Extending Downspouts Underground – Beware the “Pipe to Nowhere”


Extending Downspouts Underground – Beware the “Pipe to Nowhere”

It’s a well-accepted fact that excess rain water near the foundation of a home is an invitation to a wet basement.

For example, homes have rain gutter systems to collect and channel rain water off the roof into a downspout instead of simply allowing it to pour over the edge where it will saturate the soil in the 10-foot zone around the home and ultimately end up in the basement.  Most homeowners get this and keep their gutters clean and flowing.

Then, there’s the downspout.  Often sort of an afterthought, the downspout is the pipe that takes the water from the gutters and conveys it to the ground.  If, however, the downspout is nothing but a straight pipe, with perhaps a short elbow attached, that ends at or above ground level, the whole thing is useless because the water is still being dumped around the foundation, this time in concentrated spots, and the basement is destined to leak.

Again, most homeowners get the concept but, regrettably, many of them seem to think that, as long as their downspout disappears into a pipe or the ground, all is well.  Too many times, however, what appears to be a functioning downspout extension turns out to be the “pipe to nowhere.”

How the “Pipe to Nowhere” Leads to a Wet Basement

The pipe to nowhere comes in several disguises but they all have one thing in common – they create a concentration of storm water on or in the ground around the foundation of a home and cause the basement to seep water through any one (or more) of a variety of openings.

There’s the “looks good above the ground” pipe to nowhere that gives the appearance of an underground downspout extension but is nothing more than a piece of pipe sticking out of the ground. 

One local homeowner with a concrete block foundation, for example, had downspouts running into professionally-installed PVC pipes that led into the ground.  When these “extensions” were dug up, they turned out to be straight lengths of pipe that extended 2 feet into the soil and stopped.  They went literally nowhere but caused the soil to be oversaturated and the basement walls to seep.

Then there’s the “looks good on paper” pipe to nowhere that is an underground extension but is so poorly planned and designed that it does more harm than good.

Another local homeowner had underground extensions installed using the kind of corrugated plastic pipe that is normally used for interior drain tile.  This pipe is perforated and the idea behind the design was that water would flow through the perforations and be absorbed by the soil.  This might have worked for a short time when only a trickle entered the pipe but it was completely buried, causing it to clog up with soil and the first heavy rain backed up the extensions and overflowed back at the house.

Finally, there’s the “it’s connected to what?” version of the pipe to nowhere that is often found on older homes.  Chances are, when downspouts empty into a terra cotta clay pipe that extends out of the ground, this pipe is connected to the home’s exterior drain tile system.  This may work OK but it can create other maintenance problems.

When the water from the downspout flows into the drain tile system, it multiplies several times over the volume of water the drain tile was designed to handle.  This greater volume of water creates a huge load on the sump pump, which will run almost continuously in heavy rains, shortening its life and increasing the risk of failure.  There are much easier and less costly ways of extending a downspout and preserving the sump pump.

So how does a homeowner avoid the dreaded “pipe to nowhere?”  By having a qualified basement waterproofing contactor design and install an underground downspout extension system that goes to the right place – a bubbler pot, dry well or storm sewer – and that will keep rainwater away from the foundation and out of the basement.

At U.S. Waterproofing we’ve been keeping basements dry for more than 57 years by a variety of methods and we have designed and installed underground downspout extensions for many of our more than 300,000 satisfied customers.  Why not ask for our free advice?


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