Bury Your Gutter Downspouts




Introduction: Bury Your Gutter Downspouts

There's plenty of information on how to install gutters, including:


I wanted to make this Instructable to show how I hid my gutter downspouts. It took about two full days of work. Parts were pretty cheap, I think total cost was only about $100.


Shovel, level, 2x4, rubber mallet, chisel, utility knife


PVC pipe, various PVC fittings, purple PVC primer and glue, black corrugated tile and fittings, three downspout adapters, one animal guard, one sack of Quik-rete.

Step 1: The Problem

About an hour after finishing my gutter project this summer I tripped over one of the downspouts. Since it is thin aluminum, it immediately bent in half. I straightened it out but it still looked awful. I realized that while my guttering was done, the real work was about to start.

Step 2: The Plan

The rainwater from the back half of the property slopes down to the alley, which has a storm sewer. The house sits in the front half of the property, which is flat. Before installing gutters, rainwater from the roof fell to the ground and didn't flow anywhere before soaking in to the soil -- hence, large spring rains lead to water in the basement. I wanted a good way to get rainwater from the roof as far away from the house as possible.

While the house sits on flat ground, there is enough slope in the back yard for this project to work. Water flows downhill so you have to have some amount of slope so the water will run somewhere.

My plan was to use 4" PVC pipe, with fittings, to make a Y-shape away from the house. I settled on this design because I wanted as few angles as possible, so that any speed the flowing water picked up would not be slowed down by making a 90 degree corner.

Since black, flexible, corrugated pipe:


is cheaper than PVC, and easier to transport, I transitioned to that shortly after the arms of my Y met up. I went with non-perforated because I don't want any tree roots clogging it up and I'm not worried about picking up any groundwater. Plus, since the Corex is flexible, unlike PVC, there is the option to steer around any obstacles. I didn't have to do that, but I did have a gentle curve in the course to the alley.

Step 3: Get Digging!

Next, whip out the shovel and dig a trench. (This step is easier said than done)

This will really get the neighbors asking questions, as it will look like your goal is to destroy your yard. My solution to this problem was to ignore them as much as possible and just keep digging. I ended up digging about 120' long in 4 hours.

I tried to save the grass into big clumps so that I could more easily re-sod at the end of the project. Re-sodding is crucial if you want the finished product to look natural. My goal was to not be able to see where I had trenched when I was done.

The deeper the trench you can dig, the better. I live in Minnesota and the frost depth last year was 7', way deeper than I could ever dig my trench. I settled on about a foot of depth, enough to keep it well buried but obviously it will still freeze in winter. This was about the deepest I could go with the slope that I had to work with and the way that my discharge end was going to work.

When I thought I was done digging the trench, I used an 8 foot long 2x4 and a level to make sure there was some slope to the bottom of my trench. I laid the 2x4 flat on the bottom of the trench, placed the level on the 2x4, and every 5-10 feet worked my way from the alley to the house, checking the level as I went. Not all parts had slope, some areas were flat, but no parts sloped uphill -- good enough for me!

Step 4: Assembly & Backfill

I didn't take enough pictures of this -- sorry! But I laid out my PVC pipe and fittings into their approximate shape, cut pipe to the necessary length, and used purple primer and PVC glue to connect the PVC parts. The fittings I used were a Y for the connection where the two lines connect, two 90 degree angles, and two couplings to connect pipe. I used 4" PVC and fittings because it was readily available, but any size would potentially work.

Once the PVC was glued I set it in the trench. I used a 3"-4" stepdown coupling on the end of the PVC, and put my black corrugated pipe around the 3 inch end. It connects fairly well, so the backfill was enough to hold that in to place. I rolled out the rest of the black corrugated pipe in to the remainder of the trench, and backfilled the whole thing.

In the pictures you can see how I connect the downspouts to my PVC system. On the house, I used downspout adapters with leaf guards.

Since my in-ground pipe ran right past the garage, I had the garage downspout dump in as well. To do this, I cut the black corrugated pipe, added a T, and aimed the pipe upwards to the downspout. For the garage, I used a downspout adapter without a leaf guard since there aren't trees close enough for that gutter to get clogged up.

Step 5: The Discharge End

This is the most important part of the project, as it needs to slope downhill and the water needs to go somewhere after it exits the pipe system. The alley of our house is slightly lower elevation that the property and it has a storm sewer. This was the perfect setup, as all I had to do was get water to the alley and it will flow safely to the storm drain.

The picture shows an asphalt embankment that is the foundation for the garage. I dug the trench immediately behind the garage. To get the hole in the asphalt, I used a rubber mallet and a chisel. It took a few hours of pounding to the get the hole shaped the way I wanted it.

Once the hole was done, I laid the end of the black corrugated pipe in it. I mixed up some Quik-rete, patched the hole in the asphalt, and sculpted a little discharge chute as shown in the picture. Then I put in a little removable grate to keep the chipmunks from exploring the pipe I so painstakingly installed.

At this point, I was done! There was just the little matter of waiting for rain to test my work. I didn't have to wait long...

Step 6: The Test

It rained about 24 hours after I was finished. When I went out to the alley and saw water flowing out of my pipe, I yelled, "It's alive!" like I had just brought Frankenstein to life. At least since it was raining all the neighbors were inside.

Step 7: Finished!

I re-sodded the grass chunks when I was done. Re-sodding was probably the most time-consuming aspect of the project but was well worth it. Two weeks later, I can't even tell where my trench runs through the yard. It looks great and there are no downspouts to trip on. Best of all, now the roof water, which used to end up in the soil next to the house, goes straight to the storm drain.



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    15 Discussions

    Great project, I'm planning to do something similar myself once it warms up enough to dig in the soil. One tip from previous projects, shovel your dirt onto pieces of cardboard along the trench so you can easily fill it back in to the hole. ( as long as you aren't leaving it there long enough to totally kill your grass, but you'll have to seed the tench mound anyway).

    I was thinking maybe you could put some cuts with a mesh over the cuts to let it water your yard a little better as well. It would be a better watering option as it would water the roots and not just the top soil.

    3 replies

    I had considered your idea when I put my system in. Since my problem this spring was having way too much water in the soil, I didn't want to have any holes to let any water out. I was satisfied with taking all of the roofwater and getting it as far from the foundation as possible.

    Another part of my motivation for doing it this way was that I had some time before starting a new job. I was busy for four straight days soaking up water and drying out the basement. I was willing to spend a couple days of effort to avoid wasting so many days on clean up in the future when it would mean using vacation time.

    As part of my guttering project, I also guttered the garage and connected a rain barrel to that gutter. So I do feel a little better that roofwater from the house, which used to end up on the lawn and now goes to the storm sewer, is at least offset a little by my rain barrel.

    You could put the downspout into a rain barrel system to collect the rain water and have an overflow so when it fills, it dumps into the newly added washout. You could possibly install a small turbine in the downspouts and generate some emergency electricity for power shortages. Just spitballing ideas.

    Love the washout, we made one about 6 months ago at a friend's house when his gutter dumped a few feet from his foundation and next to his pool, it started to deteriorate and I formulated a plan similar to yours. Good Job.

    Interesting idea but I wonder about the need for a wateringsystem that only works when it rains.

    did the same thing to my house.

    funny how must people (the one that have gutter), dont even drain away from their house. here in quebec everyone just dump it 1-2feet away from their foundation.

    really like the leaf separator thingy you got, what an invention!

    You might want to find out how legal your solution is in your area. In a lot of cities/counties it is illegal to dump rainwater from your property onto someone else's property (and that usually includes alleys, streets, etc...). Basically storm water is usually supposed to be handled by the property that the rainfall ends up on.

    It's a good technical solution, but you could end up with problems if the powers that be ever come to do any work in the alley and they see your fix. Storm sewers are designed to work with the water that they expect to collect from the road/alley/area that they are serving and the runoff from your house isn't factored into that design. In some areas it is illegal to discharge into a storm sewer and you can get fined for doing it. Especially since this is a permanent solution that you can't easily disappear.

    It will probably never be an issue for you, but anyone else who does this should probably research their local codes and/or check with whoever manages the alley/road they are thinking of using.

    2 replies

    I definitely agree, anyone else doing this should look in to local codes. I did not, mostly because two neighbors have downspouts that empty directly into the alley (their houses are close to the alley). I reckoned that if it's legal for them, it ought to be legal enough for me too. I'll add pictures as soon as possible, but my system is not necessarily permanent. If anyone were to take issue, I can easily remove the downspout adapters, cap my PVC and replace with standard elbows and downspouts.

    That actually brings up a good point. It can be problematic to base projects like this based on what neighbors have done. I've worked around construction for a long time (and I was a building inspector for a while) and I have seen a lot of situations where a property owner thought they could do something their neighbor did only to find that either the neighbor's house had been grandfathered because codes had changed, or the neighbor was also out of compliance and both properties now had issues that needed to be addressed.

    Honestly, I think you're probably fine and the amount of rainfall coming from your roof is probably minimal compared to what the storm drain was designed to handle. It is unlikely that anyone will ever even notice or care that you did this, but in some locations even if you can remove the work quickly, you might still be fined, or even get cited and have to go to court over something like this. It's definitely not fair, but it seemed like something to point out for anyone thinking about doing this. It's really important to be aware of what laws apply for projects that involve houses, especially those that leave outside evidence of what was done. It is highly unlikely anyone would ever notice that you changed light fixtures or plumbing fixtures in your house, but pouring concrete, running drainage out to the alley, building a garage, etc... all leave things that an inspector could come across 24/7.

    Thanks for the comments everyone, it's great to hear such positive feedback! One note: I will try to get pictures up tomorrow, but I realized I didn't point out that the downspout diverters are removable. The tops of the PVC pipes have threaded fittings so I can close off the PVC if needed. After removing the downspout diverters, I can easily replace them with a standard elbow and downspout (the kind I tripped on to inspire this project). This is what I intend to do in the spring if the ground is still frozen when it is raining outside.

    an access cover at the bottom of the downpipe before it goes into the ground might be a good idea to allow the underground section to be cleaned and rodded if it gets full of leaves etc.

    1 reply

    My plan if I ever need a washout is to remove the black downspout adapters, which are easily removable. I can then washout (hopefully) from the top of my PVC. I am hoping that the leaf diverters on the downspout adapters will keep leaf debris out, I expect the only thing that will potentially plug my system is grit from the shingles. I am also hopeful that I have enough slope in the second half of my system that the water flows quickly and never really slows down to deposit said shingle grit.

    Can't wait to hear how dry your basement stays on the next gully washer!

    Great job!

    I think a nice addition would have been to add holes to the tops of your buried pipes. That would allow water from the yard to also pass through the soil and into your drainage. Although what you have already done might be enough in your case. It's always an option if you still get occasional water. Anyway, great work on this! I can't tell at all by looking at the photos where you dug up the yard!