Landscape Drainage Problems: How To Fix Them Forever

Landscape Drainage Problems: How To Fix Them Forever


Water is a necessity for every landscape.

It nourishes plants and freshens hardscape elements by washing them clean of unwanted debris.

It makes turfgrass lush and green as springtime in Ireland. Sometimes you can get too much of a good thing.

Water puddles on your lawn. No big deal you say. Soon the sun will be shining and it will be gone.

This may be true, but it’s smart to think like a detective. A low spot that collects water today may be a clue to solving a future landscape drainage problem.

One thing you can always count on is that water will find the path of least resistance.

For most properties that’s along the gentle grade of your lawn and into a storm sewer. Occasionally water finds it’s into the home. Oops, nobody wants that.

Let’s find the cause.

#1. Start By Understanding The Two Types of Landscape Drainage Problems

There are two types of contributors to landscape drainage problems. The most obvious and easiest to address is surface water drainage.

Surface water problems are much easier to fix because you can see what’s going on. You can make decisions and test your solutions until you fix the problem forever.

Then there is drainage that is happening below the surface. This type of water is necessary for hydrating plants and the ecosystem that supports them.

Hardscape surfaces are typically pitched to discard water from a property. Nowadays there are eco-friendly paver systems that return water to the aquifers.

More advanced systems harvest that subsurface water that is then reused, thereby conserving this natural resource and reducing water costs.

There is an intimate relationship between surface water and what’s happening below the surface. Licensed engineers take this into account when designing systems that protect you and your neighbors.

Thus, a first step in addressing a landscape drainage problem is studying your home plat of survey. If your property grade is designed to push 65% of its surface water to the east, your drainage solution must adhere to that intent. Otherwise, the balance of the entire neighborhood master water plan is affected.

As long as you get the proper permits for your residential landscape construction projects, this should not be a problem.

#2. Keep Water Away From Your Home’s Foundation

When a home is built an excavator finishes the grade or slope away from the home to engineered specifications. City or village inspectors are involved to verify the work is completed properly.

However, some settling may occur over time. Usually, this is where the soil line meets the foundation of the home. If this happens, additional soil can be added to pick up the gap. Just be careful not to raise the soil line above the top of the concrete foundation.

Another common landscape drainage problem is water that splashes and washes out soil against the foundation. The common solution is moving that water further away from the home with drain tiling. Catch basins may also be installed to facilitate that and capture surface water too.

These systems have a purpose, but that role may not completely fix a landscape drainage problem due to other contributing factors that are below the surface.

#3. Consider Drainage Problems Below The Surface

The one landscaping problem that immediately gets the attention of homeowners is a leaky basement. There are many reasons why this may be happening. One of the least likely causes is one most commonly suspected, a crack in the foundation of the home.

Cracks in the foundation of a home are not unexpected. This is why drain tile is installed around the base of the foundation, 8-10 feet below the ground. This tiling system gathers the water that trickles down and channels it to a sump pump system that pushes it out.

If the sump pump malfunctions or fails to expel the water at a sufficient rate, basement flooding may occur. If the system does its job the problem may be elsewhere. The water that is pushed out could be finding its way back down into the foundation system through hidden channels.

This takes us back to the surface to look for clues to what’s happening below the surface. As you can see, landscape drainage problems are sometimes interconnected.

#4. Practice Ongoing Landscape Drainage Management

Landscape Drainage Problems: How To Fix Them Forever


Golf course superintendents know water management is an ongoing challenge because soils move. This is true whether the soil is loamy, sandy, or clayey like it is here in Minnesota.

If a water drainage measure works for a period of time but then later fails, they question why. If that drainage problem contributes to a leaky basement, it could be that the soils shifted and opened a channel or water that now needs attention.

The opposite problem is settling and soil compaction that closes pathways where water previously flowed. Water that once drained may now be accumulating at the surface. This is why golf course superintendents find themselves periodically installing tile systems to move water off fairways where it never used to accumulate.

You may have to do this too because everyday activities compact soil. The weight of winter snows and summer rains are contributing factors too. Forever is a long time, so regular maintenance is necessary to fix minor drainage problems as they occur.

A more serious problem may be silt infiltrating and clogging the below-ground sump system. Keep in mind that when homes are built the soil around the home is disturbed, thereby disrupting Nature’s handiwork.

Engineers, master planners, and homebuilders are charged with addressing these situations. That responsibility then shifts to the city or village. This is why municipalities require multiple site grading inspections. There is usually one inspection for the rough grade and another after the topsoil grade.

If that finished grade changes even an inch, and it’s likely that it eventually will, any drainage problem is now on the homeowner.

#5. Gather Knowledge To Make Complex Drainage Problems Easier

A professional landscape contractor can manage obvious surface drainage issues. That is often done with the common solutions prescribed here.

If these solutions do not fix the landscape drainage problem it may be necessary to hire licensed architects or engineers. In circumstances like this, the most valuable asset you can have on your side is expertise and experience.

Engineers cannot know what’s happening underground any more than landscape contractors. Although, both can make educated assumptions based upon prior experience with similar situations.

You can help too by being knowledgable. When you buy a home hire an inspector who may sniff out unforeseen drainage problems. This gives you the opportunity to inquire about specific issues before signing a contract. That history may prove its value many years later.

At Architectural Landscape Design, Inc. we take a phased approach to landscaping drainage challenges. Much like a physician does, we start at the surface to resolve the common observable causes. If that doesn’t work we have to go deeper, and that may require testing multiple solutions until the problem is solved.

The process of fixing these problems can be challenging, but this is your home and we appreciate you trusting us with its care.