Grading the yard and installing French Drain. DIY?

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Jan 2, 2021
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I am having some drainage issues in my back yard. As of now my crawl space is dry and water is not entering the house yet. I have leaks in my garage that I am trying to address.
My yard is excessively soggy, wet, and slippery. There are huge water puddles everywhere. I live in PNW so it is common to have wet yard but mine seems excessively soggy. Some pictures here: Imgur Album
From initial inspection and some research it seems to be a combination of multiple things:
  • Yard is not graded properly for drainage. It is relatively flat overall but has lot of small ditches (rolling grades) where water seems to be collecting.
  • The soil is completely saturated. The rain water that is falling on soil is unable to be absorbed by the soil. This could be due to type of soil and previous owners not taking care of the yard. It could also be that there is lot of clay in the soil.
  • There is an existing French Drain that is partially working. Our french drains have raisers and when I look inside them some of them have flowing water and some of them have stagnant water.
  • Our house is on a lower grade (4 -5 feet) than our neighbors house that borders our back yard. Seems like they have installed some kind of drainage where all the water flows into our yard. When it rains excessively we sort of have a waterfall from their yard into ours.
I called a few landscaping contractors to figure out a solution. Some folks suggested installing french drain while others suggested leveling the yard for proper drainage. I think I might need to do both. However, the quotes I got were a little shocking. They are charging upwards of 10K to install French Drain and another 3-5K for leveling the yard. These quotes scared us off from doing it but we have to address it sooner than later. We don't want these drainage issues to impact the foundation.

We have lived in rental apartments all our lives so we have zero handy man skills. However, French Drain installation seems DIY doable even for beginners. However, I am not able to find any good resources about how to level the yard for drainage. Any recommendations for blogs with pictures or videos? It seems scary to take up such a big DIY project for someone with no experience. Is it recommended to take up these type of projects as DIY?

Realistically, has any one does these type of projects by themselves? Any pitfalls/tips that I should be aware of before I decide to do it myself? Any things that could make the job easier? I am willing to put in effort to learn and do it myself if it saves me 15K but at the same time I have to have it done right so I can fix the drainage issues.



Bob Reynolds

Well-Known Member
Oct 8, 2008
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This is beyond a true DIY project. However there are some things you can do yourself that might help.

1. Get extensions on the gutter downspouts to channel the water away from the house.

2. Rainwater is supposed to drain down the property line (side, front or rear) unless there is a creek or some other natural water source. You can't dump your water on your neighbor and your neighbor can not dump his water on you. With that being said it is possible for a DIY person to install some sandbags to channel water down the property lines on a temporary basis until a qualified contractor can get this area properly graded.

3. A grading contractor would be the one to call to re-grade your yard to channel the water to the property line.


Oct 9, 2011
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Bloomingdale. N. J.
This is the jist of it. "If" you are a hard worker and you have a loved one that is also pretty much a superman or superwoman... and you are willing to put a " LOT" of time and effort into the project, then yes you can do the project.
I HAVE done such a job with the right helpers. If you don't meet all 3 of these requirements, then don't try it; you WILL FAIL!
NOW, the way I did it and it worked great.
First you need to know where you are going to direct the water; this decides everything. Is it legal or is it going to cause a problem with another neighbor and even a possible lawsuit?
In my case we were able to put numerous french drains in the back yard all connected with "Ys" and then we ran the single drain pipe up the side and front of the house, exiting the water at the roads curb line. In our job, we ran all the drains dug only 1/2 way into the ground, then covered the top 1/2 with 3/4" clean gravel spread over the back yard. ( do NOT let anyone tell you that bigger gravel is better. It might be but shoveling 50,000 lbs. Or more of the bigger stuff is a B÷=ch!
Then we covered the gravel with landscape cloth, overlapping at the edges by 3 to 4 inches. We then coveredtghe cloth with 1 large load of screened topsoil 2 to 4 inches deep, grading the pitch away from the house.
Note: ALL the stone and all the topsoil had to be hand loaded into wheel barrels and wheeled and spread out over the back yard. ( note: use good quality screened topsoil... do NOT cheap out here and buy unscreened topsoil !!! You will regret it big time! Last cover the yard with sod ( preferred but google how to lay sod properly before doing so) or spread grass seed and cover with straw, NOT HAY. Again, the sod is more costly but you will have an instant AND long lasting beautiful yard. The grass seed will take at least a year or two to
"look ok" And then it will always just "look ok."
It's a lot of hard work and many blisters but rewarding when you are done.rAre you ready for it?


Well-Known Member
Jun 5, 2009
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Sussex County, NJ
Both answers above are really good advice. If you were to do this yourself, you would either need to devote lots of time and muscle or you would have to take a crash course in heavy machine operation (Not impossible BTW. Bobcats and small excavators are available for rent).

But before anything else, you need to have a plan. Even if using a contractor, knowing the layout of your property will be helpful. Where will you send the water? Can it be done by gravity or do you need to pump it? Can you grade the yard away from the house for several feet? And have you disccused this (politely!) with your neighbor?


Well-Known Member
Jan 27, 2011
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You need to regrade the land gently away from the house as far as possible, then if absolutely necessary slope up more sharply to meet the original level near the lot line.

I do not think you need or want any French drains, except slightly below basement floor level around the foundation perimeter if you are having wet basement problerms.

What is that section of yard with the two layers of squarish gray flat blocks around it?