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Question DetailsAsked on 6/18/2011

Swales or french drains - what's better to keep water away from house?

my basement flooded. immediatly removed saturated carpeting, paneling, drywall & insulation. Now the basement is totally gutted to expose walls for waterproofing quotes. also, knew there was regrading to be done, as i'm last house on a sloped street. some friends say put swales; some french drains---is there a difference?

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10 Answers


Hello, Lucy, and welcome.

"why/what is reason for this "interior " way versus the old fashion way? of doing an exterior excavation/waterproofing other than cost??----"

Many companies sell proprietary "interior waterproofing" systems. They're all pretty useless for the serious water problem you are describing. You need to prevent water from coming into your basement as much as possible, not collect it once it gets there. The reason people go for these systems is the salesmen promise them the moon (or a dry basement) and it seems like a quick fix. It is not a fix at all.

First, having noticed the problem with drainage and water in the yard almost as soon as you moved in, you have some comback against the former owners unless they disclosed the drainage issue (and the degree of the problem) in the property disclosure statement, which I doubt they did or you wouldn't have bought the house. You would have to take them to court, but that might seem worthwhile once you get estimates for both fixing the drainage problem the right way and making good the inevitable damage to your foundation that already exists. You also might have a comeback against the company that did your home inspection prior to purchase, assuming they had errors and omissions insurance, which unfortunately they are not required to have under Ohio law.

This is going to be a huge, expensive project and it's possible it might not even be do-able without completely reworking your property's grade. I'd recommend doing a lot of reading at the local library so you are armed with information, and then calling in some home inspectors (two or three with good ratings from Angies' List) to give you an idea of what you're up against. These people will have no vested interest in selling you their particular product and will not be doing any work, so they should be impartial.

Let us know how it goes.

Answered 9 years ago by Commonsense


am a recent widow & bought my first house (my "nightmare") first of the year & 2 months later basement flooded. water came from different area than where previous owners had fixed.

Lots of things come to mind. guess you didn't hire an independent inspector before you signed on the dotted line. Hope you kept copies of all communications.... the reator, etc.

Also hope you have several months before winter rains flood your first home. 1( a "swale" is an above ground in the lay of the land (often natural) : a "french drain" is engineered below grade (usually gravel) method to collect & drain away excess water. 2) waterproofing a basement, maybe~ but a "crock"????

Suggest you attend a home improvement class via a local community service agency or college. It's your home and your investment.

SIGH! would be sooo much more helpful if people who post would provide their geographical location if they want members to respond with worthwile info

Answered 9 years ago by tessa89


thanks commonsense & tessa for reply--THANKS tessa for the "location tip"--took me awhile how to do it cuz i'm also computer illiterate!!!!

HERES AN UPDATE: waterproofer #4 comes & i take downstairs, show gutted basement/tell history & he says he dont think i have problem/i paranoid basically & to call again when get good rain---i look on angie list & seems to have told others same thing.....waterproofer #5 over & i tell story again/show basement, previous owners paperwork from area waterproofed & man from city(??engineer/building inspector?) "topo" /regrading suggestions diagram. Outside he scopes out yard/grading issue etc & very short/brief/no pressure, mentions "interior sytem" like others. I say i not to keen on that idea/reasons why etc...he says something like "never can really keep water away/from under foundation" thus why interior system to make sure stays dry & take water away--i still say I not happy w/this kind of interior solution & want to see whats going on down at foundation & my old italian father & old italian neighbor I met across street from this house (who happens to own cement etc company) says to do it old fashion way exteriorly. He then surpises me & says hate to see me spend thousands of dollars excavating & tells me theres plumbers who have this VIDEO CAMERA & can come out & snake thru lines & see down & to do this first & ;of course to do the regrading & go from there.HE even offered to do the water test-where you put hose in downspout for hour or so & chck for water problems (i declined cuz not what had him there for). i thanked him for learning of this "camera technique". NICE GUY--no pressure/nothing!!!! MEANTIME--couple of previous companies calling back & saying can send out supervisor cuz got ok to to re-evaluate & price reductions -i decline.

THURSDAY 7/26/07--raining in morning--so new neighbor (old italian cement company owner above) calls to say can start replacement of garage floor (big cracks & noticed "damp like" areas which i thought comming thru from outside cuz previous owners left firewood along length of garage & when i removed all,- the cement walkway was slanted down towards garage). i had a.m. appointment so couldnt be there BUT updated him about camera thing & how i have someone coming out tuesday--said he often works in conjunction w/man who owns company/has camera & cleans out drains etc & can call him & see if he can come today--which he did & neighbor came over during video process---IN SHORT--very interesting to watch even though i not understand any of it.---LOTS OF PROBLEMS/ISSUES DOWN THERE!!! 1 thing i could understand is when previous owners waterproofer put in new plastic pipe next to old clay pipe--it was not attached/connected--there was to be a secure wrappng/band thing? to keep the pipes connected & they werent. & also were alot of rocks (previous waterproofer used?) INSIDE a couple of the new plastic "cleanout" pipes ? previous company put in even though they had "covers" on pipes.(work was done in 3/2000). IN THE END couldn't get thru ? to ??STORM LINE?? & said to call city to come out/contact lawyer & they & neighbor will come back after city & we'll go from there--BUT BOTTOM LINE---MAJOR FULL PERIMETER of HOUSE EXCAVATION which i feared but figured would happen ----also, there is about a 25 ft deep natural water well to the side of my deck my italian cement neighbor told me about cuz his kids discovered it very many years ago & called the city d/t it dangerous & city filled it up w/stones (my house /lot sits where used to be farm/barn)---i mentioned this when city man came out --i guess no records of it at city hall?--dont know if this has anything to do w/anything...

IN CLOSING-thanks again for respones---sorry so long (so much more to the story from the start when i inadvertantly entered into a dual real estate relationship/"water disclosure argument" etc---different future post--LEGAL ISSUES????) i say/greet people who come over...."WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE"!!!!!!


Answered 9 years ago by lucy


Lucy; hang in there! keep researching & documenting everything and everyone. Buying a newer home constructed on an old homestead after the land has been bulldozed flat is iffy, You should be able to find county/city records and local newpapers (check local library archives); you may have recourse.. IMHO a rock filled water well can be a sump to collect water, but maybe not in this case. A plumbing problem differs greatly from ground water seepage seepage into a basement!

In CA it's LAW that everything known must be disclosed by the seller..kinda funny (sad) so many things are not disclosed because buyers (realtors won't ask even if they have a clue) don't investigate or ask the right quesitons.

Answered 9 years ago by tessa89


hi, tessa

excavation, new garage floor, new sidewalk & frontsteps all completed. water was found also under garage floor ( as i suspected ) per dad while i on vacation. I forgot to leave the guys a camera to take pictures though. Also, while i on vacation, dad found another wet area on inside basement wall!!!! Just got done 9/13/07 taking off the furring strips off basement walls. Found alot of black & rot from water on the wood. Took out the insulation where the top of cement wall & floor of house meet & alot of "Critter poop" came out with it!!!! I haven't seen any mice or anything---How would/could that be there???

Italian cement guy still has to do outside masonary work to bricks, clean basement cement blocks & repair cracks & where chunks of cement block came out when took off the furring strips that were nailed into the cement block walls!!! Then, he will use DRYLOCK? to seal walls. Found small holes in corners of basement windows where sellers had new cement block windows put in & those have to be ?caulked?.. He's also supposed to put in some french drains for me. I'm not doing the "recommended" re-grading per the city engineer guy @ this time--just a "quickie" french drain if i can. He has to pay or will repair a section of aluminum siding that got gashed--i put duct tape over so the yellowjackets (having a big problem there too) can't get in. I also have to get the outside electrical box repaired, my cost, as he said "slipped out of place/away from the house" during trenching. Sellers fixed the box/conduit as part of sales agreement for almost $600!! GRRRR!!

I'm also in the midst of PEELING off garage paint on the inside walls, that sellers just did..Most of it is comming off like SHEETS of VINYL WALLPAPER!!!! I think they used the same paint as they did for the soffits & aluminum siding..The walls under the paint are damp.. They are also nice & white & clean..Except when you get to 1 wall, there is VERY LARGE discolored area's, that was real wet, but dried out in a few days after i removed the paint..Not sure if its water damage or some type of oil/solvent splatters..1 friend said if it was oil/solvent, it wouldn't have dried out. But, i noticed that when it got humid, that area especially retained the most moisture. Looking up into the attic access from the garage, there is i guess signs on leakage up there , that is on this same wall of discoloration..Don't know if theres a connection.. Still have to get masonary work outside to fireplace & new caps, as the old clay caps are breaking off onto roof. Need to fix fireplace in familyroom too--the grout where the brick attaches it to the wall has to be re-done on the entire perimeter of fireplace--i had used masking tape to seal out the cold air from coming in when first got house!! Have to do something about yellowjackets nesting outside, above my patio door, where brick/soffit/exterior fireplace flashing like area meet, so they dont come inside thru fireplace!!! Spraying the area 1-2 times/day isnlt helping as i can't really get "into" the area!! GRRR!!---So, cant use deck now & they are just all over my yard flying around too.

The list goes on for my nightmare money pit...But, 1 good thing, my smokehouse neighbor's been gone most of summer & when home briefly for a day or two, hasn't smoked!!!

LASTLY******.I contacted a LAWYER.******.I have a 9/26/07 MEETING!!!!! ****** I am to bring the sales contract & all pictures & videotapes to him. I also am going to bring the calender they left behind that had a notation of "pest control" for April!!! And also the waterproofers papers i had the sellers leave me. I mentioned to him about the idea of maybe pursuing a RESCISSION of the SALE from the sellers d/t not disclosing smokehouse neighbors smoke & smell etc, but it kinda seems it might not be the way to go...we'll see....

Bye for now ***************LUCY*************

Smokehouse neighbor has been gone most of summer & not"smoking":

Answered 9 years ago by lucy


Obviously you've be very busy. no doubt it's been a learning experience.

IMHO, I'd be less concerned about a neighborhood smokehouse than the water seeping into my home. Best to you

Answered 9 years ago by tessa89


"IMHO, I'd be less concerned about a neighborhood smokehouse than the water seeping into my home."

You said it. And the obvious rot and mold in the walls and ceiling. . .and roof. . .what a horrible situation. That house sounds like a tear down to me.

Answered 9 years ago by Commonsense


Lucy, it's been nearly a month without an update. Hope your project is going foward successfully.

Answered 9 years ago by tessa89


Hi all,

just wanted to share the latest,since i first posted in "AROUND the HOUSE--BASEMENT WATERPROOFING & REGRADING". Will be brief, as i am trying to pack for florida (tampa/clearwater) vacation. Leaving wednesday...ACTUALLY, going on day #5--my mistake-- in about 7 hrs.. .Italian cement nieghbor is doing my excavation & waterproofing. Already got the INTERIOR VIDEO ( onto disc ) of my "tiles/pipes/lines"--$350.00!!!

1) THURS-SAT---Nice Weather!!! ALOT of machinery/tools/people/trucks..I CAMCORDED excavation process.

WE STARTED in BACK/DECK area, off of family room. There is a fireplace in family room & one DIRECTLY BELOW also, in basement. THIS area of basement ("fireplace room") & along side of house where i have a neighbor (i have corner lot) is WHERE FLOOD came in. THUS, this back/deck area, also contains the fireplaces. SO, part of deck is torn out & there's old stone patio still in place underneath. Excavation finds THIS IS AREA where SELLERS WATERPROOFER did WORK & NOT "laundry Room" area (which is "around the corner") as realtor TOLD me it was done. I mad--because when i flooded & SELLERS WATERPROOFER came out--HE told ME to do "WATER TESTS" on downsputs/foundation when winter ended, to see if any flooding happens!!! MAJOR FINDINGS: 1) cement "ledge" on fireplace brick was NOT "tarred" by previous waterproofer &/or builder 30 yrs ago. 2) footer where cement block foundation is on was NOT tarred either. 3) NEW PVC "tiles" by previous waterproofer were ONTOP of footers instead of BELOW/on SIDE of footer . 4) PVC "trap like" connection on corner of back/neighbor side of house area. 5) ?pipe leading to nowhere/not connected , by previous water proofer on other cornerof back/where laundry room area meets. 5) something about the placement/height where the NEW storm pipes? (ones which carry water from; gutters away) where not right by previous waterproofer.. 6) tree/shrub roots galore & old clay tile/pop bottles left in trench by previous waterproofer.

NEXT--excavation of along "neighbor side" of house..MAJOR FINDINGS: 1) a BLACK plastic PERFORATED tubing (looked like what you use to vent your dryer out-only black- & what my dad says farmers use on their farms to ?irrigate/defer water away?.. THIS was about a couple feet under the dirt...If the SELLERS put this in--then THEY KNEW ABOUT WATER PROBLEMS--for this side of house & back/deck area is where flooded. 2) old clay tiles so blocked w/clay mud 3) shrub roots 4) no tarring of where footer/cement basement blocks meet again (as w/rest of perimeter)

NEXT--front of house & under front steps to end of attached garage---same thing w/roots & clay/stone packed old clay drain tiles. The corner where the old clay ?storm pipe? was , was actually filled w/a root mass, that when it was pulled out-it was the shape of the pipe.

REST of GARAGE area deferred to last & new garage floor to be done--but the pipe lines connecting front to back that run under the garage floor were flushed out. They had a hard time & thought maybe the pipes were ?misaligned? & or not connecting right?, but then said believed they're ok.---i really didn't understand this part & plan of action RE; connecting old/new was changed.

FINISHING up to where we are now going to the back again & bypassing the remaining side of the garage--(we had to call a heating/air person to remove my a/c unit from this area & is where all my cable/phone etc lines are)--we now are along side where "laundry room" area in basement is & back to corner of back/deck area (where they found pipe leading to nowhere) & to tell the truth--@ this hour of posting & so many "findings" they told me to camcord--i can't remember what the other "MAJOR FINDING" was i camcorded!!!!

LAST--trenches dug were nice. THEY laid down new pvc drain tiles & ?storm lines? with clean outs at ALL bends (ALOT)--per the city engineer who had come out & did that "topo" for me, his recomendations. walls were powerwashed, cracks sealed & tarred---which included the cement "fireplace LEDGE" & all footer/cement basement block seams .

2) SUnDAY---Let the rains begin. Well lets just say musdslides into trenches AND NOW INSIDE MY BASEMENT i have a leak-water comming out of HOLE in GROUT where a waterproofer who came out for estimate took a screwdriver & poked a HOLE in it----more on that later

3) MONDAY--RAIN/MUDSLIDES---inspector out so crew can start backfill stones quickly--don't know much because i at work---BUT MY INSIDE LEAK getting bigger--

4) TUESDAY--today is another day

----all for now--i'm tired & tired of my nightmare----i'll post in about a week when i back from FLORIDA if can't get back before i leave


Answered 9 years ago by lucy


DAY #5---tuesday

no work done today and the rains stopped..supposed to continue work wednesday AND its supposed to rain again WED---SUNDAY!!!!!

my yard is still a swamp . Regrading will be done next.

My basement leak is drying d/t no rain today. There's a basement window above. From the window, going down, is a "stair step" crack & the hole poked in my grout is in this path, about the 3rd cement block down. Water came out of the hole & the surrounding blocks were all wet. My Dad seems to think that on the outside, the aluminum siding "strips" that are on the left & right sides of the window is where the water from the rains is getting into--especially since is no bushes anymore. The "strips" are not in place correctly (don't know how to describe it)--so water is able to make its way in somehow..BUT, on the inside of the basement, the windows cement "ledge" & surrounding area, it is dry.. ALSO, on the outside, the grout & cement around the window is cracked & broken. I kept the "furring"??? wood strips on the walls after basement was gutted, but the 1 by the leak/hole was loose so i pulled it off (the wood "furring" strips are nailed into the cement blocks & i've heard it shouldn't have been done that way) & on the backside of the wood that was against the wall black colored in big areas. Does this mean water has been coming thru in the past, but couldn't see it cuz was covered w/drywall & washable wall paper??

Last, my upstairs bathroom has been leaking under the sink i discovered today. The contact paper i put in was wet after i washed up & had stains on it. i'll deal w/this when i come back from vacation..I have one of those HOME WARRANTY deals that came w/the house, so i probably should be covered.

Enough for now--going on vacation... ********LUCY

.BUT MAIN BATHROOM now has LEAK under the sink. i put a bucket under & deal with it when back from vacation..The house came with one of those HOME WARRENTY deals, so maybe the bathroom leak will be covered.

Answered 9 years ago by lucy

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