Garage Drainage Tile

Blog, Home, Outside / Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

If you don’t live in Wisconsin and/or haven’t heard about it on the news, then let me tell you that we’ve been hit with a lot of rain this year. There was a stretch of a few weeks where a good part of everyone’s commute was flooded in some way, shape or form. I was mostly unaffected, because I could avoid the new traffic by taking the road people weren’t driving on because of a closure right after where I turned off that road. But yeah, a whole lot of rain fell in our small town this year.

Fortunately, only twice I found some water in our basement and all of it amounted to less than a cup of water. Both times I found the water, it was because our gutters were backed up and I needed to go unclog them. It was a minor annoyance and we hope to fix it next year by installing gutter guards on the whole house.

Drainage Tile Water In Garage

However, we were much less fortunate in our garage. We don’t keep much on the floor of our garage, other than the car, my motorcycle, and the mower so nothing was really ruined but the rear of our garage had the tendency to fill up with water whenever there was a bit more than a light rain. To be fair, this started last winter, before all the rain, but back then we were getting a lot of snow followed by warm days that would melt nearly all the snow. Our yard was a mud pit for the majority of the winter and an ice rink the rest. The garage filled up with water and froze several times. We do have a wet/dry vac that I’ve been using to pull the water out, but I’d really prefer if that water didn’t get in the garage in the first place.

What I thought was the culprit was the mulch I threw down last fall. I had piled it up high behind the garage to help with the weeds there and I assumed the higher ground level was causing the rain to run off over the concrete lip into the garage. After nearly the whole summer, Ellie pointed out after I had dried the garage that the wet spots seemed to be creeping up at random on the floor in the back of the garage. It didn’t start from the wall and move in. 

This led us to devise a two-pronged approach to combat the water. This is part one (drainage tile) of the process and we’ll take care of part two (sealing the concrete) next year. My thinking was that we would first take the water away from the garage with the drainage tile, and then we could seal the concrete to keep it from coming in. Maybe we should have done it the other way around, but I’m just making this up as I go.

I read up on installing drain tile and the process/concept is pretty straightforward, but also a bit more complex than I realized. I originally thought all I’d need to do was dig a trench, put the drain tile in it, bury it, and then call it a day. What I learned was that I needed to dig the trench deep, lay down landscaping fabric, pour in gravel, lay down the drain tile, bury it in more gravel, cover it more landscaping fabric, and then bury it all over again. The fabric keeps the rocks in place and the rocks are used as a filtering mechanism. The goal is to keep everything but water out of the drain tile. 

When I first priced the project, I figured it’d be pretty cheap to do, mostly just time. But then as I priced it with the proper process, the price ballooned a bit to just under $100 which still isn’t bad in my book. However, that $100 grew to $150 because I just guessed at how much rock/gravel I would need and I guessed low. I needed at least twice as much as I had estimated. I’m sure I could have gotten what I needed in a bulk delivery but I didn’t want to have to shovel it all and I also didn’t want it to take up the whole driveway like the mulch did last year. I’m also told that if I went with a bulk delivery, I could have stated how long, deep, and wide my trench would be and I could have had the exact amount of gravel delivered to fill it in. Live and learn, I suppose. 

The plan was to dig a 50 foot trench (ten feet behind the garage, twenty-five feet to the side of the garage, and fifteen feet along the side of the driveway). The trench needed to be below the concrete slab of the garage and gradually angle downward to where the water would be deposited. Let me tell you, I didn’t realize the kind of work I was getting myself into.

Want to know what made it worse? Rain. Rain made it so much worse. We haven’t had a rain free week since what feels like the beginning of the summer. Since we’re moving closer to winter and the frost and ground freeze, I wanted to get this done sooner than later. But since I didn’t consult with the weather, I ended up working through rain on the days I had planned to dig and fill the trench. In some ways, the rain made it a bit easier because I could slide the shovel right through it. But in may ways, it made it so much worse for me. The mud was heavier, easier to get stuck in, easier to slip on. It stuck to the shovel, the rake, the hoe, the pickax, basically any tool I tried to use to use to break up the soil/sand/clay mixture. And it just plain made a mess of everything.

Digging was hard. I was digging right up against the garage which made for some difficult angles. I was digging between the garage and the grapevine. I was digging a couple feet deep, through mud and rock and clay. I was digging alone and with no insight into what I could do to do it better or make the work easier. This was one of the more taxing projects for my body, though I walked away from it relatively pain-free.

To dig the trench,  I tried using a shovel and then a hoe and then a pickax to break the soil. All had their pros and all had their cons. As I drove the shovel in and then hoisted my weight up onto it, I thought about the automated solutions I could have bought to dig the trench. It was like thinking about sitting by the fire drinking cocoa while you’re stuck out in the cold rain. Sounds nice, but it wouldn’t have happened. Even if I could find the right tool, in the right price range, I don’ think I could have gotten it into the narrow space between the garage/grapevine and the garage/neighbor’s fence. It would have been just as much hassle to try to maneuver it into place to make my job easier. Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell myself to allow me to sleep at night.

I split the work up over two weekends, because it was a whole lot more work than I expected. Having never dug much more than a hole to plant things in the garden, I just assumed a trench would move along quickly. It didn’t. The first weekend, I roughed out the trench and removed the soil for the whole 50 feet of it. In addition, because I had some time and daylight, I dug down deeper for 10 to 15 feet of it, enough to bury a length of the drain tile behind the garage. The following weekend, I dug out the rest and laid the drain tile down before covering it all over again.

It was a mess.

That last part of the last day, I dialed it in. I was exhausted. Covering the drain tile back up with mud was hard, hard work. I expected it to be the easiest but no. All the rain that had fallen on the soil glued the pile together and weighed it down. I half-assed it. I put enough soil over the tile and packed it down that it seemed covered but I knew it would settle still. That’s why I left the remaining soil on the ground next to the trench, in case I need to add more, not because I couldn’t bear to lift another shovelful of mud. 

Drainage Tile Finished

In the end, I don’t know if what I did is going to make as much of a difference as I want it to. In the back of the garage, I don’t think I laid the drain tile down deep enough. Throughout the length of the tile, I don’t think there was enough rock around it. I’m not positive I had enough incline, if any, to carry the water in the right direction. It sure looked right, but since it was raining, it made me lazy. 

Once we stop getting rain this week, I’ll go out and vacuum out all the water in the garage. Then, the next rain will tell us how much, if at all, this helped. Either way, we’re still planning to seal the concrete next year. Fortunately, that will be a far easier project because there won’t be any digging involved! Stay tuned for updates.

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