Residential Drainage Concerns for Construction

Geology and Soil Mechanics, UW-Stout

Drainage Concerns For Residential Construction

"Inadequate attention to surface drainage causes more serious and lasting problems than any other site design factor"

--  J. Shephard and G.A. Morledge, The Home Design Guide

Two important rules of thumb:

  • It is better to build on high land than in a depression.
  • Water should not flow toward or collect along any side of the house.

There are several options available to effectively plan for water drainage.  Swales can be formed into the surface of the yard.  These are gentle, formed depressions that divert runoff away from the house.  Catch basins can also be formed into the ground but these usually require some type of drainage tiling.  Roof and ground gutters are common methods to divert water.  When using gutters one should make the discharge point slope away from the house and be careful of erosion.



A residential housing project in Menomonie, WI, that utilizes tiling around the base of the foundation.  The tiling is put in place and then some gravel is placed around it.  (Thanks to Handyman Professional Services, Menomonie, WI, for permission to take pictures at the construction site.)

Try to avoid "backflow" through the tiling when the drainage point gets flooded.  This can be done by using one-way valves or placing the discharge point well above flood stage.  This is important for both outside tiling and basement drainage pipes.

Basement Water Seepage

Mike Totter, president of the National Association of Waterproofing Contractors, states "Water from the roof and from improperly graded soil around the foundation are contributing factors to basement leaks in 80-90% of the cases we see....We keep careful records, and 17% of our work is redoing the poor work of others."  (Source: AP Special Feature in the Dunn County News, September 3, 1997)

Cracks develop in many basement walls because of freeze/thaw cycles, foundation settlement, imperfections in the construction, earthquakes, etc.  Cracks are almost inevitable and water will find its way through these cracks if it does not drain away.  To keep a basement dry for a long time, it may be more important to keep water from building up around the outside of the foundation.  

(Diagram of the problem)

B-Dry Waterproofing company has a list of water problems and solutions.

Home Construction and Inspection Information from Dan Friedman
    Plumbing, Wells, and Septic Systems: Inspection, Maintenance, Repairs
    Roofing and Flashing Concerns
Charles Ronchetti Waterproofing Incorporated