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I've got some concerns about the drainage on our property and want to consult with a professional about. The problems, I'm not sure what kind of professional to call.

To provide some context, here's the issues I'm concerned about:

  • During heavy rains, our back yard becomes a wading pool. This water accumulates up against the stucco of the house, but I've not noticed any penetration into the crawlspace (yet). There is a drain system that is able to keep up with normal rain volume, but it's unclear where it drains to.
  • In the front yard, there appears to be erosion that has created a hollow area under a corner of our concrete driveway and the sidewalk.

I'd like someone to take a look at both situations and see if there's an overarching problem or if the drain system is broken and causing the erosion. We've also got some settling in the garage (large crack in concrete floor) that makes me wonder if the drainage problems are related to that. The drain line potentially runs next to the garage.

All the searching I've done to figure out who to call has yielded landscapers that would happily do work for me, but I'm not sure if they'd be able to investigate completely rather than just addressing the visible problems. Is a structural engineer the right person to call in? Someone else?

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4 Answers

Typically, a civil engineer is the person that designs drainage and landscape contouring. The excavators and landscape contractors follow the plan from the engineer. This is in a perfect world of course. But always in developments and large projects. In your small application, you might find qualified help from a larger excavating contractor that has civil engineers on staff. They will want to see the problems, know the existing drainage system, take some soil core samples and look at adjoining properties. Don't expect to have the services of a civil engineer come cheaply, but the results should give you peace of mind, and solve your problems.

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As others have suggested, a good excavator or even a landscape contractor might be able to find relatively simple ways to alter the landscape of your yard so that water will naturally flow away from the home.

Civil engineer would be your best bet but they are also expensive enough that I see them as the last ditch effort if other measures have been failing. Typically experienced landscape contractors or excavators can figure out where the water is flowing during a rainstorm and divert it away from the house with a bit of digging.

French Drains

While water may not be seeping into your foundation right now, having all of that water pool next to the house is inviting problems. Reagrdless of landscaping, it is a good idea to install french drains around the perimeter of your house if you know that rain water is inevitably flowing towards your home.

enter image description here

The following image is a typical installation. The drain itself is typically a trench running a couple of feet typically from the house and going down below the frost line. You want the drain pipe to be deep enough that it will be below the frost line so that water flowing inside the pipe will not freeze and crack it. The frost line differs by region, obviously colder climates have a deeper frost line.

The holes allow water to flow down or up into the pipe, while the pipe running at a slight downward slope will take the water and flow it away from the house in another direction. It typically sits on a thin bed of gravel and the trench is filled with gravel rather than soil as water will more easily flow down through to the drain pipe if the trench is filled with gravel rather than soil. Soil will also potentially clog the drain making it ineffective. For aesthetic reasons, sod can be placed over top or you can do something clever like make a rock garden.

If you are a masochist and thoroughly enjoy pain, then you can grab a shovel and dig the trench, but for those of us who are lazy and like excuses to play with complicated equipment, you can rent a backhoe for a day and turn a week long digging job into a 2 hour weekend job. When digging however, be extremely careful about the location of underground utilities:

  • Water lines

  • Gas lines

  • Sewer lines

  • Electrical conduit

  • Cable and telephone lines.

Make sure to identify where these come into the house and approximate their location and depth in relation to where you intend to dig your trench. If any of them are close then it is probably best to call a professional just to be safe.

Gutters and Downspouts

Another possiblity could simply be that your gutter downspouts are draining too close to the house, or are draining into storm drains that have become clogged.

The following is an example of a downspout draining too close to the foundation.

enter image description here

Many times this can be fixed rather easily, by extending the downspout horizontally away from the house, or channelling it far enough away that it has somewhere to flow other than down your foundation walls. Check out your local hardware store because there is a number of ways to effectively and cheaply handle this.

Also it is a good idea to check your gutters regularly for clogs. A clog can prevent water from flowing from your gutters to your downspouts, causing it to pour over the edge or sometimes down the side of the house. This is also something to check for.

Downspouts can also sometimes flow into an underground drain, which can sometimes be the source of the problem. This drain typically will be a storm drain that flows away from the house or to a public storm drain. These can sometimes become clogged causing water to not flow properly away from the house. Most landscape contractors can easily help unclog such drains if you suspect that this might be the case.

This should give you some ideas of things to look into or try before contacting a civil engineer, as the fix might be more manageable and less complicated than you think. And as far as a sinkhole swallowing your house, I have only ever heard of that happening because of a house sitting on top of a collapsed coal mine. If you live in a heavily mined area then your municipality probably has maps that will show whether your house sits overtop of an old mine. I wouldn't personally worry about this. The cracks in your foundation might be from the ground settling or moving slightly from excessive soil saturation.

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This is a case where you will hopfully get what you pay for. You are looking for someone that specializes in Architechtural Landscape Design. You may be lucky and find a very knowledgable landscaper with the skill required but it sounds like you have multiple problems in multiple areas some of which may be caused by poor design in neighboring areas.

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Would someone who does architectural landscape design be capable of determining if there's any issues under the concrete in the garage causing it to crack? (I'll readily admit I've got an irrational fear of a sinkhole swallowing our driveway and garage. :) –  SredniV Dec 3 '12 at 23:25
    
I believe that is beyond the scope of what they normally do. –  mikes Dec 4 '12 at 0:17
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At the risk of bating ridicule for my nepotism...

My dad has spent the last 40 years dealing with these kinds of problems. He has a background in civil and soil engineering and has made a career of dealing with road/site drainage and wet basement problems. I'm not suggesting you call him (unless you happen to live in northern New Hampshire) but he has some good, free information related to this topic on his web site:

http://ruralhometech.com/WetBasements/tabid/36/Default.aspx

You can try there to get a good handle on the causes of the problems you are having and then take it from there.

I know what you mean when it comes to finding such a professional. Civil engineers aren't a typical service provider for residential customers. One tactic you might try is to contact some local providers of more common services such as construction, concrete or plumbers. Ask them if they know of someone who does this kind of specialty work. I can speak from experience, my dad probably gets the majority of his business through referrals from the folks he knows and regularly deals with in these industries. He often provides support in the areas of building or concrete site prep. He gets referrals from plumbers who get called when someone has a wet basement problem that is ultimate not a plumbing issue. There may very well be someone in your area who does the same kind of thing.

Good luck and stay dry!

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Good advice, getting a referral from another professional often gives you a bit more confidence that the referred person will be reliable. –  Tester101 Dec 11 '12 at 20:47
    
This echoes my experience, the contractors who specialize in basement and foundation water issues can usually zoom out quickly and identify the fundamental problem sending water where it shouldn't be. The wet basement specialists have earned my trust. –  Luke Smith Dec 13 '12 at 2:04
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