Introduction: French Drain With Dry Well

Picture of French Drain With Dry Well

When I bought my house, I was told that "water collects in front of the garage door." What the owner didn't disclose is that every time it rains, the water that collects in front of the garage actually runs into the garage. This is obviously a problem.

Installing a drain out to the street wasn't an option. The driveway slopes away from the street, so a drain pipe that ran out to the curb would be well below street level when it got there. I considered a pop-up drain for that, but it was too risky. I also didn't have a good place to install a drain out to the street because of the layout of the driveway and house.

So a french drain was the way to go. I did a LOT of research online about this. A french drain by itself would have probably been fine. However, I was concerned that, since i don't have a large back yard, I would need more room for water to collect in the event of a heavy downpour. So, I resolved to dig a dry well at the end of the french drain for water to run into.

Step 1: Draw Your Plans

Picture of Draw Your Plans

I sketched out what I was going to do with some rough dimensions. I suggest you do the same. You want to go into a project like this with a very clear picture in your head so that you're not making it up as you go.

I measured my lawn and decided on the proper depth for everything.

A traditional french drain is a drain that directs water away from an area via a trench filled with gravel. This allows the water to leech into the soil over a given distance, rather than pooling where you don't want it. Most french drains use holed corrugated piping or holed PVC. I used PVC for this project.

I opted to run my french drain into a dry well at the end. The well consists of a 55 gallon plastic drum ($35 on Craigslist) with holes drilled in it. It sits on a bed of 3-4" of gravel and is surrounded on its sides by about 6" of gravel. I purchased a toilet flange similar to this one, so the PVC pipe could securely connect to it.

The drain itself is an NDS 12-inch catch basin. I strongly recommend this over a drain grate unless your french drain is being fed by a downspout. By connecting your pipe to the catch basin, you're allowing water to flow into your drain without the silt or any other muck that might enter the grate.

Finally, I decided to add a drain/vent for the barrel at the end. It probably wasn't necessary, but I thought that an air vent could be good. It would also serve as a drain if water were to collect in the yard (though it never does). The 55 gallon drum already had a threaded 2" hole on the top of it, so finding the proper PVC connectors was easy.


Contact your city utilities hotline for digging BEFORE you break ground to ensure there are no gas, water, or power lines buried in your yard.

Step 2: Buy Materials

Picture of Buy Materials

I really didn't spend much dough on this project. The catch basin was the most expensive thing. The pipe was super cheap. And the gravel and barrel I got on Craigslist. The 2nd load of gravel (pictured) I actually had to buy because the first load wasn't enough. Total, I needed about 2 cubic yards of 3/4"-1" gravel, which ran me about $65.

Step 3: Dig!

Picture of Dig!

My friend Andy helped me. We ended up needing a pickaxe for the dry well. Soil was hard as rock after about 3 feet.

Step 4: Prepare the Barrel

Picture of Prepare the Barrel

Using a 1" drill bit, I turned this barrel into swiss cheese. Sides and bottom.

I measured for the toilet flange and cut with a drywall hole saw. A dremel would have saved me a lot of time and been a cleaner cut, but oh well.

Step 5: Line With Weed Barrier and Begin Filling in Gravel

Picture of Line With Weed Barrier and Begin Filling in Gravel

Line your trench and dry well with weed barrier/landscape fabric. This will prevent dirt and silt from the ground from filling in around the gravel and preventing good absorption into the ground.

Then, create a 3-4" bed of gravel at the bottom of your pit for your barrel to sit on. Drop the barrel in, and move the gravel around until the barrel is level.

Connect the barrel and catch basin with your pipe.


You can't tell from the picture, but I raised the catch basin up to the proper level (just below the pavement) by placing it on a bed of gravel. I filled in around the catch basin with gravel and road base sand to ensure that it would not move.

Step 6: Keep Adding Gravel!

Picture of Keep Adding Gravel!

Fill your trench with gravel until you have about 6 inches between the top of the gravel and the surface of your yard.

I had to buy a 2nd load of gravel (total of 2 cubic yards).

After you've filled in the gravel, install your drain vent on the barrel. Again, these are cheap pipe fittings from Home Depot. I used a 1x2 placed across the hole to ensure the level of the drain matched the surface of the lawn.

Drape the excess garden fabric over the top of the gravel bed so there is 1 layer covering it. It's okay if it overlaps a bit.

Step 7: Back Fill

Picture of Back Fill

Finally, begin backfilling your trench with dirt. I suggest packing it hard. The dirt will settle over time, but you want to help it as much as possible so there is no depression in the lawn.

I finished this project just in time for a week of rain here in LA, and it works great. My garage is dry as a bone!

Good luck with your french drain!


tytower (author)2015-02-01

In 60 years of building drains I have never heard it called that. Its a rubble or absorbtion trench used commonly on sceptic toilets and grease trap pits etc. Perhaps you are a biased Frenchman ? Looks like a good job though but if the load becomes too great you will have the same problem . Its always wise to have an overflow if you can possibly get one . Maybe not in your yard. Thanks for your thoughts though.

farna (author)tytower2015-02-03

There are other names for it as someone else suggested, but I've always heard it referred to as a French drain as well. Mostly without a drain pipe, but it works either way. I usually line a ditch with landscape fabric to keep dirt from infiltrating so fast, at least until the fabric eventually deteriorates. I was in USAF Civil Engineering for 24 years -- all our military reference material also refers to it as a French drain. Like French fries, the name often has nothing to do with the country name commonly used.

MattRixman (author)farna2015-05-26

Henry Flagg French, a man from Massachusetts, wrote a book titled "Farm Drainage" which played a part in popularizing this sort of drain. The name comes from him.

tafelice (author)MattRixman2017-10-26

You're in some serious Cliff Claven territory here. Great bit of trivia.

jmacdonald13 (author)farna2015-02-03

Yeah, English Lavender isn't English, Dutch Irises aren't Dutch and an Irish Peach isn't a peach, but it is Irish. :-)

toododd (author)jmacdonald132017-10-26

And what about Irish Wiskey?

tmoore4748 (author)farna2015-02-08

I keep running across CE on here, and people wonder why I hate being a crew chief. Keep up the projects, this one saved my brand new house! Just got it out in an area near SJAFB, and I'm glad it's 'ibles like this that are available to protect my investment. Now, if only they'll let me go to metals tech, instead, I can do some really fun stuff.

RobinS117 (author)tytower2016-05-02

They have only been referred to as french drains by the 3 separate companies we have had out. We are in Texas.

visionquestranch (author)tytower2015-10-05

Hi, tytower not for sure what part of the world you are from but in the Pacific northwest French drains are pretty common and that is all I have ever heard them called for years.

gcerenzio (author)tytower2015-05-14

Seriously? When a drain is underground, with holes in the pipe, it's commonly called a "French Drain". I hear this termregularly, and when I had my Real Estate Liscense, about 15 years ago, I heard this term almost daily.

Stuart21 (author)tytower2015-02-03

"used commonly on sceptic toilets"

Is that where deniers go to dump? ;-)

My concern is that anything but a light vehicle might break through the top of the barrel - you need to remember where it is!

Also, putting the intake under the guttering overflow would not hurt.

tytower (author)Stuart212015-02-03

Actually it's "Deriers" but my spelling could be wrong . We used to put a sheet of tin over the top then a lyer 6" s of soil over that to spread the load.

minipearljam (author)tytower2015-02-02

This set up and the like is commonly referred to as a French drain - or at least in California, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arizona, the places I've lived where I've had French drains.

deswiger (author)2016-04-28

Looks great. I would have to preface it with one thing though. First step; find a teen-ager that will take pizza in payment for the digging. All of my friends are too old and decrepit. Nice share though, gives me some ideas for my swampy back yard. Semper Fi

MahmoodS9 (author)2016-04-28

Dry well is very familiar and functional especially in desert areas, there are some crowded areas I have seen in Iraq which have no sewerage system and all their waste fluids go to dry wells for years..

idrojdtoys (author)2016-04-22

Okay, first of all I will say that I have no understanding of this, but I was wondering: why do you use gravel instead of dirt and why do you place the "landscape fabric" under your gravel?

Awesome project though, love it.

TeresaM7 (author)idrojdtoys2016-04-26

This is to allow water to drain away from a particular area where water pools, thus the need for gravel as it just sits on top of the dirt and seeps in wherever it can. Including my home! Yeah, Louisiana. The gravel allows the flow of water. The landscape fabric is to prevent the dirt from mixing into all that nice drainage gravel and stopping up the whole thing, which would defeat the purpose of all that work. Hope this helps!

TeresaM7 (author)2016-04-26

Yup, I'm going to be doing this soon. Though I will be taking the runoff to the edge of the property. Digging a grave for our dog in this super-compacted red clay soil was hard enough! I can't imagine digging a hole big enough for a 55 gallon drum or two!

manstrom (author)2015-04-28

Some advice for sourcing your gravel... Some gravel pits will allow you to shovel your own from the piles for a much lower price than getting it from stores or having them do it for you.

Just yesterday I was helping a family friend with his driveway and we picked up about a half ton for $7 in the Albany, NY area... then again that involved us spending a decent amount of time loading up a bunch of 5 gal buckets but if you're physically able it's a cheaper method.

jolshefsky (author)manstrom2016-04-26

Dirt/rocks/gravel are all very cheap ... it's moving it around that's expensive. :) As my friend points out, "getting a yard of soil costs $200 but 2 yards is $210." If it comes from a dump truck, that's the cost, not the material. I guess you can also get a mixed load (e.g. 1 yard soil, 1 yard gravel) but unless the materials are easy to separate, it's probably not worth it and you get 2 yards of mix.

diy_bloke (author)manstrom2015-05-01

gravel has an average weight of 1500 kg per m3 I think, so you must have gotten some 300-350 liters of gravel. That is still not bad for 7 usd :-)

diy_bloke (author)2015-05-01

looks good. Eventhough it seems like a short drain, it can make all the difference

chuckmccoy (author)2015-02-09

Excellent planing and execution, well thought out. Pictures make it very clear and easy to follow. Thanks for your effort.

froggfish made it! (author)2015-02-08

I used two bins. The foto is taken when the project was half way. The bin with the black cover has now two holes. One for the rainwaterpipe from the garage roof and the other hole for a pipe to a hand pump to pump the rain water out. Above the black cover there is now a paving stone that can taken away for cleaning the bin in future. When this bin is full of rainwater it has an overflow (see the grey pipe between the bins). The second (blue) bin is buried upside down with no cover and has a lot of holes on the sides. The drain of the paved part of the garden is now lead to this bin.

froggfish made it! (author)2015-02-08

I used two bins. The foto is taken when the project was half way. The bin with the black cover has now two holes. One for the rainwaterpipe from the garage roof and the other hole for a pipe to a hand pump to pump the rain water out. Above the black cover there is now a paving stone that can taken away for cleaning the bin in future. When this bin is full of rainwater it has an overflow (see the grey pipe between the bins). The second (blue) bin is buried upside down with no cover and has a lot of holes on the sides. The drain of the paved part of the garden is now lead to this bin.

froggfish made it! (author)2015-02-08

I didn't use gravel and used two bins coupled to each other. One bin has no floor (the blue one on the foto) and has holes to drain the water. The other bin (with the black cover) collect water from the garage roof until it is full. Then the water goes to the bin with no floor (see the grey pipe between them). The collected water in the bin with the black cover can be pumped out by a hand pump. The foto shows it half way. In the black cover are now two holes one for the rainwater pipe of the garage roof and one for the pipe that leads to the pump. The blue bin has now an extra hole for the collector that lies on top of the blue bin on the foto. Above the black cover there is now a paving stone to have the possibility to clean the bin by lifting the cover after a while.

alter2000 (author)2015-02-02

Why don't use that rainwater for growing plants we grow round the Mediterranean? Just remove the barrel, get some CHEAPER tubes (both PVC and PET will get buried no matter what) of the same diameter and create a grid-like system. That way the soil will maintain a somewhat constant humidity and hardness compared to "the barrel version", though I guess this was more of a temporary solution for the rainfall. Anyways, pretty good 'Ible.

zenTaurus (author)alter20002015-02-04

and FWIW, as per the Wikipedia article, it's not named "French" because of the country of origin but for the surname of the man who's documented to have popularized it:

"These may have been invented in France[3] but were described and popularised by Henry Flagg French (1813–1885) of Concord, Massachusetts, a lawyer and Assistant US Treasury Secretary, [4] in his 1859 book Farm Drainage."


Esmagamus (author)alter20002015-02-03

This way the water goes back into the water table just as easily so it's best than having it drain to sewers.

Installing a lift pump and a used 1000 liter tank (they're cheap) is all you need to set-up a drip irrigation system. Some plants need more water than others and digging up your whole garden to bury PVC pipe is more expensive and laborious than unrolling a coil of drip hose.

chrisnotap (author)2015-02-03

Just wondering if 6 ft of the pvc pipe only with holes drilled in the sides and bottom without the barrel and filled it all in with gravel would have done the same job? The ground itself with the gravel becomes the holding tank doesn't it and more surface area to escape into the soil? Great job.

mhepp1 (author)chrisnotap2015-02-04

My house was done without the barrel and I am constantly filling the hole from the dirt washing out at the end. I tried capping it and in even medium rain the water does not dissipate into the ground fast enough, making the drain pointless. Also ask your local handyman, mine was installed too shallow and freezes in the winter, when the snow starts melting it takes 2 to 3 weeks for the drain to thaw put and become effective

nkz75 (author)2015-02-02

Looks like you have a job well done! Just be careful so dirt wont clog your system with a few rains.

BTW, why did you used plastic under the gravel? I belive you should used geodrain film (it's a non wolve that allows water to pass nad retains dirt. This way, the water could more easilly inflitrate the groud!

Congrats fot the instructable! And thank you, of course!

HopeRobert (author)nkz752015-02-04

The material he used is weed barrier. It is permeable.

jerH (author)nkz752015-02-03

You hit on my first thought. I have a similar situation: a very long driveway that (sadly) humps in the middle. Thus for half the length of the drive, everything flows towards the garage door. This includes a lot of dirt. Twice a year I shovel away a 2-3 inch thick layer of sediment that collects in front of my garage. Any ideas on how I could implement something like this without having it simply clog full of dirt after a few months?

nkz75 (author)jerH2015-02-04

I would use something line this at the middle of the driveway:

There are some cheap brands (made of plastic) that you can use in walk zones. You still will have to clean the dirt, but it's much easier.

Or... You can channel the water to some kind of chamber.

In any of the case you'll have to clean the mud.

If you have photos on the driveway, it would be more easy...

Hope It helped!

ulikunkel (author)nkz752015-02-02

It's not plastic. It's weed barrier, also called landscape fabric. Water passes through it but keeps the silt and dirt out of the gravel.

nkz75 (author)ulikunkel2015-02-03

My mistake!:D

gnach (author)2015-02-03

Sometimes we hit the send button a minute too soon, before double checking with the all mighty Google, which replied "About 9,420,000 results (0.58 seconds)" for French Drain. And then it's on the internet forever.

Good job and thanks for sharing!

totszwai (author)2015-02-03

How does it actually work? You basically just let it overflow back into the trench??

ed.alexander (author)2015-02-03

Looking at your videos it would seems you could have got away with adding an end-cap to your gutters, add a downspout to direct the water down and to the side of your house and possibly an extension to put water further in the center of the yard. This would direct all the water off your roof down and onto your grass.

Nice Instructable though, I like your design, will possibly use it for reference for low spots between houses

jmacdonald13 (author)2015-02-03

Nice job, now you want to get a down pipe and a water butt, you can put the overflow for the water butt into the drain, you might have wanted to do that before you filled it in but none of us are perfect. :-) I did a similar job but to be honest I didn't bother with the pipes or barrel. I now have a water butt under my down pipe that overflows into my pond which then overflows into a bog garden so I never have to worry about refreshing the pond's water and it's crystal clear all the time. :-)

danzo321 (author)2015-02-03

OK why was it necessary to flange the barrel? Wouldn't Mr. Gravity send whatever water didn't seep out of the pipe into the barrel? Who cares if it leaks, you want it all to leak. Nice job.

jdenslinger (author)danzo3212015-02-03

leak, yes; slowly pull apart over 4 or 5 years and have to dig the thing up just to pur a pipe in a hole, no. Though a simple fix to that would be to insert the pipe a foot or two into the barrel.

rjtumble (author)2015-02-03

I did something similar to this at my house. Had a corner where the rain run off was just pooling near the foundation. Dug a trench from that corner to a section of chain link fence (lower than the house but a little) where we had planted thornless blackberry plants (and man are those blackberries good). Ended up like a T. Sold conduit (that flexible black tubing) from the house to the fence, then the "holed" version of it in the T section along the chain link. Now, when it rains, we water the roots of the blackberries.

Hopefully we don't end up providing too much water, but in any case, it's moved away from the foundation now. Best case, we get truly awesome blackberries this year.

Ralphxyz (author)2015-02-03

They were called French Drains in Las Vegas, Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Long Island and New Hampshire when I lived in those places. The barrel gives you a quicker place for the water to get to to make sure your garage stays dry.

Thank you!!

tytower (author)2015-02-01

That prompted me to search the internet and what do I find . Another case of America laying claim to inventing something they didn't . The romans invented this as far as I know and it probably dates back thousands of years before that.

VanceJ (author)tytower2015-02-03

tytower- I did not see ANYWHERE is this ible as to who laid claim to inventing this GREAT idea !!! Perhaps you are biased sir. And not to mention you called him a Frenchman and now are calling him a stealing American !!! Please just enjoy the advice.

Great idea unikunkel by the way !!!

alter2000 (author)tytower2015-02-02

True, SO true...

ruprecht26 (author)2015-02-03

You could place a toilet over the inlet.

About This Instructable




More by ulikunkel:French Drain with Dry Well
Add instructable to: