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Can I Install Drain Tile Myself? Why DIY Can Become DON’T

Aug 11, 2014 • By Matthew Stock.

Dcp 1710

Can I Install Drain Tile Myself?  Why DIY Can Become DON’T

Drain tile is one of the best solutions for a basement water problem.

Installed inside the basement it relieves hydrostatic pressure under the foundation and eliminates two very common sources of seepage – water coming through cracks in the floor and/or the cove joint.

On the exterior, it can alleviate lateral pressure from oversaturated soil surrounding the foundation and remove ground water that is higher than normal because of weather-related rises in the water table.

The best way to install drain tile of either type is during construction before the foundation is backfilled or the basement floor has been poured.  Not only is it the easiest installation it is also the least costly because it eliminates the excavation required when drain tile is retrofitted.

Because a drain tile system is fairly simple and can be built out of readily available materials, many a do-it-yourselfer has been tempted to at least explore installing it him- or herself.  It’s not impossible but it’s certainly not recommended.  There are several reasons why.

DIY Drain Tile is Not a Good Idea

Let’s take a brief look at how drain tile is installed.

On the interior, drain tile sits below the basement floor next to the foundation footings.  In an existing home the installation begins by removing a strip of concrete floor around the perimeter of the basement.  Then the soil below is dug out to create a trench alongside the footings.

A layer of washed gravel is poured in, the corrugated drain tile piping, wrapped in a “sock” of filtration fabric, is laid on top and routed to the sump basin.  Another layer of gravel covers the pipe and the concrete floor is replaced.

On the exterior, any structure that abuts the house, such as a driveway, sidewalk, deck or patio, must be removed.  Then, the foundation is excavated down to the footings and a similar bed of washed stone is installed.  Exterior drain tile is usually done with perforated PVC pipe, which must be fitted and glued and routed to a sump pump, storm drain or out to daylight.

The pipe is then covered in a gravel bed and then the excavation is backfilled.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Truthfully, drain tile is not a complicated system – one industry expert says, “It’s just pipe and stone.”  However, like any other home repair or improvement, a much better result is obtained by someone who really knows what they’re doing.

The biggest obstacle to a DIY drain tile installation, however, is the amount of work involved.  Let’s look back at the installation from a labor standpoint.

In an interior drain tile installation, the crew shows up and jackhammers out several hundred square feet of concrete that has to be hauled out of the basement in 5-gallon buckets.  Then they dig out a number of cubic feet of soil with more bucket loads carried out of the basement.

Next comes more 5-gallon buckets – these full of gravel.  The gravel is poured into the trench and spread and the pipe is installed.  Then more buckets full of gravel to cover it up.

After that, concrete by the bucketful to replace the section of floor that was removed.  The concrete is finished and the job is finally done.  This may have taken an experienced crew of 5 or 6 installers two days to complete.

There’s no concrete floor on the exterior but there’s lots of digging – all the way down to the foundation footings, which may be as deep as eight feet, to create a trench wide enough to stand and work in.  Then comes all that gravel, PVC pipe to cut, fit and glue, and more gravel.  After all that work, all that remains to be done is to shovel tons of soil back into the excavation and compact it as firmly as possible.

Tired yet?  That amount of labor, even for a homeowner with a bunch of strong and willing friends, is a daunting undertaking that most people just shouldn’t start.  For those who still feel they can handle it, there are other considerations:

  • What if the work that is now buried under tons of soil and/or concrete wasn’t done right?
  • There’s no warranty or other recourse if a problem develops.
  • There’s a major debris disposal problem.  (Where do you put all that dirt and broken concrete and how do you get it there?)

Even building contractors who have the manpower available recognize their limitations and subcontract drain tile work to a basement waterproofing contractor.

Using DIY skills can be helpful in keeping a basement dry – clean gutters and downspouts, keep window well drains clear, etc. – but don’t often extend to drain tile, better done by a professional.  At U.S. Waterproofing, we’ve installed miles of drain tile, both interior and exterior, and kept basements dry for our 300,000 satisfied customers.  Why not get our free advice on drain tile instead of attempting it yourself?

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