I like water. Without water, there’d be no invigorating shower after a long day of toil, no refreshing dip on a 90° day, and the toilet wouldn’t work quite as well. Also, water is a key ingredient in many of my favorite refreshing beverages, not least of which is a hoppy IPA. Sometimes, though, water is not my friend – like when it tries to float away my shed, or comes seeping through our basement walls. Our driveway slopes toward our shed, and every time it rains water comes cascading down at it. Over the years, this has pretty well rotted out the bottom of the doors. We recently had to redo our driveway, since there was only about one square foot of it that WASN’T cracked. I decided to take the opportunity to install a channel drain, to send the unwanted water
into my neighbor’s yard somewhere it wouldn’t be such a nuisance.
There are various types of channel drains available. I wanted one that would sit pretty much flush with the surface of the driveway, so it could be walked on. The drains I got have a removable grate on top that will (hopefully) catch the river of water flowing over the concrete toward the shed. The units I bought are 40” long and 5” wide, made of extremely durable polypropylene. They can be linked together to make a continuous drain of any length, and have 4” segments that allow you to cut them to a shorter length. They’ll work in a sidewalk as well as a driveway.
The drains can be configured in several different ways. They come with end caps so you can close them off, or have the outlet in the end. There is also a knockout underneath, to allow the water to drain down and away. The units are sized to use 4” PVC drain pipe, which is cheap, easy to work with, and readily available.
The ideal time to install a channel drain is when you first put in your driveway or sidewalk. Everything is nice and opened up, and you can position the components exactly where you want them. If you have an existing sidewalk or driveway, you can still install a channel drain, but it’s a bit more labor intensive. If your driveway is just dirt or gravel, it’s not too big a deal; just measure it up, dig it out with a pickaxe and shovel, put a tamped-down bed of pea gravel under the unit, and proceed with the installation. If your existing surface is concrete, a bit more effort is required. You’ll need to rent a special saw capable of cutting through your concrete (typically, 5” for a driveway, 4” for a sidewalk), and remove enough material to get your drain, and drain pipes, installed. If you go this route, leave a couple of inches of extra space all around to make your patch job easier.
How to Install A Channel Drain – Free Workout Included!
You’ll want to choose a site for the drain at least a foot or so from the area you’re trying to protect. The idea is to intercept the water before it runs into your wall, garage door, or whatever. Once you have the site picked out, map out a route to carry away the water you’ll be collecting. Make sure you’re not solving one problem, but creating another. If there’s a street or ditch close by, and local ordinances don’t prohibit it, there’s your ideal destination. (It’s not normally required, but it’s not a bad idea to check with your local building inspector to see whether or not a permit is necessary). In our case, to get it to the street would have required an uphill run of pipe, so gravity dictated that we route it around the side of the shed and onto the hillside behind it. There it continues to flow down the hill to an area of trees and random assorted greenery. Any leftover water continues into the alley, and ends up in the storm sewer, and shortly after that in the mighty Ohio River – a much more suitable destination than my shed.
On my project, the bed of gravel for the concrete was already in. I just had to remove an inch or so to get the drains at the right height. I dug a trench deep enough to accommodate the elbow, and tunneled under the concrete forms and around the corner, following along the side of the shed. I used a pickaxe and shovel, and encountered numerous buried pieces of concrete and broken bricks, tree roots, and other miscellaneous nuisance material. This is pretty common when you dig close to where any kind of foundation or slab is; the open area around when it is being poured is a tempting dumping ground for construction debris. It’s also not a bad idea to have your local utility flag any underground utilities before you start bashing them with a pickaxe.
Make sure your pipes are sloping away from the drain. A steep angle isn’t necessary, but try not to end up with any troughs in the pipe, where water can collect. If you end up with too much water in the pipe, it’s possible it will freeze, expand, and crack your lovely pipe next winter. Of course, this assumes you live in a frozen wasteland, like I do; if you live in a tropical paradise, like San Diego, it’s not quite so critical.
Once you’ve got your aquatic escape route all laid out, just clean and glue the sections of pipe together. I linked two of the 40” units together, giving me a nice, 80” wide drain right in front of the shed. Using a level, I positioned it so the top would be just barely below where the finished level of the concrete would be, and made sure the drain assembly was tilted very slightly in the direction I wanted the water to go. I removed the knockout from the bottom of the drain, and connected a 90° PVC elbow right to it, heading straight off to the right. The drains have protrusions along the side; drive a 12” galvanized spike, or a piece of rebar, through each one, into the ground below. This will stabilize the drain until it’s backfilled.
Note: the drains I bought had no label on them at all. There was a sealed plastic bag stuffed inside them, with end caps and a sheet of paper that contained no instructions, but DID say that regular PVC glue wouldn’t work on the type of plastic the drains were made of. This necessitated a mid-project trip back to the home center, during which many colorful but unprintable phrases were uttered. If you get any type of plastic drain, make sure you ask someone in the store to check the requirements. If necessary, pick up a container of the appropriate super-secret glue, along with all the drain pieces you’ll need. This will save you time, gas, and unnecessary blood pressure elevation. Note to the manufacturer: SPEND FIVE CENTS AND PUT A STINKING LABEL ON YOUR PRODUCT!
After your assembly has had time to cure properly, it’s a good idea to run a hose full-blast into your drain, to make sure your water is going where you want it BEFORE you backfill. Assuming all is well (and how could it not be!), cover the drain pipe with the assorted dirt and detritus you dug up to make the trench.
A final HomeFixated pro tip: If you will be pouring concrete around the drain, make sure you completely cover the drain with a good coating of duct tape. No matter how neat you think your concrete job will be, you’ll end up with it in some of the cracks, or covering over the screws that hold the grate in place.
And that’s it! You can now wait for the next deluge with a peaceful heart, and your favorite water-based beverage in hand. Your quest to install a channel drain is complete!
25 thoughts on “How to Install a Channel Drain and Tell That Water Where to GO!”
I need to catch the rain water that flows downhill along the sandy soil towards my goat sleeping pen/shed. I think this will work well. I need to make sure I get the slope right. Thank you.
I am doing a new driveway with pavers, can I set the channel drain on top of road base and surround and stabilized with pavers to lock it in place rather than using concrete?
That might work; I’d still be concerned about having it well-anchored, so it wouldn’t rock when you drive over it. You could contact the manufacturer, NDS, at 800-726-1994, and get their input. Let us know what the verdict is!
if you’re using pavers, you don’t need a channel drain. With all your gravel, sand base it should drain without any problems. Thats why you use pavers for draining and adding to the aquifer. f you’re putting pavers on concrete. you will need drainage.
I’d set it into a little bit of concrete in there just to secure it. That’s how I like to do it.
Hi, I’d like to just put in a channel drain next to my existing sidewalk – would I be able to just dig a trench slightly wider than the channel drain and put it the ground next to the sidewalk?
I don’t see why not. I’d prep the trench by compacting the soil, and adding a layer of crushed stone or stone dust. And make sure to secure it well with long spikes.
I’m putting in the Channel down beside my carport witch is concrete my driveway is blacktop what kind of space do I leave between my concrete and channel
I’m not sure I know exactly what you’re asking, but if you’re setting the channel in concrete, there’s no space between, the channel gets embedded into the concrete.
Enjoyed the article, but still have a few questions. What would you suggest if your drain needs to slope more than the driveway you are installing the drain in ( I don’t want the concrete sloped back to the drain)? It’s seems to get the slope I want on the drain, it will be under the concrete on one end of a level driveway. Sorry if this seems poorly explained, and thanks for any help you may provide!
I think I understand your problem – your driveway is level, so how the heck do you get water to drain away? The only solution I can think of would be to dig a good-sized dry well for the water to run into, once it hits the drain. If possible, put it somewhere on a lower level than the driveway. If your entire driveway is level, there shouldn’t be too much water getting into the drain, since there’s no slope to direct it there.
If a lot of water DOES get into the drain and into the dry well, though, it will need an escape vent in the dry well, otherwise it will back up and flow back out of the drain. If anyone can come up with a better solution, please pass it along!
We currently have a brick walk surrounding the back portion of our house. This area collects massive amounts of water. Would a channel drain work if I were to pull up the brick, place the channel drain in the middle, anchor with the brick on either side (to reestablish the walk way)? I should be able to have all this go to one maybe two common drain areas to drain off to the street).
I don’t see why not. If you can find the lowest points, and replace some of the brick like you mentioned, that should go a long way in getting rid of the excess water. It sure worked in our driveway. Make sure you anchor the drain well with long spikes, too. Good luck!
Would I need to put some concrete around the drain grate if I put it in a gravel driveway?
The drain doesn’t really have to be set in concrete, but I don’t know how stable it would be if it was set into a gravel driveway. If you’re able to surround it with tightly-packed dirt, and use the longest spikes available that will fit the anchor holes, it wold probably be pretty stable. If it gets a lot of traffic, it might need a little tweaking from time to time.
Re channel drains: my house has a 1 car garage/driveway. My street has no storm drains whatsoever. The driveway is papered. The base of the driveway collects massive amounts of rain (and snow) to the point that you cannot pass on foot to get into my house. Would a channel drain at the base of the drive work? Where would the water go? Any help is appreciated. Thank you for your time.
A channel drain should help pretty much anywhere water collects, Marilyn. As you realize, though, that water has to have somewhere to go. I have no idea what your setup is like, but the water needs a downhill escape route. In my situation, I was able to route the piping around my shed, keep the pipe sloping slightly downward, and have it surface about 10′ behind the shed, as our yard slopes down away from the house and shed. This allows the water to run down the hill, and eventually into an alley.
If the yard sloped the other way, I would have had it emerge near the street, and had the water empty out there. That’s what we do with the water from our downspouts. Depending on where you live, that may not be allowed, so check with your code enforcement peeps before you do anything. If you have nowhere to drain the runoff to, there’s another option, but it requires a bit of work – you can dig a dry well. Here’s a link to a short video from This Old House that shows how it’s done. Good luck, and let us know how it works out.
Hi I need a drainage channels in concrete drive ways but I don’t have a clue how it possible to put pipes on it or don’t need it please help I wast if is possible to just put drainage channels simple and the water goes to the ground since no one in my neighbors hood have that system anyone who do that job please contact me
Hi, Alicia – Sounds like you need a referral to a good contractor. Your best bet might be to try Angie’s List, or see if there’s some similar referral network in your area. It’s tough to make any suggestions without seeing your setup, but a competent contractor should be able to get you set up with a good drainage system.
I need a drain system to put next to the wood siding. I do not want to install sheet metal and pour concrete against the sheet metal. There must be a better way.
If you wanted to use the type of drain I used in this post, you wouldn’t necessarily have to set it in concrete. You could dig a channel the right size to install the drain, set it in and pack tightly around it with dirt. The drains have holes on the side that will accept large galvanized spikes, which would hold it in place. I’m not sure how satisfactory this setup would be, once erosion starts working its magic. Anyone else have a suggestion?
This is almost the exact setup as far as my yard and my issues. Thank you! I didn’t see a pic of the very end of the pipe, though. Am I getting it right that the end of the pipe comes out of the ground somewhere on the hillside below and next to the garage?
Exactly, Carrie. The yard slopes down, and the pipe empties out a few yards behind the shed. I put a few rocks under the end of the pipe, to keep the water from eroding the ground. It works great!
Grate article! All the extra pitch that makes the job flow easier are a welcome addition.
Grate article – good one! Glad you enjoyed it. And you’re right, Rick – having the ground sloping away from the area definitely helps get rid of the water.