Installation of French Drains

Updated July 20, 2017

The French drain has stood the test of time as an effective way to remove runoff and surface water. In its basic form, the French drain is a trench filled with gravel. Today, the French drain is usually made by adding a drainage pipe to effectively transport water the length of the drain. Installing one is not difficult for do-it-yourselfers.

Call the utility company to have someone check for buried utilities. This is a free service. If you do not call before you dig and you damage buried utilities ,you may have to pay for repairs.

Estimate the size of the drain. A gallon of water takes up 7.48 cubic feet. You do not have to be precise, but you do not want to build a drain too small or waste money on one too big.

Mark the location of the drain with stakes and string or flags.

Dig a trench 12 inches wide and 14 inches deep. This will allow 2 inches to cover it with sandy soil and sod, which will hold the gravel in place and hide the drain from view.

Line the bottom of the trench with 4 inches of gravel.

Slip the geotextile sock onto the lengths of pipe.

Put the pipe in the trench using the connectors to join the lengths of pipe. If using PVC pipe, glue them together.

Put the end cap on the end of the pipe.

Use the level to get a slope of about 1/8 inch for every foot of pipe. The trench does not have to be graded, but the pipe should have a slope to allow water to flow along the length of the drain. Move the gravel around to adjust the pipe's slope.

Fill the drain with gravel. Each side and the top should have 4 inches of gravel. Gravel should go around the end of the pipe as well.

Finish by topping the drain with sandy soil and sodding or spreading grass seed.


PVC drain pipe is thinner than regular PVC pipe, so the connectors will probably be loose. To fix this, spread PVC glue around the inside of the connectors. Smear a thick coating of PVC glue around the pipe. Take a couple of handfuls of sandy soil and spread it over the end of the pipe so it mixes with the glue. It will hold well enough for a drain. Any leak will just be an additional drain point in the pipe.

Things You'll Need

  • Stakes and string or flags to mark the location of the drain
  • 4-inch plastic perforated pipe
  • Geotextile sock. This is a cloth tube that fits over the drain pipe.
  • PVC glue (if you use PVC pipe)
  • Shovel or other trench-digging tools
  • End cap for the pipe
  • Level
  • String and stakes
  • Gravel
  • Sandy soil
  • Sod or grass seed
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About the Author

Mark Quest began his writing career in 2009, contributing to various online publications. He attended Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College, focusing on the sciences.