What Is a French Drain and How Does It Work?


Drainage is something you'll need to consider when designing your landscape. Without proper drainage, runoff may erode your landscape while simultaneously killing any plants in its wake. While there are different types of drainage systems, though, French drains are a popular choice among homeowners and business owners. What is a French drain exactly, and how does it work?

Overview of French Drains
Also known as a trench drain, a French drain is a type of landscape drainage system consisting of a gravel-filled trench with a perforated pipe. The perforated pipe is placed at the bottom of the trench, and it's covered by a layer of gravel. Like with other drainage systems, French drains are designed to redirect runoff so that it doesn't cause erosion.

How French Drains Work
The mechanics of a French drain are relatively simple. When it rains, water will travel into the French drain where it's redirected away from your landscape.

All French drains have a layer of gravel. Water, of course, can easily pass through gravel. It will flow down through the gravel, at which point the water will enter the perforated pipe below. The perforated pipe used in French drains typically consists of a flexible plastic material. It's perforated with many small holes on the top, however, so that water can enter it.

Here's a brief breakdown of how French drains work:
  • Water flows through the gravel when it rains.
  • Water enters the perforated pipe through the holes on top.
  • Water travels down the perforated pipe to an appropriate drainage area.
Benefits of Using a French Drain
With a French drain, you can protect your landscape from erosion. Erosion can wreak havoc on your landscape if left unchecked. Each time it rains your landscape will erode a little more. Eventually, erosion can wipe out plants and even jeopardize the structural integrity of nearby foundations. A French drain will protect against these and other problems by redirecting the flow of runoff.

French drains are also easier to build than many other types of drainage systems. All it takes is a few basic tools and supplies. You'll need a shovel, some gravel and a perforated pipe. Using these items, you can build a French drain. And if you're still not confident about it, you can hire a professional landscaping company to build a French drain.

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