Building a drainage ditch

Building a Drainage Ditch

Build your own drainage ditch as a quick, economic solution to combat water buildup on your property. While a ditch won’t stop the water from attempting to collect, it will allow it to quickly drain away, flowing downhill to a stream, street drain, storm sewer, or pond. You can plant flowers or other vegetation along the edges of your ditch to conceal it and make it more appealing as well.

Before You Dig

Before investing the time and effort in digging your ditch, ask yourself these questions. You may save some time, effort, and money.

Where is the water on your property coming from? Is it standing rainwater? Is the water flowing onto the property from a stream or uphill construction or a neighbor’s property? Is there an underground stream or new road or building that has changed the configuration of the land above your property? If so, the owner of that property is responsible for correcting the flooding, not you.

Since water flows downhill if the flooding is a recent event check to see if something is preventing the water from draining. Are existing drains clogged or backed up with debris?

If existing drainage isn’t a problem and a ditch is necessary, determine how much water must be controlled and how wide a ditch you’ll need to dig. Look at the slope and see what kind of ditch you’ll need. A steep slope will have to have small breaks or diversions to slow down the rush of water and prevent erosion. A gentler slope won’t need the breaks but may need to have a deeper drop along the slope to ensure the water does drain as it’s supposed to.

Choose Your Path

Determine where the downhill edge of your water problem is and the lay of your land so you know where to put your drainage ditch. Try to plot a ditch that follows the natural downhill flow.

Clear the Ground

Clear away the rocks, stumps, and vegetation in the path of your planned ditch. If you’re removing topsoil, save it for any vegetation you may plant along the ditch afterward, or put it in your garden.


Break ground with either a shovel or a trench digger. The depth will depend on how much water you need to funnel away. However deep you dig, remember the width of the trench should be greater than the depth. You want a gentle slope from the edges of the trench to the center. You don’t want a deep, steep ditch, but a shallow, sloping one instead.

Add Crushed Rock

Fill the bottom of the trench with large crushed rock, setting field stones or larger flat stones into the sides to help shape and support it.

This ditch should solve your problems with standing water near your home. If not, you might need to reevaluate the source or modify your trench.

Why do you need to build a drainage trench around a home’s foundations?

If you are building or renovating, it is safe to say you’ll want to make sure the foundations of your home are strong and remain that way for a considerable length of time.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to construct a drainage trench when you put the foundations in. To do this you will need to organise an excavator to do the hard yards for you.

Without an adequate drainage system, water can soak into the soil around the outside of your foundation, moving under footings and causing the building to move or settle.

This can lead to long-term problems with structural integrity as wood can rot, doors and windows can stick and stairs may even rise and fall as a result.

Here is a rough guide to the different types of drainage trenches to consider.

Foundation French Drain System

This kind of system involves trenches filled with gravel surrounding a perforated drain pipe. In order to increase efficacy, either the entire trench or just the pipe itself is usually covered in filter fabric. It is used to stop soil from washing into the stones and plugging up the drain.

The trench is then hidden with a layer of grass. These are generally used in wetter areas as they are good at collecting the water that often accumulates in marshy or boggy areas and moving it away from foundations.

One mistake that often trips up DIYers is installing spouts. While this might seem like a great idea, it can actually create such a strong flow of water that the drains fill up and push water back into the ground.

Rubble Trench Foundation

This kind of trench is a continuous footer located around the entirety of the structural perimeter. It is usually dug as deep as the ground’s freezing point in winter and then filled with stone and often topped off with a grade beam.

The Earthen walls of the Middle East and Africa featured rubble trenches, proving this idea has been around for many years. Those trenches were built on shallow ditches and filled with loose rock.

Rubble trenches are unique because they provide both water drainage as well as a low cost foundation system – may older structures featuring this kind of trench are still standing strong today to tell the story.

Rigid drain pipe might be a better choice for this kind of drain because it is easier to establish and is one way to avoid the creation of any low spots where sediment could accumulate.

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