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!