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How To Divert Water Away From Your Home

Lauren NowackiNovember 12, 2019

Wondering how you got that lakefront property without paying for it? Hate to break it to you, but you might have a water drainage issue.

While it can start out as a minor problem, a drainage issue can cause bigger problems when it comes to the safety and integrity of the structure of your home. Read on to learn how to spot drainage issues, what causes them and how to fix them by diverting water away from your home.

What Are The Signs Of A Water Drainage Problem?

A lake-sized puddle may be a little dramatic. The indicators of drainage issues in your yard may be a little more subtle than that. Here are a few telltale signs that indicate you need to divert water in your yard:

  • Overflowing gutters
  • Drifting mulch
  • Pooling water
  • Soggy ground
  • Efflorescence or flaking walls in your basement
  • Basement leaks
  • Mildew odors
  • Mold

What Causes Water Drainage Problems?

There are several reasons a homeowner could have water drainage problems. One of the biggest culprits is the grading of the yard. Grading is a landscaping technique that gently slopes the yard away from the home. It is at such a slight angle that people may not even know their yard is sloping at all.

So why is this necessary? It may take time for water to get absorbed by the soil, so when there are heavy rains, the water sits on top of the lawn. If the lawn is flat, the water will stay there, pooling. If there is any grading, the water will flow in the direction of the slope. If your yard slopes toward your home instead of away from it (negative grading), then you have an even bigger issue than pooling.

“Negative grading can cause water to accumulate near the home,” says Tom Wallace, a certified master inspector with Home Check. “The grading or soil should always slope away from the home to prevent water from accumulating near the foundation.”

And while we’re on the subject of water flow, check how your neighbor’s yard slopes, too. If the runoff from their yard is flowing into yours, then you could be getting double the water. This isn’t uncommon.

In fact, neighbors have gone to court over just this issue. Before it gets to that, see if you can divert that extra water or work amicably with your neighbors to do so on their side of the property line.

Once water does make its way into the soil, there could be another problem – the soil won’t absorb it. Clay soil is more dense than other soils and doesn’t easily absorb water. Hardpan soil is the same way. This type of soil is usually found just below the top layer and can be any soil that is extremely compacted.

Compacted soil makes it hard for anything to get through. Think of hardpan soil this way – it’s like walking through a brick wall instead of one that’s made of Jell-O. Hardpan soil is usually caused by such things as improper watering, repeated plowing, heavy construction machinery, pollution or environmental changes.

Maybe the problem isn’t as complicated as the slope or soil. Hopefully, it’s just the gutters and downspouts. Gutters collect water runoff from the roof and send it down the downspouts. The downspouts are then supposed to empty the water a safe distance from the home.

If your gutters are clogged, the water has nowhere to go, so it spills over, runs down the side of the home and lands right next to the foundation. If your downspouts are too short, they won’t transport the water far enough away from the home.

Your yard isn’t the only place that holds water when it rains and snows. Your driveway could also pose a problem, especially if it is connected to your house. Just like your yard, your driveway should slope away from the home.

Along with grading issues, you could have cracks in your driveway that allow water in. If your driveway butts up against your house, you may have a gap where the two meet. This lets water run down the exterior of the foundation, instead of properly draining away from it.

Negative Effects Of Water Drainage Issues

Water may seem harmless enough, but it can cause a number of problems for homeowners – ones that can be a minor inconvenience or cause thousands of dollars of damage. Here are a few reasons you’ll want to know how to divert water away from your home, so you can fix the issue before it becomes a major problem.

Mold

Mold loves to grow in damp places, so if poor drainage is creating such places in or around your home, you could experience mold issues. Not only is mold just plain gross, it can also cause health issues like eye and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing and lung infections.

Mosquitos And Other Pests

If water is pooling in your yard or sitting stagnant, it can quickly become a breeding ground for mosquitos and other pests. Mosquitos breed in shallow water and will typically lay their eggs near stagnant water.

Along with being a nuisance, they can also carry West Nile, Zika and malaria. Standing water can also be a great water supply for rodents, who will build nests nearby such resources.

Drowned Plants, Grass and Flowers

Yes, plants need water to live, but they also need oxygen. When water has nowhere to go and saturates the soil, it fills the pockets of air that normally deliver much needed oxygen to the roots.

Basement Leaks

If you are not properly diverting water from your home, it will find a place to go. And that typically is the basement level of your home, where it can get in through window wells, cracks in the walls or floor, mortar joints or porous concrete.

Water in the basement can cause stains and musty smells. It can also damage items you’re storing and makes it hard to use the area as livable space. Worse, water in the basement can cause – or be the result of – foundation issues.

Foundation Damage

The foundation of a home is arguably the most important part of the house. The integrity of a structure lies in its foundation. Your entire house sits on the foundation, so any damage to it can be a major financial and safety concern.

It can also destroy the value of your home or, worse, make your home unsellable. The threat of damage to your foundation is the biggest reason you need to divert water from your home.

“Water accumulating near the house can result in structural movement,” says Wallace. “Soil will typically expand when it’s wet and contract when it’s dry. Over time, these expansion and contraction forces will cause structural movement. If the problem is not corrected, serious structural damage can occur.”

If you’ve had water issues for some time, Wallace provides a few signs of structural movement to check for:

  • Cracks in the foundation or walls
  • Doors that stick or don't close properly
  • Uneven floors
  • Bowed walls

How To Divert Water From The Home

As a homeowner, not much is scarier than hearing you have a water issue. The first thing that comes to mind is the foundation. When you discover a water drainage issue, don’t go to the dark side just yet.

The good news is there are a number of ways you can lower the impact water can have on your home by redirecting its path. Here’s how.

Clean Your Gutters

This task is both simple and free. Start by cleaning near the downspout, then climb a sturdy ladder to inspect and clean the gutters along the edge of the roof. Reach into the gutter and pull out any leaves, twigs and other debris that may cause clogging. Use a trowel to get anything that is difficult to reach or grasp.

After you pull out all of the gunk, flush the gutter. If the water flows through the gutter just fine but isn’t coming out the other end, you may have a blockage in the downspout. In that case, you may have to detach the downspout to work on it further.

It is best to clean your gutters at least twice a year – when you prepare for the start of summer and as you complete your fall cleaning.

Extend Your Downspouts

“It is recommended that downspouts are extended at least 6 feet away from the home to divert the path of water away from the foundation,”says Wallace. If your downspout ends less than 6 feet from your home, add an extender. These devices easily attach to your existing downspout and typically cost less than $10.

You can find them at your local hardware store or online.

Create A Rain Garden

A rain garden helps collect runoff, slows it down and helps it filter into the ground. The garden consists of mulch, multiple layers of soil and plants that can tolerate wet environments.

The garden should be the end destination of the water, so create one at least 10 feet from the home and make sure the yard slopes toward it.

Install A Rain Barrel

If you are unable to extend your downspout due to its location, a rain barrel could be another option. Instead of the water dumping onto the driveway or ground, it would dump into a rain barrel. The barrel would store the water until you can get rid of it, usually by reusing it to water your lawn.

This is especially helpful in reducing your water usage and lowering your water bill. While many people store their rain barrels beneath their downspouts, you can also place the barrel anywhere water collects from overhead sources.

If you decide to install a rain barrel on your property, make sure you place it on a flat surface that can hold the weight of a full barrel. You’ll also want to get a rain water diverter, which keeps mosquitos out and prevents debris from flowing into the barrel.

Seal The Driveway

If your driveway butts up to the side of your house, you can prevent water from getting into the space between the structure and pavement by creating a seal. The first step is removing as much debris from the space as possible. You can do this with a leaf blower or high-powered vacuum. Once cleaned, fill the crack with landscape foam. The foam will expand to fit the space and provide a seal between the pavement and wall.

Since the foam expands, you may have to use a utility knife to cut across excess to make it level. Once the foam is level with the driveway, you’ll want to smooth tar caulk over it to create a flexible, waterproof seal.

Install A French Drain

A French drain collects water below the surface and transports it away from the home. Putting one in your yard involves digging a trench about 2 feet deep then lining it with water-permeable landscape fabric. Once the fabric is laid, add a few inches of gravel and lay down a drainpipe that is punctured with several holes.

Once the pipe is laid, you’ll add more gravel on top, then add sod over it. While it sounds easy enough, it can be pretty labor intensive and will require you to rip up part of your lawn. You may want to consider hiring a professional.

Improve The Grading

According to Wallace, “negative grading often occurs due to poor design, soil displacement or structural settling.” Whatever the reason, you can fix the issue by re-grading your yard.

If you only have a few problem areas, you may be able to get away with only fixing those spots. If you have major drainage issues or sloping problems in the majority of the yard, you may have to tear up your entire yard and start from scratch.

Either project will involve examining your yard, determining the degree of the slope, digging up parts of your yard and adding, removing or moving soil. Then, you’ll need to rake and till the ground before adding new sod. The scope of work will depend on how much of your yard you’ll need to regrade and how good you are at landscaping.

Just like a French drain, this project requires a good amount of physical labor and is better left to professionals. As you work, you may want to consider also installing a French drain since your yard will be ripped up anyway. This will provide double-duty drainage.

Install A Sump Pump

A sump pump helps remove water from under your home’s foundation by collecting it in a sump basin (located under your house) and pumping it away from your home through a discharge pipe. You can pay to have a sump pump installed in your home, but be aware that this will require breaking through your basement floor and installing a pipe through your wall.

While some of these actions require little work and money, other bigger projects will require you spend some cash and hire a professional. If the drainage issue is a newer problem or you don’t notice any structural damage to the home, try the inexpensive options first.

However, if the issue has been going on for some time, you’ve exhausted the other options, or you notice damage to the home, call in the professionals to inspect the home and provide the best solutions and pricing specific to your problem.

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    Lauren Nowacki

    Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.