Keep Your Basement Dry with Landscaping (part 3)

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new-suburban-stockade-introTo keep your basement dry landscaping can help by keeping the water from working its way through your foundation.

I believe the fern rain garden hasn’t caused problems despite how close it is to the house, because Bill built a sidewalk connecting the driveway to the existing sidewalk. The previous owners spent 45 years walking across the lawn to get to the front door. The existing sidewalk (now adorned on both sides by the dry-creeks) led directly to the street. This is fine for visitors who park in the street; not so much for the homeowner who parks in the driveway.

dry landscape

To build a front yard sidewalk, take 500 pounds of sand and 36 pavers. Add one broken back.

So Bill installed a sidewalk. He dug a ditch 26 feet long, three feet wide, and about a foot deep. This runs parallel to the house and it is sloped towards the street. It also slopes from the driveway down towards the existing sidewalk where it meets the dry-creek. The pavers lay level on a thick bed of sand which encourages drainage away from the house. The rain garden of ferns drains under this sidewalk and into the flowerbed on the other side.

dry landscape

The bluestone hides a ditch filled with gravel that traps rainwater before it reaches the house.

The final job in the front yard was to improve the drainage in the soil. The goal is always to put rainwater where it belongs: in your soil. Most of the front lawn is now flowerbeds, with only a strip of grass on one side of the original sidewalk. The rest of the front yard is driveway, the two sidewalks, and flowerbeds. The flowerbeds are heavily mulched and over time, the soil has changed its composition from impermeable clay to decent, deep topsoil.

The miracle of mulch, time, and soil critters did this. I encourage my soil critters by not turning over the soil, adding tons of leaves and compost, and by planting deep-rooted plants, usually native ones. This has transformed the look of the yard, provided much-needed wildlife habitat, and goes a long way toward hiding us from Google Streetview.

keeping basements dry google streetview

Suck it, Larry Page!

chase farms broadfork

A broadfork in action. Child not included. Photo courtesy of Chase Farms.

The grass strip was improved by setting the lawnmower to its highest height, and using a mulching lawnmower. The reason for this is that taller grass has deeper roots, allowing rainwater to penetrate the soil deeper. Younger Son was then persuaded to go over the grass with the broadfork to aerate it. He did this by going out after it rained, taking the broadfork and standing on it, rocking it back and forth in the ground. He went over the entire grass strip several times. It let water and air penetrate into that hardpan clay. This didn’t cost anything, other than his time.

The backyard wasn’t as much of a problem because the ground sloped away from the house. The soil was hard-packed clay and dead, but time, mulch, compost, and soil critters have transformed it. We no longer have standing water after a rainstorm; every drop soaks in quickly. (For more information about soil building, see part one; part two; part three.)

Retaining wall under construction.

Retaining wall under construction.

To correct a steep slope problem at the back corner and solve any potential drainage issues, Bill dug a ditch several feet deep, several feet wide and about 13 feet long, plus more for the set of stone steps. He filled it with more stone from the dentist construction site, and built a stone wall to terrace the slope, and steps to get up and down. We now have a wall on the sidewalk side that is the same height as the ground on the garden side. This drains like a champ, channeling water deep underground and well away from the house.

So that takes care of the outside of the house, everything but the concrete landing by the front door. That was the last thing we did and the last thing I’ll discuss, after we go inside the basement and fix the issues there. Doing all of this work on the outside of the house took us years, we did it all ourselves, and we spent some serious money on the various projects. We had to buy concrete splashes, lots and lots of coarse gravel, a ton of sand, and the pavers for the new front sidewalk.

All of these projects, the dry-creeks, the concrete splashes, the new sidewalk, the rain garden, the flowerbeds and improved soil all work in concert: they move the rain water away from the house and put it into the soil where it belongs.

Next Week: The Horror in the Basement