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French drains are often installed around a home foundation in two different ways:
Buried around the foundation wall on the external side of the foundation
Installed underneath the basement floor on the inside perimeter of the basement
In most homes, an external French drain or drain tile is installed around the foundation walls before the foundation soil is backfilled. It's laid on the bottom of the excavated area, and a layer of stone is laid on top. In many cases, a filter fabric is then laid on top of the stone to keep fine sediments and particles from entering. Once the drain is installed, the area is backfilled and the system is left alone unless it clogs.
While an external French drain can operate for ten years or more without the need for maintenance, it's prone to clogging without any warning and can eventually lead to a flooded basement. When there is no filter fiber, sediments can make their way through the stone as years pass and clog the drain, and when the filter fabric is present, that can instead clog with sediments. It may be wise to provide cleanouts, much as is done with sanitary sewers, to provide access for inspection with a camera snake. Also, a French drain that is not installed with a sump pump counts on gravity alone to drain foundation water, and if the house is not located on a hill or near a steep incline, finding this slope can be problematic. Additionally, maintenance on an external French drain involves expensive exterior excavation, which includes removal of walkways, shrubberies, porches, gardens, and anything else along the perimeter.
Installing a French drain around the inside perimeter is most commonly done after the house has been built. Most commonly, this is done in response to a wet basement or right before performing a basement finishing. To install this kind of drain, the perimeter of the basement floor is jackhammered down to the footing and the cement is removed. A layer of stone is laid down, and a perforated drain pipe is laid on top of it. Water is collected from the basement wall floor joint as it enters, and a pump is installed to remove water from the house and away from the foundation.
Once completed, the area, save for a 2 in (5.1 cm) gap around the edge, is cemented over. This gap exists to allow water in from the basement walls. This can be installed very quickly—one to two days by an experienced crew. The system is easy to maintain once installed, and the sump pump will need annual maintenance to perform properly. An interior French drain is much less likely to clog than an exterior, partially due to the fact that it is not sitting underneath several feet of soil.
Interior French drain installation is an effective way to waterproof a basement but requires the use of a sump pump. Many contractors will install plastic sump pumps that can quickly break down or neglect to install a battery backup sump pump, making the basement vulnerable to flooding during power outages. Sump pumps should be installed with a battery backup system in a proper sump liner of 20 US gal (76 L) size or larger to prevent the sump from having too little water and turning on and off continuously.
French drain has evolved significantly from its origins- starting off as a hand-dug ditch, moving on to ceramic tile, PVC pipe, and eventually to the new French drain innovations on the market like WaterGuard and Grate Channel. Each new system is able to address weaknesses of the old as the French drain continues to improve and evolve. For example, whereas Henry French used chippings of tree bark to provide anti-microbial properties, an anti-microbial additive can now be included in the material of the plastic channel.
Date Added: 2019-06-07
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