6 Benefits of a French Drain

Man digging to prepare for installing irrigation in a yard

French drains aren’t just for the Seine. If you’re looking for an elegant drainage solution to protect your landscape from damage from excess water, consider all the benefits of a French drain system. 

What is a French drain?

A French drain is essentially a fancy sloped trench that carries water away from where you don’t want it (like sitting on your lawn or seeping into your home’s foundation). French drains have a straightforward design for fixing drainage issues. They contain four layers:

  • 3-6 foot deep trench
  • Perforated pipe
  • Landscaping fabric
  • Gravel

Groundwater like rainfall filters through the gravel and is carried by the pipe to a suitable exit point like a rain barrel or a storm drain. The landscaping fabric stops plant roots from entering the pipe and clogging the system. A French drain may be the best solution for avoiding water damage to your lawn or basement flooding that can affect the structural integrity of your home. 

Top 6 benefits of a French drain system

1. Prevents standing water 

No homeowner should stand for standing water. If you’ve ever walked out on your lawn expecting the sound of songbirds and instead heard squelching underfoot, you probably need a drainage solution for surface water. 

Water shouldn’t be sitting on your lawn the day after watering or rain. Not only are muddy footprints in your entryway annoying, standing water leads to a number of problems. A French drain prevents puddles by funneling water in a controlled manner toward the exit point of your choosing instead of water collecting at a low spot in your lawn. 

Dangers of standing water

  • Your home’s foundation: When water sits along the side of your house, it pushes on the foundation. When it evaporates in dry seasons, the pressure is relieved. Your house shifts back and forth, stressing the underlying structure. Foundation repair is an unpleasant process – it’s better to fix drainage problems before they wreak havoc. 
  • Your lawn: Standing water is like rolling out the red carpet for fungal diseases like dollar spot, red thread, and fairy ring. 
  • Your health: Standing water is a breeding ground for pests that can harm you. Not only do bugs like mosquitoes carry diseases, their itchy bites can ruin an outdoor dinner party.

Note on excess water by your foundation: Interior French drains are also available to address poor drainage in your basement. 

2. Can install yourself

Exterior French drain installation isn’t for everyone, but if you have a little experience with home repairs and landscaping, you can take on this project yourself. Be sure to take proper safety measures and read the instructions for how to install a French drain before you get started.

What you need for DIY French drain installation: 

  • 4-inch-diameter perforated plastic pipe (preferably rigid PVC)
  • Gravel
  • Landscape fabric
  • A shovel or a gas-powered trenching tool 

Before you start installing your French drain, ring the Call Before You Dig hotline at 811. They’ll give you access to city planning services so you know where any underground utilities are located. You don’t want your shovel connecting with a surprise power or gas line.  

3. Quick installation

Setting up a French drain is a fairly quick installation process whether you’re doing it yourself or calling a professional. The longest part of the process is digging the trench, which should be fairly fast as long as you don’t have problems with utility lines. 

Professional installation takes anywhere from six hours to two days. If you’re doing it yourself, expect to spend around two days. 

4. Aesthetically pleasing 

When you think of drainage systems, images of ugly grates or ominous storm drains might come to mind, but French drains can fit seamlessly into your landscape. With a French drain, you can choose your gravel color, making a perfect border for a lawn or accent to a garden. A French drain fits in seamlessly with a rock garden.

You also can let plants grow over the gravel of your French drain. Choose a low-lying ground cover like creeping phlox, amethyst in snow, sedum, or creeping thyme. As they grow, direct their suckers across the rocks. 

5. Erosion control 

Erosion is the process of wind, water, ice, or gravity moving soil particles. This might not seem like a big deal, but erosion can have a huge impact on your landscape. It removes the topsoil, which in turn removes essential nutrients from your plants. In serious cases, it can also destabilize your home’s foundation.

How can a French drain help erosion? Instead of heavy rainfall sliding across the surface of your yard, a French drain allows it to seep into the trench and be carried away safely without disrupting the topsoil. Standing water can kill your plants, which increases the likelihood of erosion. 

Yards at risk for erosion have steep slopes that make erosion easier or little vegetation to anchor soil. 

6. Minimizes toxic rainwater runoff

After decades of cultivation, a lot of chemicals have become entangled with our soil. When stormwater is carried across our backyard, it picks up these pollutants and chauffeurs them to local waterways. 

While fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides can be great for growing a stunning lawn, they’re not ideal ingredients in our water systems. Aquatic life can suffer from the chemicals and the overwhelming algae blooms they cause. 

With a French drain, stormwater is protected from the soil by the pipe and landscape fabric. That way, it goes directly to the waterway while picking up minimal toxins. 

To minimize toxic runoff even more, direct your French drain toward a rain garden. Rain gardens are like living filtration systems for rainwater. Plant roots take in water that’s gathered any chemicals and purify it through their roots. 

Get help from a pro

Just because you can do it yourself doesn’t mean you always want to — especially when it comes to installing drainage systems. Let a professional take care of it for you. If you want help beyond getting your system up and running, hire a Lawn Love team to help with regular yard maintenance like mowing, seasonal cleanup, and fertilization. 

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.