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French Drain - Ultimate Design Guide UK 2023

In this article, the readers will learn about french drains.

An overview of French Drains


French Drain Components

French Drain Design Principles

Sizing of a French Drain

Calculating a French Drain

French Drain Installation Process

Material Calculations

French Drain Maintenance

Benefits of French Drains

Common French Drain mistakes and to avoid them

I. Introduction to French Drains

Are you tired of waterlogged gardens, damp basements, or pooling water on your property? If so, you might be considering a drainage solution like a French drain.

French drain systems are a simple, effective way to channel excess water away from your property, protecting your home and landscaping. In this guide, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about French drains, from design principles to installation and maintenance. There could be pipeless french drain but this system is gravel trench. See below french drain diagrams.

Inside a French Drain
Inside a French Drain

II. Legislation

In the UK, there are several regulations and legislations that may apply to the construction and installation of a French drain. Here are some key aspects to consider:

1. Building Regulations

While French drains may not require building regulations approval as a standalone project, if the drainage system is part of a larger building or extension project, it may be subject to building regulations. These regulations ensure that the drainage system is designed and constructed in compliance with the necessary standards for health, safety, and environmental protection.

2. Environmental Permitting

If your French drain is designed to discharge water into a watercourse, such as a river or a stream, you may need an environmental permit from the Environment Agency. This permit ensures that the discharge of water won’t cause pollution or harm to the environment. You should consult the Environment Agency for specific guidance on your project.

3. Flood Risk Assessment

If your property is located in a flood zone or an area at risk of flooding, you may need to carry out a flood risk assessment before installing a French drain. This assessment will help to identify potential risks and determine the best course of action to manage flood risks.

4. Party Wall Act

If your French drain is located close to a neighboring property, you may need to notify your neighbor under the Party Wall Act. This act covers shared walls or structures and excavations near neighboring properties. It’s important to discuss your plans with your neighbor and ensure that the French drain doesn’t cause any issues or disputes.

5. Local Planning Authority

In some cases, the installation of a French drain may require planning permission from your local planning authority, especially if the drain is part of a larger construction project. You should consult your local planning authority for guidance on any necessary permissions and requirements.

6. Land Drainage Act

Under the Land Drainage Act, if your French drain is discharging water into an existing drainage system, such as a ditch or a culvert, you may need to obtain consent from the local internal drainage board or lead local flood authority.

It’s essential to research and complies with all relevant legislation and regulations when installing a French drain on your property. If you’re unsure about any aspect of the process or need further guidance, consult us or your local authority for advice.

III. French Drain Components

We explain how does a french drain work. A French drain system consists of three main components: gravel, filter fabric, and perforated pipe.

A. Gravel

Gravel is the primary material used to fill the trench around the perforated pipe. It allows water to flow freely through the system while providing structural support for the pipe. Gravel size can vary, but typically 20mm to 40mm aggregate is used.

B. Filter Fabric

Filter fabric, also known as landscape fabric, french drain fabric or geotextile, is a permeable material that wraps around the gravel-filled trench. It helps to prevent soil and debris from clogging the drain, while still allowing water to enter the system. It is usually Terran 500 or 1000.

C. Perforated Pipe

The perforated pipe is the backbone of the French drain, transporting water away from the problem area. Pipes are typically made of PVC, with holes or slots to allow water to enter the system.

French Drain
French Drain

IV. French Drain Design Principles

When designing a French drain, there are several factors to consider.

A. Assessing Your Property

First, evaluate your property’s drainage needs. Identify the areas where water collects or problems occur, such as waterlogged lawns, soggy flowerbeds, or damp basements.

B. Choosing the Right Location

The ideal location for a French drain is along the perimeter of the problem area, with a gentle slope directing water away from your property.

C. Drainage Gradient and Depth

The gradient and depth of the drain are crucial for efficient water flow. A gradient of 1-2% is generally recommended, with a depth that varies depending on the specific problem being addressed.

D. Pipe Size and Configuration

The size and layout of the perforated pipe will depend on the volume of water you need to manage. Larger pipes can handle more water but also require a larger trench. Consider factors such as soil type, rainfall, and the size of the area to be drained when selecting pipe size and layout.

V. Sizing of a French Drain

Sizing a French drain involves several calculations to determine the appropriate trench dimensions, pipe size, and drainage capacity. These calculations will give you the french drain details. Here’s a step-by-step guide to sizing a French drain:

Step 1: Determine the catchment area

Calculate the area from which the French drain will collect water. This is usually the area of your property that’s prone to waterlogging or pooling water. The catchment area can be calculated by measuring the length and width of the area and multiplying them together (Area = Length × Width).

Step 2: Calculate runoff volume

To estimate the runoff volume, you need to consider the average rainfall intensity in your area (in millimeters per hour) and the catchment area’s size. Multiply the rainfall intensity by the catchment area to obtain the runoff volume (Runoff Volume = Rainfall Intensity × Catchment Area).

Step 3: Estimate drainage capacity

To determine the French drain’s required drainage capacity, divide the runoff volume by the time in which the water needs to be drained (Drainage Capacity = Runoff Volume ÷ Drainage Time). This will give you an estimate of how much water the drain should be able to handle per hour.

Step 4: Choose the pipe size

Based on the calculated drainage capacity, select an appropriate pipe size. Consider factors such as the pipe’s cross-sectional area, the number of perforations, and the pipe material. Larger pipes can handle more water, but they also require a larger trench.

Step 5: Determine trench dimensions

The trench should be wide enough to accommodate the chosen pipe size and a layer of gravel on all sides. The trench’s depth depends on the specific issue being addressed and the surrounding soil conditions, but generally, a depth of 45cm to 90cm is sufficient. The trench’s gradient should be between 1-2% to ensure proper water flow away from the property.

Step 6: Calculate gravel volume

To determine the amount of gravel needed for the French drain, calculate the volume of the trench (Trench Volume = Trench Length × Trench Width × Trench Depth). Then, subtract the volume of the perforated pipe (Pipe Volume = Pipe Length × π × (Pipe Diameter/2)²) from the trench volume (Gravel Volume = Trench Volume – Pipe Volume).

Sizing of a French Drain
Sizing of a French Drain

These calculations provide a rough estimate for sizing a French drain. It’s essential to consider local soil conditions, drainage requirements, and other factors that may affect the drain’s performance. Consult with a professional if you’re unsure about any aspect of the process or if you need further guidance.

VI. Calculating a French Drain

Let’s go through a hands-on example of calculating a French drain for a property with the following characteristics:

  • Catchment Area: 100 square meters (m²)
  • Average Rainfall Intensity: 40 millimeters per hour (mm/h)
  • Desired Drainage Time: 2 hours
  • Pipe Diameter: 100 millimeters (mm) or 4 inches

Step 1: Calculate runoff volume

Runoff Volume = Rainfall Intensity × Catchment Area

Runoff Volume = 40 mm/h × 100 m²

Since 1 mm of rain over 1 m² equals 1 liter of water, the runoff volume is:

Runoff Volume = 4000 liters/hour

Step 2: Estimate drainage capacity

Drainage Capacity = Runoff Volume ÷ Drainage Time

Drainage Capacity = 4000 liters/hour ÷ 2 hours

Drainage Capacity = 2000 liters/hour

Step 3: Determine trench dimensions

Assuming a trench gradient of 1% and a depth of 60cm (0.6m) for our French drain, we will now calculate the trench width.

We know the pipe diameter is 100mm (0.1m), and we want to leave at least 5cm (0.05m) of gravel on all sides. So, the trench width will be:

Trench Width = 0.1m (pipe diameter) + 2 × 0.05m (gravel on each side)

Trench Width = 0.2m

Step 4: Calculate gravel volume

First, let’s assume a trench length of 10 meters (m). Now, we’ll calculate the trench and pipe volumes:

Trench Volume = Trench Length × Trench Width × Trench Depth

Trench Volume = 10m × 0.2m × 0.6m = 1.2 cubic meters (m³)

Pipe Volume = Pipe Length × π × (Pipe Diameter/2)²

Pipe Volume = 10m × π × (0.1m/2)² ≈ 0.785 m³

Now, we’ll calculate the gravel volume:

Gravel Volume = Trench Volume – Pipe Volume

Gravel Volume = 1.2 m³ – 0.785 m³ ≈ 0.415 m³

This example shows the calculations for a French drain with a drainage capacity of 2000 liters per hour, a trench width of 0.2 meters, and a gravel volume of approximately 0.415 cubic meters. It’s important to remember that these calculations are for illustrative purposes only and may not be accurate for all situations. Soil conditions, pipe materials, and other factors can impact the design and effectiveness of a French drain. Consult us for guidance specific to your property.

Calculation of a French Drain
Calculation of a French Drain

VII. How to Install a French Drain

These are the main steps on how to build a french drain

A. Planning and Preparation

B. Excavation

C. Laying the Components

D. Backfilling and Final Touches

A. Planning and Preparation

Before beginning installation, plan your French drain system carefully. Mark the drain’s path, noting any obstacles or utilities, and gather necessary materials and equipment.

B. Excavation

Dig a trench along the marked path, ensuring a consistent slope and depth. The trench should be wide enough to accommodate the chosen pipe size and a layer of gravel.

C. Laying the Components

First, line the trench with filter fabric, allowing enough excess to wrap around the gravel later. Next, add a layer of gravel at the bottom of the trench, followed by the perforated pipe, ensuring the holes facing downward. Finally, wrap the filter fabric around the gravel and pipe, and cover the entire system with another layer of gravel.

D. Backfilling and Final Touches

Backfill the trench with soil, taking care not to damage the French drain components. Lastly, grade the soil to ensure proper drainage and landscape the area as desired.

VIII. Material Calculations

Let’s go through an example of calculating the number of materials required to construct a French drain for a property with the following characteristics:

Trench Length: 20 meters (m)

Trench Depth: 60 centimeters (cm) or 0.6 meters (m)

Trench Width: 40 centimeters (cm) or 0.4 meters (m)

Pipe Diameter: 100 millimeters (mm) or 4 inches

Step 1: Calculate gravel volume

First, calculate the volume of the trench:

Trench Volume = Trench Length × Trench Width × Trench Depth

Trench Volume = 20m × 0.4m × 0.6m = 4.8 cubic meters (m³)

Next, calculate the volume of the perforated pipe:

Pipe Volume = Pipe Length × π × (Pipe Diameter/2)²

Pipe Volume = 20m × π × (0.1m/2)² ≈ 1.571 m³

Now, calculate the gravel volume:

Gravel Volume = Trench Volume – Pipe Volume

Gravel Volume = 4.8 m³ – 1.571 m³ ≈ 3.229 m³

Step 2: Calculate the amount of filter fabric

To calculate the amount of filter fabric needed, you’ll need the total surface area of the trench. In this example, we’ll assume that filter fabric is needed for the trench’s bottom and sides:

Filter Fabric Area = 2 × (Trench Length × Trench Depth) + (Trench Length × Trench Width)

Filter Fabric Area = 2 × (20m × 0.6m) + (20m × 0.4m) = 24 m²

Step 3: Determine the pipe length and number of fittings

The pipe length required for this French drain is the same as the trench length, which is 20 meters. Depending on the pipe type and layout, you may need various fittings, such as elbows, T-joints, or couplings. In this example, we will assume two 90-degree elbows are needed to navigate around obstacles.

Materials list:

Gravel: Approximately 3.229 cubic meters (m³)

Filter fabric: 24 square meters (m²)

Perforated pipe: 20 meters (m)

Pipe fittings: 2 x 90-degree elbows

French Drain Installation
French Drain Installation

IX. French Drain Maintenance

A well-maintained French drain ensures optimal performance and prevents issues such as clogging, reduced drainage capacity, and potential damage to your property. Here is a detailed maintenance schedule for a French drain:

1. Regular visual inspections

Perform regular visual inspections of your French drain system, especially during and after heavy rainfalls. Look for any signs of water pooling or slow drainage, which could indicate clogs or damage to the system.

2. Annual maintenance

Conduct annual maintenance checks, preferably before the rainy season, to ensure the French drain is functioning effectively. This includes:

Inspecting the surface above the drain: Check for any signs of subsidence or soil erosion, which could indicate problems with the drain. Repair or replace any damaged grass, plants, or landscape features as needed.

Examining the drain inlet and outlet: Ensure the openings are clear of debris, leaves, and silt. Clean and unclog any blocked inlets or outlets to facilitate proper water flow.

Inspecting the filter fabric: If your French drain has a filter fabric surrounding the gravel and pipe, check for any signs of damage, wear, or clogging. Replace damaged or worn fabric to prevent soil and silt from entering the drainage system.

3. Periodic pipe and gravel cleaning

Every 3-5 years (depending on the surrounding soil conditions and usage), consider having a professional clean the perforated pipe and gravel layer in the French drain system. This can be done using high-pressure water jetting or other specialized equipment to remove accumulated sediment, debris, and potential blockages.

4. Periodic replacement

Depending on the materials used and the surrounding environment, you may need to replace certain components of your French drain system periodically. For example, the filter fabric may need replacement every 5-10 years, or the gravel layer might need refreshing if it becomes heavily contaminated with sediment.

5. Monitoring changes in the surrounding environment

Keep an eye on changes in your property’s landscape or any nearby construction activities that could impact your French drain’s performance. If new structures or landscape features alter the flow of water on your property, you may need to adjust or update your drainage system accordingly.

By following a regular maintenance schedule, you can prolong the lifespan of your French drain and ensure that it continues to provide effective drainage for your property.

X. Benefits of French Drains

French drains offer several benefits, including improved drainage, reduced property damage, and a positive impact on the environment. Here is a detailed list of the benefits of French drains, including their carbon footprint:

1. Improved drainage

French drains effectively collect and redirect excess water from your property, preventing waterlogged soil and standing water that can harm your plants, landscaping, and the structural integrity of your property.

2. Reduced property damage

By efficiently managing excess water, French drains help prevent issues such as soil erosion, foundation damage, and basement flooding. This protection can save you from costly repairs and contribute to the longevity of your property.

3. Enhanced landscape health

Proper drainage promotes healthy plant growth and soil conditions. French drains help maintain the right moisture balance in your garden or lawn, reducing the risk of plant diseases caused by waterlogged soil or poor drainage.

4. Sustainable stormwater management

French drains can be an integral part of a sustainable stormwater management system. By redirecting water to a designated area, French drains help reduce the impact of stormwater runoff on local water sources, prevent erosion, and minimize the risk of flooding.

5. Reduced carbon footprint

French drains can contribute to a reduced carbon footprint in several ways:

Materials: French drains typically use locally sourced materials like gravel and perforated pipes, which have a lower carbon footprint compared to other drainage systems that require more energy-intensive materials or manufacturing processes.

Low-energy installation: The installation process for French drains is relatively simple, requiring less energy and heavy machinery compared to other drainage solutions.

Water conservation: French drains can redirect water to areas where it can be beneficial, such as gardens or rainwater harvesting systems. This reduces the need for irrigation and helps conserve water resources.

Reduced need for repairs: French drains can reduce the need for energy-intensive repairs and construction work by preventing property damage.

Overall, French drains provide numerous benefits, including improved drainage, protection for your property, and a positive environmental impact. French drains can be a sustainable, low-carbon solution for managing excess water on your property when properly designed and maintained.

XI. 10 Common French Drain mistakes and to avoid them 

Here are 10 common French drain mistakes and how to avoid them:

1. Incorrect placement

Mistake: Installing the French drain in an area where it cannot effectively collect and redirect water.

Solution: Carefully assess the landscape and determine the best location to capture excess water and guide it away from your property.

2. Insufficient slope

Mistake: Failing to provide an adequate slope for the drain, leading to poor water flow.

Solution: Ensure the French drain has a slope of at least 1% (1 inch of fall per 8 feet of length) to facilitate proper water flow and prevent standing water.

3. Inadequate pipe size

Mistake: Using a pipe with a diameter too small to handle the expected water flow, leading to reduced drainage capacity.

Solution: Choose a perforated pipe with a diameter suitable for the volume of water you anticipate, typically between 4-6 inches.

4. Poor filter fabric installation

Mistake: Not using filter fabric or installing it incorrectly, allowing soil and debris to enter the drain and cause clogs.

Solution: Properly wrap the gravel layer and perforated pipe in filter fabric to prevent soil intrusion and keep the drain functioning efficiently.

5. Insufficient gravel layer

Mistake: Not using enough gravel or using the wrong type, reducing the drain’s effectiveness and lifespan.

Solution: Surround the perforated pipe with a generous layer of clean, washed gravel (typically 1-2 inches in diameter) to provide adequate filtration and support.

6. Connecting to downspouts

Mistake: Connect French drains directly to downspouts or other sources of water, increasing the risk of clogging and undermining the drain’s effectiveness.

Solution: Keep French drains separate from downspouts and use a different drainage system, like a dry well, to manage roof runoff.

7. Discharging water improperly

Mistake: Directing French drain discharge to an inappropriate location, causing erosion, flooding, or legal issues.

Solution: Discharge water to a suitable location, such as a designated drainage area, dry well, or storm sewer, and comply with local regulations.

8. Failing to account for tree roots

Mistake: Installing a French drain near trees without considering potential root intrusion, which can damage the drain and cause blockages.

Solution: Avoid installing French drains near large trees or use root barriers to protect the drain from root infiltration.

9. Lack of maintenance

Mistake: Neglecting regular French drain maintenance, leading to reduced performance and a shorter lifespan.

Solution: Conduct regular inspections, clean the drain as needed, and replace damaged components to ensure optimal performance.

10. Missing Calling Utilities before digging 

Mistake: Attempting to install a French drain without the necessary knowledge or experience, leading to mistakes that can compromise your project and even your life.

Underground utilities are essential infrastructure elements that provide vital services such as water, electricity, gas, and telecommunications to homes and businesses. When undertaking any excavation or digging project, including installing a French drain, it is crucial to be aware of the potential presence of these utilities to avoid causing damage, service disruptions, or potential hazards. One critical step in preventing such incidents is calling the appropriate authorities before you dig.

Not Calling Before You Dig: Risks and Consequences

Failing to call before you dig can lead to several risks and consequences, including:

Damage to underground utilities: Accidentally hitting a utility line while digging can result in costly repairs and service disruptions for you and your neighbours.

Personal injury or fatalities: Striking a gas line or electrical cable can cause explosions, fires, or electrocution, putting your safety and the safety of those around you at risk.

Legal ramifications: You may be held liable for any damages or injuries caused by digging without proper clearance and may face fines or legal actions from utility companies or affected parties.

Project delays: Damaging utilities can lead to significant project delays as you wait for repairs and deal with potential legal issues.

How to Call Before You Dig

To prevent these risks and ensure a safe digging environment, follow these steps:

  • You can contact the Linesearch BeforeUdig service online, which provides a single point of contact for utility companies. 
  • Provide necessary information: You will need to provide details about your project, including its location, the type of work you plan to undertake, and the depth of excavation.
  • Wait for the response: Utility companies typically have a set timeframe to respond to your request (usually 2-3 working days). They will provide you with information about the location and depth of underground utilities in the area, often in the form of utility maps or markings on-site.
  • Dig with caution: Even with utility markings, it is essential to dig carefully and use appropriate tools and techniques to minimize the risk of damaging underground utilities. Hand digging or using vacuum excavation near marked utilities can reduce the risk of accidental damage.
  • By calling before you dig and following the provided guidelines, you can ensure the safety of yourself and others, prevent damage to critical infrastructure, and avoid unnecessary delays and legal issues.

By avoiding these common French drain mistakes, you can ensure that your drainage system functions effectively and lasts for many years.

XII. Conclusion

A well-designed and properly installed French drain can effectively manage excess water on your property, protecting your home and garden from water damage. By following the design principles and installation process outlined in this guide, you can create a reliable and efficient drainage system for your property.

Question to ask about French Drain
Question to ask about French Drain

XIII. Frequently Asked Questions

1. How much does it cost to install a French drain in the UK?

The cost of installing a French drain can vary depending on factors such as the size of the project, materials used, and labour costs. On average, expect to pay between £40-£60 per linear metre.

2. Can I install a French drain myself?

While it’s possible to install a French drain as a DIY project, it’s advisable to consult with a professional if you’re unsure about any aspect of the process. Proper installation is crucial for the drain to function effectively.

3. How do I know if I need a French drain?

If you have issues with excess water on your property, such as pooling water, waterlogged gardens, or damp basements, a French drain could be an effective solution.

4. Can French drains be used in conjunction with other drainage systems?

Yes, French drains can be combined with other drainage systems, such as gutter downspouts or sump pumps, to provide comprehensive water management solutions.

5. What is the lifespan of a French drain?

With proper maintenance, a French drain can last for several decades. Regular inspections and timely repairs will help ensure the system remains effective and durable.

6. Can French drains handle heavy rainfall?

Yes, French drains can handle heavy rainfall if designed and installed correctly. The size and layout of the perforated pipe, as well as the trench’s depth and gradient, should be tailored to accommodate the volume of water expected in your area. The french drain pipes should be at least 150mm diameter.

7. Can I use a French drain to redirect water to a specific area, like a garden or pond?

Yes, French drains can be designed to redirect water to a specific area. However, it’s essential to ensure that the redirected water won’t cause problems or damage in the chosen location.

8. How deep should a French drain be?

The French drain depth depends on the specific issue being addressed and the surrounding soil conditions. Generally, a depth of 45cm to 90cm is sufficient, but deeper trenches may be necessary in some situations.

9. What kind of gravel should I use for a French drain?

Gravel used in a French drain should be coarse and have a size ranging from 20mm to 40mm. Washed, the angular stone is preferable as it allows for better water flow and reduces the risk of settling or shifting over time.

10. Can French drains cause problems for my neighbours?

If installed correctly, French drains should not cause problems for your neighbours. However, it’s essential to ensure that redirected water doesn’t create issues on adjacent properties. Consult with your neighbours and consider local regulations before installing a French drain.

11. Do you need to put gravel under a French drain?

Yes, placing a layer of gravel under the perforated pipe in a French drain is essential. The gravel allows water to flow freely through the system, provides structural support for the pipe, and helps prevent the pipe from becoming clogged with sediment.

12. Should I line my French drain with plastic?

It’s not recommended to line your French drain with plastic, as it can prevent water from entering the drain effectively. Instead, use a permeable filter fabric (also known as landscape fabric or geotextile) to wrap the gravel-filled trench, which will allow water to pass through while keeping soil and debris out of the system.

13. Do you put soil on top of a French drain?

Yes, after installing the French drain components (gravel, filter fabric, and perforated pipe) and adding a top layer of gravel, you should backfill the trench with soil. This will help to stabilize the drain, protect the components from damage, and allow for landscaping or grass planting over the drain.

14. Can you bury a French drain with dirt?

Yes, a French drain can be buried with dirt (soil) after installation. The soil should be carefully backfilled over the French drain components to prevent damage, and the area should be graded to ensure proper drainage.

15. What is an alternative to a French drain?

Some alternatives to a French drain include:

Dry wells: These are underground structures that collect and disperse water into the surrounding soil.

Swales: Shallow, grass-lined channels that direct surface water runoff away from a property.

Rain gardens: Specially designed landscaped areas that collect and filter stormwater, allowing it to infiltrate the ground.

Permeable paving: Paving materials that allow water to seep through, reducing runoff and promoting natural infiltration.

16. Should a French drain be covered with grass?

Yes, a French drain can be covered with grass after the trench is backfilled with soil. This helps to conceal the drain and provides a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. Ensure the grass is adequately maintained to prevent any root systems from infiltrating and potentially damaging the French drain components.

17. Should I put fabric around a French drain?

Yes, you should wrap the French drain’s gravel-filled trench with a permeable filter fabric. This fabric helps to prevent soil and debris from clogging the drain while still allowing water to enter the system.

18. Is sand or gravel better for a French drain?

Gravel is generally better for a French drain than sand, as it allows for more efficient water flow and provides better structural support for the perforated pipe. Sand can become compacted and impede water flow, reducing the drain’s effectiveness. Choose washed, angular gravel with a size ranging from 20mm to 40mm for optimal results.

Table of Contents


Argemiro Rivera, <b>BEng(Hons) MSC CEng MICE MCIWEM C.WEM CEnv</b>
Argemiro Rivera, BEng(Hons) MSC CEng MICE MCIWEM C.WEM CEnv

Passion for Water, Flood Risk & Sustainability
I love to dig into complex flood risk and water engineering projects and deliver them. I focus on delivering reliable flood risk information to protect livelihoods and the environment.

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