Aug. 18 2011 12:34 AM

Like love and marriage, irrigation and drainage go together like a horse and carriage. When it comes to a healthy landscape, like a healthy marriage, you can’t have one without the other. The irrigation system provides the water for the landscape to survive; the drainage system transports excess water from the surface and channels it away from the turf so the plants don’t drown.

Whether water problems occur because of the soil’s characteristics or the land’s contour, a proper drainage system gathers water that would otherwise collect in inconvenient places, and uses gravity to send it away. Without a proper drainage system in place, all the hard work you’ve put into installing the perfect landscape could, literally, go right down the drain. Although not nearly as exciting or aesthetically pleasing as what you install above the surface, the installation of a subsurface drainage system can become a viable addition to your services.

“A really good feature for the contractor is to sell a drainage system with his landscape design and irrigation system,” says Kevin Rost, president of Dura Plastic Products, Inc. Beaumont, California. “If you’re installing irrigation, it’s really quite easy to add drainage. Just dig another trench at the same time right next to it, figure out the slope of the grade and get the water 50 to 75 feet away from the residence.”

Mike Fallon, vice president of sales for NDS, Inc., based in Woodland Hills, California, agrees. “If you’re involved in the landscape industry, it just makes sense for you to offer drainage services to protect your client’s investment,” says Fallon. “Excess water, due to poor drainage, could lead to many serious problems like plant disease, rotting trees and even hardscapes moving out of place. Where the water goes is just as important, if not more so, than where the water comes from.”

Irrigation and drainage are vital parts of total water management. The process of putting water on the landscape is the first step; redirecting the excess water to a place where it won’t cause any damage is the next.

“Excessive water can become a problem just about everywhere,” says David Bunata, president of H2grO Landscape and Irrigation, a full service design/build and maintenance firm in Fort Worth, Texas. “In basements and crawl spaces, it will cause rot, mildew and mold, all of which will destroy wooden joists that hold up the house. Moisture will also attract termites and other extremely damaging pests. If there is no drainage in place, our clients are at risk of not only losing plants, flowers and trees, but damaging the very foundation of their homes.”

Bunata tells his clients that quality drainage systems can mean the difference between being able to use their whole yard or having a mosquito breeding ground on their property. He also points out the risk of having their home’s foundation rot away. It’s a fairly effective selling tool, especially if the property is located at the bottom of a hill.

Prefabricated strip drains are another alternative to French drains.

Photo courtesy: NDS

“We’ll go into neighborhoods where the home is located on the lowest point on the block,” Bunata says. “The homeowner is getting water flowing into their yard from their neighbors behind them and from the roofs of the neighbors to the side of them. Now they have this incredible amount of water coming at them from all sides, so all we need to do is show up after a rain event, point out the problem and then offer the solution,” he said.

The solutions Bunata suggests consists of several methods, including catch basins, French drains, and a variety of grates and pipes.

“I’ll go to a home where there’s an obvious water pooling problem in one area. We first identify where the water is coming from and then decide what method to use. Sometimes, we’ll get a call from a client saying their drains are not working even though they have six or seven catch basins installed.”

“The problem is that those catch basins will only catch water in those six or seven places, and the water will pool in between the basins, or it will flow through the basins to the garage, so we’ll put in a French drain to catch the water and basically provide a barrier between the water and the home, like a moat going around it, protecting the foundation.”

Sharon Vessels, director of marketing for NDS, Woodland Hills, California, says drainage can be divided into three major phases: collection, conduction and discharge. Catch basins fall into the collection phase.

“A catch basin works like a sink,” Vessels says. “It may collect water fed to it from an inlet pipe, or it might be placed where water collects, like at the foot of a downspout or on the lowest spot in the middle of a lawn. Wherever it is, a catch basin properly installed will safely carry water away.”

Considered the granddaddy of drainage, George Shackelford, a consultant for Oldcastle, has extensive knowledge of drainage systems. “When it comes to drainage across a larger area,” he says, “using a channel drain is a viable alternative.”

“Channel drains are used around patios, driveways—anywhere you have a longer area for drainage,” explains Shackelford. “If you have a patio that’s 30 feet long and you want to drain it quickly, you would use a channel drain, especially where there’s heavy traffic. A properly installed concrete channel will avoid the settling that heavy traffic might cause.” Channel drains are extremely efficient and effective.

Another popular method of drainage is the French drain. Basically, a French drain, named for the inventor Henry French, is simply a trench filled with different sized gravel that is put down in layers.

“I see a lot of companies that just put in French drains, or only install catch basins for everything, but it’s not a one size fits all,” says Bunata. “You really have to have a good knowledge about drainage and what solutions work on individual problems,” he says. “There has to be a good reason to tell the client why they need what they’re buying. You really should explain why you’re putting in a catch basin here or a French drain there, and not just put things in willy-nilly.”

Prefabricated strip drains are another alternative to French drains. However, instead of pipe they use plastic, and because a filter fabric wraps them, there is no need to use gravel.

Surface drainage systems have been designed to collect water which is lying on the surface of your landscape, hardscape, garden and turf areas to prevent flooding problems. The water entering the surface drainage system will be caught in a catch basin which filters and keeps all debris and dirt and lets the water flow downwards throughout the piping system. This type of landscape drainage system can be connected to water tanks, which enable homeowners to re-use the water back in the gardens.

Downspout drainage is designed to carry roof water away from landscaped areas, which could result in excessive flooding. Downspout drainage consists of a PVC pipe being attached to your roofing drainage and positioned so that it will not lead or carry water into any part of your landscaped area. Downspout drainage will not move water completely from your property; it will just assist homeowners with moving the excessive water to a place that needs it most.

Landscape drain grates are known to be the outer and top surface of the actual drain system itself. They come in a variety of different shapes and styles, but all have in common their filtering top cover.

Some drain grates are suitable for different areas. Round drain grates are commonly used in turf and grass areas. Squared drain grates are used on hardscaped areas, such as driveways and pool areas.

When you’re setting up a drainage system, it’s important to remember that it’s not just a matter of removing the water from the property, you also need to pay attention to where it will end up on the other end. Some municipalities have strict regulations about stormwater runoff. The pipes you use to carry away the excess water are all part of the drainage system.

“In general, I’ll use a perforated pipe the whole way, not only in the part that I’m catching the water on. I’m going to be running that pipe all the way to the curb as well,” says Bunata. “And the thing is, with that type of pipe, the water is allowed to pass through the pipe and seep into the ground below it. Anything in excess will just flow out into the street, but along the way, the water is being used to irrigate the lawn.”

If you’re interested in irrigation drainage opportunities but are a bit hesitant to take on an entirely new area, there are training seminars and classes available that are offered by drainage manufacturers and distributors to help you increase your knowledge and experience about drainage solutions.

“We’ve had a lot of success with our contractor drainage program. We teach them how to install drainage and how to sell it to homeowners. We give them very nice brochures, drainage calculators, and installation videos, as well as bilingual materials for their crews,” Vessels says. “Sometimes, we’ll go with them on their first installation. We also try to teach them how to bid and estimate drainage.”

In many areas of the country, contractors like Bunata offer drainage service as a separate division, aside from their irrigation and landscape services, and they’re seeing huge profits from both sides.

As long as water is coming down, drainage is an opportunity for a contractor to sell up.