Theoretically, we’re approaching the rainy season here in the Bay Area (which we’ll hopefully have plenty of this year!) But while it’s still sunny and dry, it’s a great time to think about the drainage around your home and how to keep your foundation, in particular, protected from water.
Three key areas that you should focus on at this time are your gutters, your downspouts and underground drainage systems (typically French Drains).
There are a lot of reasons to keep your gutters clean, beyond just protecting your home’s foundation. Last year my gutter out front got clogged with maple leaves and water ended up backing into the siding, causing some bubbling below the paint. Fortunately, I found this quickly and was able to remedy the issue, but if I hadn’t, it could have caused some serious damage.
Additionally, backed up gutters can cause extensive damage to landscaping. Overflowing gutters can wash away landscaping or just plain drown it. And if you spend a lot of time or money on making your garden look gorgeous, you want to avoid that.
Cleaning your gutters isn’t hard, but can be a bit messy and includes a risk factor. If you have a 2-story home, you should probably hire someone to do that. But for those of us with single story homes, gutters should be cleaned out at least once per year (more if there are trees that hang over them).
When preparing to clean your gutters, make sure you have good gloves on, and someone to hold the ladder for you as well as to hand up tools as needed. You can use a scoop to clean them out, a trowel, or just your hands. Try not to dump the debris on the ground, but get it into a plastic bag or onto a tarp. This makes it easier to clean up at the end and doesn’t damage your landscaping. After scooping out all the debris, take a hose and flush the gutters out, making sure there aren’t any additional drainage obstructions around or in the downspouts.
Speaking of downspouts, they need a lot of attention on their own. I know it may seem like they’re just a part of the gutter, but they’re really much more than that. The first downspout was utilized in 1240 at the Tower of London to keep the newly whitewashed walls looking fresh. These days, downspouts are not only for protecting siding but especially for protecting foundations.
The purpose of the downspout is to take the water from the gutters and move it away from the house. The key word there being “away”. While it’s nice that downspouts help to make falling rain water sound quieter coming out of gutters, it’s really all about saving your foundation.
Downspouts should not be a pipe running straight down and ending at the ground, or even with an angle that moves the water a few inches away. We’re talking about protecting the foundation here, so you want to get that water as far away as possible. So downspouts should ultimately end a foot or more from the home, in an area that is sloping away from the house, not towards it.
When you’ve finished cleaning your gutters and are flushing them out, that’s the time to inspect for downspout problems. Are there any blockages? Any leaks? Any spouts where the water is running back towards the foundation? All of these are issues to be quickly dealt with, and are pretty easy to fix.
Two things about French drains. One, they aren’t necessarily from France. The man who popularized them in the States was Henry Flagg French. And two, they aren’t specific for rain water, but they are still important if there’s a really rainy season.
Per our friends at Wikipedia:
A French drain is a trench filled with gravel or rock or containing a perforated pipe that redirects surface water and groundwater away from an area. A French drain can have perforated hollow pipes along the bottom to quickly vent water that seeps down through the upper gravel or rock.
French drains are primarily used to prevent ground and surface water from penetrating or damaging building foundations and as an alternative to open ditches or storm sewers for streets and highways...French drains are also used behind retaining walls to relieve ground water pressure.
The key takeaways here are that French drains run underground and are beneficial for drainage of both surface (rain, sprinklers, etc.) as well as groundwater. While it may seem like we don’t have a lot of groundwater issues here, there are actually areas of the Peninsula that have significant groundwater conditions.
If there’s any area near your house that is consistently damp, you should probably talk to a professional about the benefits of a French drain. A French drain puts you in a position of control as to where and how water flows around your property.
So don’t let any flooding occur at your home this year. Be prepared, get your drainage in tip top shape, and keep things dry!
IMPORTANT NOTE: I have not and will not verify or investigate the information supplied by third parties.