry space.
French Drains are built by digging a trench, placing filter fabric and drainage pipe into the trench, backfilling the trench with either rock or soil and then finishing it off with seed or sod on top of the bare dirt from the trench.
There are tons of different options when it comes to the materials that are used to build a drainage system, and those materials are what sets the price and how well your system works.
Before figuring out what drainage solution is going to work best for your space it is a good idea to consider what you can spend on your system. Once that is set it is going to be a lot easier for you to see what type of system, or combination of system, you can afford and how it affects how dry your yard will be.
What To consider When Choosing your Budget
When choosing a budget for your drainage system you have many things to consider.
- What can I afford?
- What are my realistic expectations for my project?
- Will I be okay if my budget and my system do not provide me with everything I am wanting?
- If my budget is not realistic, does my situation allow for me to put this project off? (In some cases, the project must happen, such as when a basement is flooding).
By providing a budget before having a drainage system installed, you will be able to have a system designed for your own individual needs, and will ensure that you will get what you are looking for, at a price you are comfortable spending!
Can You Actually Stay Within My Budget?
This is where your expectations of your drainage system, and the price you can afford to spend come hand in hand. If you are serious about your budget, we will have an open and honest conversation with you about whether or not we can provide you the system you want, for the price you can afford.
Most of the time we are able to offer solutions for your drainage issues that will match your budget. Sometimes however, this is not possible, and you may have to either look at your budget and see if you have any wiggle room, or lower your expectations.
Why Do We Need to Know Your Budget?
Your budget gives us a starting point to be able to design your specific yard drainage layout, and will allow us to deliver your project exactly how you want it.
Yard drains can be built many different ways, with a variety of materials and methods. By providing us with a design budget we are able to offer you suggestions on what we can do for you within that budget.
Things like changing the scope of work, or not protecting grass with plywood, can change the price of your project, and still allow us to be able to provide you with a drainage system that not only meets your budget, but does not fail.
If you are thinking that you have no idea what your budget should be, take a look at our drainage prices (coming up soon in the article!) and see what category you think your drainage system would fit in.
Every yard will require a different layout to maximize drainage. The nice thing about a drainage system is any system that you have put in will make the drainage in your yard better. Some layouts will completely solve your drainage problems, while others can significantly make a difference. We design you a drainage system that matches your budget, and let you know what the layout we design for your space will provide you with.
How Can We Provide You with A Price for Your drainage system Without First Seeing Your yard?
The two main things we need to know about your drainage system is what your budget is (so we can design your layout within that budget) and if we can access your space with our machines.
If you have no clue about what type of system you want, giving us your budget will allow us to design a system specifically for your yard.
“To say we are happy with the work done by Sam and his crew is an understatement! From the moment we contacted Back40 they were professional, helpful and a pleasure to work with. I would highly recommend using Back40. Thank you to the whole crew from Natasha to the guys doing the work! ROCKSTARS!”
How these drainage systems are built/executed
Re-grading the yard
When re-grading your yard grass and topsoil are removed from problem areas that are preventing the water from moving to low areas and away from things like the foundation of your house (you most likely have pooling water in this area). The soil is scraped away from those high areas and used to fill in low areas of your yard.
When replacing the soil, we excavate approx. 4” of your clay soil and replace it with sandy soil that will allow water to easily penetrate through it. Excavating 4” of soil from your entire yard can take a long time, depending on how large your yard is, and hauling soil off site gets pricy, especially when you take into consideration that soil expands 1.3x its size when excavated!
Replacing the excavated soil with sandy soil takes time, and hauling costs. While this option is going to give you the best results it may not be feasible for what you are wanting to spend.
If you have a tighter budget, you can focus on the amount of pipe that is placed in your yard. The more drainage pipe you have in your yard, the faster the water will get to its discharge station. Remember the more pipe you have, the more labor and material costs there will be.
Typically, French drains are built by digging a trench, placing filter fabric and drainage pipe into the trench, backfilling the trench with either rock or soil and then finishing it off with seed or sod on top of the bare dirt from the trench.
There are tons of different options when it comes to the materials that are used to build a French drain system, and the materials used are what set the price and how well your system works.
Below we have broken down the different materials that can be used for a French Drain instal.
French drain Drainage Pipe options
Big-O Drainage Pipe
Big-O drainage pipe is made up of recycled materials, and has three small inlets sliced in every valley. This pipe crushes very easily compared to other drainage pipe.
French Drains Installed with Big-O Pipe
Most French Drains that are installed with Big-O do not have any filter fabric, and when there is no filter fabric wrapped around the drainage pipe, soil gets into the pipe and compacts. The compacted clay soil around and inside the French Drain pipe prevents water from getting into the system.
Because Big-O crushes easily, it will not take long for the compacted soil to crush the pipe. Once this happens, the French Drain is unable to do its job.
How Long Do French Drains Made with Big-O Last?
French drains made with Big-O pipe last on average 2-24 months.
Perforated PVC Drainage Pipe
White perforated PVC pipe is a rigid pipe that does not have any flex to it, does not stretch, and only has holes on the bottom of the pipe
French Drains Installed with Perforated PVC Pipe
PVC pipe is prone to cracking due to frost heave, ground movement, and even traffic from above from lawn mowers or cars. Because PVC pipe only has holes on the bottom of it, it needs to be installed on top of 2-4” of gravel. Therefore, there will always be standing water in the trench just below the pipe. The problem with standing water is that it causes roots to infiltrate the system, and those roots end up clogging the pipe.
Smooth walled PVC pipe also allows debris to build up inside of the pipe, and the gentle smooth flowing water does not have the power to disrupt the debris. This debris can settle in the bottom or along the inside of corners of the pipe. This compacted soil around the French Drain pipe stops the water from being able to get into the system.
How Long Do French Drains Made with Perforated PVC Last?
French drains made with perforated PVC pipe usually last 1-20 years.
French Drains Installed with Baughman Tile Drainage Pipe
Due to its 8 massive inlets in every valley, Baughman tile drainage pipe is placed on the bottom of the trench, and there is open air exchange that can dry out the subsoil much faster than any other option of pipe. This open-air exchange actually prevents roots from getting into the system since there is no water in the trench. This type of system is built with filter fabric that gets burrito wrapped around the pipe and round rock, keeping the drainage pipe free of debris. Because the pipe is corrugated, the water passes through it, and it creates ripples that actually clean the pipe and pull any sediment with it.
How Long Do French Drains Made with Baughman Tile Drainage Pipe Last?
French drains that are built using Baughman tile drainage pipe last an extremely long time (50-200 yrs.)
The reason fabric is used in a French drain system is so that soil will not be able to get into the system and mix with the gravel. Keeping the gravel clean is essential in keeping the void spaces open, which avoids clogging and allows the water to runoff quickly. It also allows air to freely move around which creates an underground drying effect.
Single punched filter fabric
Single punches filter fabric is untested, and does not pass water fast enough to use. This means the fabric will plug up, and greatly reduce the speed in which the area dries up.
There are specific fabrics to use that are tested to use in clay soils, and that pass water even under the most extreme cases. Most contractors that have had a bad experience with fabric will tell you not to use any because it will plug up. Those contractors are most likely using single punched filter fabric.
Double punched filter fabric
The double punched filter fabric is tested, and has a high-water flow. This fabric allows water to get into the pipe, and taken to its discharge station. While MOST fabrics claim to have a high flow rate they usually do not, and this can lead to drainage problems.
Using tested, DOUBLE punch filter fabric will not plug up, and will allow over 100 gal/Min/sqft of water to pass through it, even in heavy clay situations.
Back fill options
Backfilling the trench with clay soil
It is common for contractors to take the excavated soil from your trench and backfill it with the same material, because it cuts down on material costs, and the contractor does not have to haul and dispose of any soil, which cuts down on labor. When clay soil is used as backfill, there is no void space in the trench.
When there is no void space in the drainage trench, the surface of the yard dries slowly, and the subsurface never dries out completely. As we said before, this is because water cannot percolate through the clay soil.
Using soil gives your system a short lifespan, as clay soil will compact and not be able to provide the drainage you are looking for. And this method is expensive for how long it lasts (2-24 months).
Backfilling with clay soil is the cheapest option up front as there are no disposal costs. However, if you take into consideration that in a couple of years your system will need to replaced, it can be more expensive in the long run.
Backfilling the trench with round rock
When backfilling with 1 ½’ round rock, your system will have an ample amount of void space due to the size of the rock that is placed in the trench. Void space in a trench is important, because the greater amount of void space that is in the trench, the quicker your yard will dry.
Void space allows both the surface and subsurface of your yard to dry out quickly by allowing air movement in the trench, creating an underground drying effect. The water that is on top of your yard is able to go through the round rock, and into the pipe. Once that water gets into the pipe, the pipe can take it to its discharge station, and your yard will be dry.
Using an excavator to dig the trench is the only way that the trench will be big enough for the round rock, which allows that void space in the trench. If the trench is dug using a walk behind trencher or by hand, it will not be possible to get this void space as the trench does not get built wide or deep enough.
“They went above and beyond. As they state on their website, they really do challenge the status quo and look at things differently. Because of that, we have a drainage system better than any out there. We have more work to do in the future and Sam and his team at Back 40 will be the first people we call when the time comes.”
How we build our French drainage systems
- BC1call is called to determine where underground utility lines are.
- A private company marks all underground utilities. This is a very important step as you do not want to deal with the headache and cost of someone hitting a utility line. (For smaller properties this step does not need to be done).
- Any obstacles that will hinder machines from getting into your backyard are taken down, or moved, such as fence panels or bushes.
- A discharge location is chosen. This is either by using a city storm drain/stormwater connection, ditch or other location.
- The ground and all surrounding areas are protected with a plywood road, limiting the damage to your yard.
- A sloped trench is dug with an excavator approx. 16 inches deep and 16 inches wide. The trench is sloped so once the system is installed it can help the pipe do its job by bringing water to the discharge station.
- The excavated soil is hauled away in a dump truck and disposed of.
- Double punched filter fabric is placed in the trench, lining the bottom and the sides.
- Baughman tile is put on the bottom of the trench, and 1 ½’ round rock is placed on top of the tile.
- The filter fabric is “burrito” wrapped around the entire system, and pinned together.
- Top soil is placed on top of the trench.
- The top soil is either seeded, or sod is laid on top.
- The plywood roads are taken away, and the grass is raked.
- The road and all areas that were used during installation are swept and cleaned
The layout of the French drain system
The layout of the pipe for a yard drain system is important because the pipe that is in the ground absorbs surface and subsurface groundwater, and makes it disappear to the designated area. The more water that gets into your system, the dryer your yard will be. This means that the more pipe that is placed in your yard, the better the drainage system.
The best layout is different for each yard and space.
The French drain discharge station
A discharge station is where all of the water from your trench ends up, and a common reason that French Drains back up is that the discharge station may not be established correctly.
When having a French Drain installed, the trench should be placed in the lowest part of the yard. This way any water from rain or your roof will be forced to go into your trench where it can then be carried away.
If your French Drain is placed at the highest part of your yard, water will not be able to make it into your drain because it will naturally gravitate to the lowest point in your yard.
Once the water is inside the fabric of a French drain system the water will flow virtually unrestricted to the lowest point in the system. The best French drain systems use a pipe at the very bottom of the trench and surround it with large 1.5” round rock.
There is so much void space underground that between the pipe and the round rock the system can move 400-800 gallons per minute. The French drain system itself is almost never what effects the speed in which your yard dries out, as it’s so much faster than the intake portion of the system.
Most French drain systems discharge to a concrete sump where any sediment or debris can settle to the bottom of the basin. From here its drained to a city storm water connection, ditch, lower area that can be flooded, etc. As long as this capacity to intake the water isn’t exceeded, then the water will not back up the French drain trench.
Your discharge station should be big enough to handle all of the water that is being taken to it, and needs to be placed at the lowest point of your yard. It is up to nature where your discharge station is placed, so if it is not possible to put one in the lowest spot of your yard, water will not be able to reach it. Because of this, a pump will need to be put in to allow the water to get from your trench to its discharge station.
Other options for a discharge station if your yard will allow include a ditch, sump pump, or even a low area in your yard that you do not use that you can flood without it affecting you. Whatever you choose, it must be able to do its job of collecting the water, otherwise your French Drain will not be able to live up to its full potential.
Yard drain repairs
We get a lot of calls from homeowners asking us to “repair” their drainage systems. Unfortunately, if your drainage system needs to be repaired it has failed, and needs to be replaced.
When an existing drainage system needs to be replaced it usually means that the pipe in the system has failed. Pipe can fail due to being crushed and/or clogged from dirt that was used to backfill the trench.
There are companies that have a machine that “vacuums” the clogged dirt out of drainage system pipes, but this fix is temporary and will need to be done again once the system gets plugged again.
Homeowners are better off getting their old drainage system removed, and having a new one installed using Baughman tile pipe that does not clog, double punched filter fabric, and round rock as backfill.
While this cost is more upfront, the drainage system will never need to be reinstalled if built properly.
‘Sam was punctual, professional, honest and an absolute pleasure to work with. I would highly recommend him to anyone who needs any landscaping done. Very professional and the quality of his work is excellent. Highly recommend!”
What Determines How Dry my Yard Will Be?
The type of system you choose
Each drainage system (Re-grading, soil replacement, French drains) is going to provide your yard with a different level of effectiveness. Again, this is different for each and every yard.
The Type of Soil You Have
If you have sandy soil in your yard, you most likely are not concerned about getting a French drain installed. Sandy soil allows surface water to penetrate into the ground, and takes excess water away from your yard. Therefore, you will not have pooling of water and will not need to fix any drainage issues.
If you have clay soil, the opposite is happening to your lawn. Water cannot penetrate through clay soil, so it sits as surface water on top of your lawn instead. This causes a soggy, muddy, backyard and landscape.
The Health of Your Lawn
Another factor in how dry your yard will be is how healthy your grass is. Healthy grass roots, plants and vegetation are what help the surface water pass through the clay soil in your yard and into your system.
Without an abundance of roots penetrating deep into the clay soil, water will sit on top of the lawn regardless of any drainage system that is put in. The roots from your lawn, and plants, play a vital role in allowing this water to follow the roots deep underground and into your French Drain.
The Amount of Pipe That Is Placed in Your Yard
The layout (and amount) of drainage pipe placed in your yard is important because the pipe that is in the ground absorbs surface and subsurface groundwater, and makes it disappear to the designated area.
The more collected water that gets into your system, the dryer your yard will be. This means that the more drainage pipe that is placed in your yard, the better the drainage system. The best layout is different for each yard and landscape.
Finishing touches for all drainage solutions
Top soil, or high-quality compost, can be placed on top of drainage trenches and/or wherever is needed. This soil has no clay content, and water is able to pass through it and into the trench quickly. A bonus to this is that compost retains enough moisture in it to allow the grass in your yard to stay healthy, and healthy grass is a must have for a yard drainage system.
One of the reasons homeowners want to fix their water issues, is so that they can have a nice lush lawn. While grass needs water to survive, too much water can prevent it from growing because it is waterlogged and suffocating, and ironically enough, your lack of grass is one of the reasons you have a wet yard!
Healthy grass is a step that is often overlooked when it comes to installing a drainage system. Healthy grass roots, plants and vegetation are what help the water pass through the clay soil in your yard and into the ground.
Without an abundance of roots penetrating deep into the clay soil, water will sit on top of the lawn regardless of any system that is put in.
What Types of Machines Does Back 40 Landscaping Own?
The main machines used in our retaining wall builds are a skid steer, mini excavator, and track dumpers.
Our mini excavator allows us to get into small residential back yards, and the skid steer is fantastic at loading dump trucks.
We do the bulk of our earth moving with our excavators, track dumpers, and compact track loader. On the street is our dump truck and trailer.
On large projects, we subcontract out the trucking to a company that have a fleet of dump trucks
While every site is different, and each drainage system is unique, here is a breakdown of our prices.
These prices are ballpark, and are just an example of starting prices for your drainage system.
Price is affected by site access, how much pipe is used, what materials are used, finishes, and more.
Base Drainage Solution
Includes a full French Drain system with 100 ft of pipe (good for yards with minimal drainage issues).
Average Drainage Solution
Includes a full French Drain system with 300 ft of pipe (good for yards with excessive drainage issues).
High-End Drainage Solution
Includes a full French Drain system with 1000 ft of pipe (good for yards needing rapid drainage).
Our Payment Terms
Some contractors will use your deposit to pay for other homeowner’s job materials. When this happens, if the contractor runs out of money, they will not be able to cover your projects costs.
This is when homeowners’ projects do not get completed, because the contractor has no money left to get materials for your job.
Another problem we see with projects is contractors using credit accounts when buying materials from their suppliers and running out of money.
When contractors cannot pay those suppliers back, the suppliers will come to you, the homeowner, to pay for them because the materials are already in your yard and have been used.
The payments that we receive from you go towards your project, and your project only.
When paying for materials, we do not use any credit accounts, so you never need to worry about your materials not being paid for.
25% Due at site consultation / contract signing
Second Payment 50%
Due prior to project commencement
Third Payment 15%
Due halfway through project
Fourth Payment 10%
Due at the beginning of the final day
“We had a great experience. Excellent communication. Listened to what we wanted and helped us with decisions we weren’t sure about. Job went smoothly and quickly. Highly recommended. Thanks Sam for a great job.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to learn about our company!
Now that you know more about drainage installations, and what it looks like to work with us, please think of any questions you have before your call that are important to you.
Take the time to think about how dry you want your yard to be, what the entire finished project looks like, and be ready to tell Sam your budget and timeline.
We look forward to working with you!