Around the House: Gutters, Erosion, and French Drains

The soils in most areas of Central Florida are very sandy which does not allow for much ponding due to very quick percolation to the aquifer. This is beneficial to avoid flooding, but it is bad for lawns and shrubs, and can lead to erosion. Sandy soil is quick to erode, and it is not uncommon to see washouts around the yard when heavy flooding rains occur.

In areas beyond Central Florida where the soils are not as sandy, many homeowners use French drainage systems to move water out of ponding areas which also serves as a method for dispersing the water to needed areas of the lawn. French drainage systems are not as popular in the Central Florida, which is probably a mistake due to the erosion factor and the damage rushing water off a home creates to the home and the surrounding flower beds, shrubs, and ornamentals.

Let me illustrate a very common scenario for many Central Florida homes. A home is built that has no gutters and the homeowner designs landscaping around their home which features shrubs, ornamentals, and a flower garden with a sprinkler or drip irrigation system. Once the home is built and the landscaping is installed, the homeowner realizes, after a few frog-strangling summer thunderstorms, that their landscaping is getting destroyed due to significant water beatings and erosion from shedding water off the roof. Additionally, this flooding water off the roof is running down the home’s façade creating significant mildew and possible damage to the home’s exterior from water intrusion.

At this time, the homeowner calls a local gutter company that can install a gutter a system to collect the shedding water off the roof, but there is still an issue of what to do with all this water. The cheapest way to handle the water is to install splash blocks at the end of the gutter downspouts which will splatter and disperse the water. This can work adequately in some circumstances, but parts of the landscaping or yard are still being flooded which can create erosion issues. Also, the splatter effect of the water can mildew and damage your home’s foundation and lawn.

Installing a French drainage system to the end of the downspout will allow the water to be dispersed throughout the yard and stop the significant erosion from occurring around your home’s foundation. A French drainage system will typically use a black, perforated corrugated pipe that can be stretched 50 to 100 feet just underground in the yard and provides great irrigation to the property. The natural gravity of the water flow will push the water and therefore, the chance of erosion is greatly diminished.

A French drainage system is easy to install, and the components are very simple and affordable. It is the type of project a homeowner could easily tackle alone if they are able to handle a shovel and some bags of gravel. The real key is to make sure your corrugated pipe is sloped correctly, and that you extend the corrugated pipe far enough out to handle the amount of the water it is collecting. There is also a side benefit, this should ease some of the washout into the aquifer of the fertilizers and pesticides that are used on your plants and shrubs.

If you do not have a gutter around your home, the next time there is a heavy afternoon thunderstorm inspect the flower bed and shrubs around your house. If you see erosion or it looks like your plants have been badly damaged, there is a good chance you need to install a gutter system. Also look for heavy moisture spots or runs down the façade of your home because this could be creating silent damage. If you see heavy moisture spots, consider installing a gutter system and spend a little extra money on a French drainage system that could move the water further away where it can help the rest of your yard.

Water in Central Florida is a good thing, but too much, too fast can damage your home and its surrounding plants, shrubs, flowers, and lawn.

Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Show which can be seen at AroundtheHouse.TV.