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French Drain - So What the Heck is It?

Jan 23, 2012 • By Matthew Stock with Ben Shachter.

French Drain - So What the Heck is It?

A French Drain is a mysterious solution for waterproofing a basement or foundation, rarely understood by homeowners and contractors alike.  The origins of the French Drain system coincidentally has nothing to do with the European home of fine wines or the city of love.  You will not find early paintings of French Tile in the Louvre! 

Henry French was a judge and farmer from Concord, Massachusetts, who wrote the book “Farm drainage: the principles, processes, and effects of draining land with stones, wood, plows, and open ditches, and especially with tiles “, published in 1860.  His drains revolutionized surface irrigation systems from simple ditches to a sub-terranean clay piping systems, often buried in stone, used to transport water with the help of gravity. Essentially, a French Drain is a yard drainage system.  So, is this “Drain Tile”?

Drain Tile is a vague term in itself.  Drainage Tile (piping) systems are used to transport water. The earliest drainage systems were made of clay roofing tiles, hence the word “Tile” in Drain Tile.  But, are Drain Tiles and a French Drain the same thing?  How about Sub-Soil Drainage Systems? Field Tile? Weeping Tile? The answer is yes and no.  Confusing? Let’s take a further look.

In the basement waterproofing business we commonly refer to drain tile systems, with the designation of Interior Drain Tile or Exterior Drain Tile (for a comparison of these systems, click here).  These are what builders and architects refer to as Footing Tile Systems; a piping system laid alongside the footing at a depth lower than the basement floor to prevent a water table from forming beneath your concrete floor slab.  Most homes constructed after 1960 were built with a footing (drain) tile system.  If you have a sump pump with a pipe coming into the pit that looks like it is coming from the outside, you probably have a drain tile system.

Field Tile or Sub-Soil Drainage systems usually are installed just below the surface grade (about 1-3 feet) to manage surface water.  These systems are sloped to use gravity to move the water from a low spot where the water collects and pools.  This most closely follows Henry French’s original design; therefore the French Drain is really a surface water drainage or transport system.  Rarely is this water connected to the sump pump inside the home.  Ground surface water can easily overwhelm your sump pump during a heavy or prolonged rain!

Do you need a Surface Drainage System or Footing Tile System to help prevent basement seepage?  Contact us for a free evaluation.  Our Advisors are trained to diagnose your problem and present the most cost effective interior and/or exterior solutions.

Tags: basement waterproofing facts, french drain, drain tile, what is drain tile, exterior drain tile, interior drain tile

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