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How to Tell if My French Drain is Working?

French drains use plastic pipes with holes in the bottom to collect rain and send it downhill, so the water can’t damage anything in the house. This makes them susceptible to clogging because soil and debris tend to build up inside such pipes.

When a properly installed french drain is completely blocked, you will know for sure because the water may stop flowing altogether and may enter your house. This can be a really stressful situation to handle, considering your home may get soaked and there may be damage as well.

Our experts recommend checking in regularly to make sure your french drains are functioning correctly to prevent this complete blockage situation from happening. If you can catch the problem early, the situation won’t escalate.

In this article, we list four different ways of checking if your french drain is working — and give you pointers for its maintenance so you can maintain the health of your french drainage system. You’ll also learn ways to fix these drains yourself, know when to call for professional help, and understand the cost associated with the repairs.

4 Ways to Check

French drains with a sump pump are one of the most effective water control systems but being buried underground means they often face the threat of persistent clogging. 

Water that seeps through soil to get to the French drain carries sediments. These sediments are left behind in the drain while water flows through the ditch. It eventually leads to a sediment buildup resulting in clogging. 

If you suddenly notice signs of water in your lawn or basement, there might be a possibility that your French drain isn’t working properly. Try these methods to be sure:

Check for Standing Water

The French drain’s purpose is to collect rainwater, standing water, or melting snow, channel it downhill, keep the low areas of your yard as dry as the higher ones and make the water flow away from the home. To check if your French drain is working, inspect the low areas of your yard and look for yard drainage.

If the ground is wet, marshy, squishy, or flooded, then there is a drainage problem that you need to look into. If the areas are dry, your French drain is working just fine.

Inspect Your Basement 

The French drain is often installed around a basement’s foundation to prevent flooding and excess water around the basement and basement walls.

If that’s the case, look for signs of wet walls, leaks, mold, or mildew developing in your basement. There is a good chance that there is a drainage issue if you find them. Water infiltration is one of the obvious signs of your French drain not working.

Look at the Water Level in Your Drainage Trench

Sometimes, tree roots and sediments can get stuck in the holes of the drain or cause a perforated pipe, leading to a clog.

To check if your French drain is working, remove the gravel in your drainage trench using a shovel or trowel to see the drain pipe. Make sure that you do not damage any landscape fabric while doing so. If there is no standing water in the drainage trench, your French drain is working fine.

Survey the Termination Point

The best way to tell if a French drain is working is to check the termination point. In simple terms, it means that you need to check whether the water that enters the drainage ditch flows out of the pipe or not.

The process hardly takes any time and is quite effective. Follow these steps to check:

  1. Start by excavating the top end of the french drainpipe (the uphill end). 
  2. Then, remove any filter or cover from the drain pipe. 
  3. Next, use a high-pressure hose sprayer or a garden hose to send a large volume of water into the drainpipe. 
  4. For added power, use a pressure washer to clear clogs. 
  5. Continue these steps until the water runs freely out of the downhill pipe end.
  6. If needed you can run an electric sewer snake to see if it freely moves down the pipe end.

How to Fix Your Clogged French Drain Systems

You may need to perform the following steps to unclog and fix your French drain if any of the above inspection methods indicate it is clogged.

  1. Start by excavating the top end of the drainpipe (the uphill end). 
  2. Then, remove any filter or cover from the drain pipe. 
  3. Next, use a high-pressure hose sprayer or a water hose to send a large volume of water into the drainpipe. 
  4. For added power, use a pressure washer to clear clogs. 
  5. Continue these steps until the water runs freely out of the downhill pipe end.
  6. If needed you can run an electric sewer snake to see if it freely moves down the pipe end.

Would I Need to Call a Professional to Fix it?

Sometimes, the French drain clogging may be worse than it seems, and a garden hose may not work. If that’s the case, you may need to consider hiring a professional to thoroughly clean a french drain pipe and remove debris using an electric snake. 

Professional French Drain Cleaning Costs

Cleaning the drain can take one to three hours, depending on the severity of the clog and the length of the drain. Most professionals charge between $45 and $150 per hour. The average cost for snaking this type of pipe is between $75 to $500.

How Often Should I Call a Professional?

To keep your French drain in check, you should call a professional at least once a year. Regular maintenance keeps your drain functioning properly and allows it to last much longer. You may need to have it cleaned more often if it seems to be draining slower than usual.

Would I Need to Replace the French Drains?

In rare situations, your french drain may not work correctly because it is damaged. You’ll need to replace it altogether if:

  • You notice repeated cracks in your foundation. 
  • You see standing or excess water or the water flowing over the drainpipe, even after a thorough unclogging.
  • There’s a presence of iron ocher, signaling damage.
  • Your french drain had an improper installation & low-quality materials were used.

The Cost of Replacing a French Drain

French drain replacement costs can vary considerably depending on the extent of the damage and what needs to be redone. It can also depend on other factors, such as the size of the home, the kind of equipment used, the excavation work, the type of soil, the damage done to the foundation, and more. 

A simple pipe replacement takes three to six hours and costs $1,000-$2,500. However, if the whole area needs to be retrenched and replaced, the project can take up to ten hours and cost $2,000-$8,000

Maintaining the Health of your Drain

As discussed above, fixing or replacing a French drain does not come cheap. It is possible, however, to keep its health in check, thereby reducing the need to replace or repair it.

Here are expert-tested tips for maintaining the health of your french drains: 

  • Install access points to inspect your French drain regularly. 
  • Regularly mow the grass on verges and swales to stop the silt and debris from entering the drain pipe. 
  • Remove weeds that grow on the surface of the French drain. Do this by hand instead of using weedkillers. 
  • Keep the French drain free of debris, litter, and leaves. Do a thorough cleanup every few months.
  • Do a silt removal exercise once a year. You can also contact a specialist from time to time to get this done thoroughly. 
  • Tree roots growing where the French drain is installed can seriously affect its flow. Cut the plant roots back to avoid this.  

Cost Reference

https://www.fixr.com/costs/French-drain-installation#inspection

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