How To Install An In-Ground Drainage System

Recently installed subsurface drain as one of the types of drainage systems
<em>The discoloration is temporary<em>

Do you have a drainage issue on your property? Are you thinking about installing an in-ground drainage system (or one of the other drainage systems) but aren’t sure where to start?

This blog post will walk you through the steps that need to be taken to ensure proper installation and functionality.

By the end of this article, you will know how to install an in-ground drainage system that can help you manage the water and keep your home dry. But if your lawn or garden suffers from uneven watering issues, you may need an irrigation installation.


1-5 days


Beginner to Intermediate


$500 to $10,000

Time. The time it takes to complete this project will depend on the complexity of the in-ground drainage system you are installing. A basic in-ground drainage system could take just 1 day, while a complex drainage system could take up to 5 days.

Complexity. One of the biggest factors in determining the complexity of your in-ground drainage system is the grade of your yard. Simple in-ground drainage systems can be installed if your yard slants down and away from your house. A more complex drainage system with pumps and additional pipes will be required if you have a “fishbowl” yard in which the surrounding ground slants down toward your house.

Cost. The high-end of this estimate would include concrete catch basins and other more expensive components.

How To Install An In-Ground Drainage System

Shovel next to flag in a yard

Installing an in-ground drainage system can be a great way to mitigate excess water, ensuring that it is properly directed away from your home’s foundation.

Let’s take a closer look at how to install an in-ground drainage system. 


  • Spades
  • Trench shovel
  • Utility knife
  • Hacksaw
  • Bubble level or laser level (you can rent a laser level if necessary)
  • Digging machine with trencher chain (for more complex projects–can also be rented)


  • Gravel
  • Filter fabric
  • Pumps (if needed)
  • A power source (if needed)
  • Float switch (if needed)
  • Properly sized catch basin (also known as a dry well)
  • Pipes (perforated, triple wall PVC, or corrugated field tile)
  • Fittings
  • Adapters
  • Pop-up emitters
  • Root Ban (a specialized glue with copper sulfate that prevents tree roots from growing into the drainage pipes)
  • Landscaping materials (plants, grass seed, straw, and soil to backfill holes)

Installing A Downspout Drain Box Overview

Before we get into the details of the step-by-step process of installing an in-ground drainage system, let’s go over the basics of installing a drain box for your downspout.

Dig Your Trench

The first step is digging a deep trench for your field tile (also known as drain tile). Despite the “tile” part, field tile is just a perforated pipe system to direct subsurface water to an outlet. The depth of your trench will depend on how deep your subsurface water issue is. The trench should gently slope away from your house.

Install A Dry Well

At the end of your trench, dig a hole for your dry well (or catch basin). The size of the hole will depend on the size of your catch basin.

Connect pipes

Connect the drainage pipe from your downspout to the field tile in the trench. Now the water that drains off your roof’s gutter system will be directed away from your house via the field tile into the underground dry well.

Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of the process let’s dive into a detailed explanation of installing an in-ground drainage system.

Figure Out The Cause Of Your Drainage Issue

Before you start digging and installing an in-ground drainage system, it’s crucial to get to the root of the problem.

There are multiple potential reasons for excess water on your property, including:

  • Clogged gutters
  • Compacted soil
  • Improper landscaping
  • Poor grading around your home
  • Heavy rain or spring snow melts

It could be caused by an irrigation leak as well. If this is the case, you’ll want to know how to find a leak in your irrigation system.

Call 811 Before Digging

Always call 811 before you dig! It’s important that you are aware of any potential underground utility lines so that you don’t accidentally damage them during installation. 

If this is a DIY project, you will be held responsible for any damage to underground utilities. If you hire a contractor, they’ll be held responsible.

How To Install An In-Ground Drainage System

Trench for in-ground drainage system

Plan The Location

Using marking paint or flags to plan out the location and shape of your in-ground drainage system.

Dig The Dry Well Hole

A dry well is designed to collect and disperse large amounts of water quickly without creating standing pools of water on top of the ground. Make sure that when you dig out the hole for the dry well that it is approximately 10 inches wider than the diameter of the dry well itself.

Note: If you have a severe grading issue that doesn’t allow you to use gravity to move the water, you may need to install a sump pump and float switch to effectively drain your dry well.

Dig The Trench

Next, dig the trench. Make sure that your trench slopes downward toward the dry well so that gravity helps move the water toward it. Use a level to ensure it does.

Know Your Soil

Be aware that different types of soil will affect how long the digging aspect of this project will take. Sandy soil is easiest, while hard clay soil with rocks could mean several days of backbreaking labor. This is the step where you might want to consider renting a digging machine with a trencher chain.

Add Gravel

Add at least 3 inches of gravel to the trench. The gravel will function as a foundation for the perforated drainage pipe (or corrugated field tile) and allow the water to percolate into the surrounding soil. Wrap the pipe in filter fabric to prevent debris from entering and clogging the system.

Dry Well And Drainage Pipe Options

There are several options for your dry well (catch basin) and drainage pipe configuration:

  • If you are draining water away from your foundation or another place, you can attach a drainage pipe to direct water into the dry well. If you want some of the water to drain out of the pipe on the way to the dry well, use a perforated drain pipe (or corrugated field tile). If you don’t want water to drain on the way to the dry well, use an unperforated drain pipe. Note: If you are using an unperforated drain pipe, you do not need to wrap the pipe in filter fabric
  • If you are trying to alleviate puddling in a specific area, you can install a dry well as a standalone unit that collects water via the top drain
  • You can also attach two dry wells (catch basins) side by side to collect even more water via the top drains

Dry Well Installation

Now let’s go over the details for installing your dry well (or catch basin).

Prep The Dry Well

Dry wells typically have drainage holes on the side that need to be knocked out. Do this by scoring around each hole cutout with a utility knife and then pushing out the centerpiece.

Assemble The Dry Well

Many dry wells need to be assembled before being installed. Attach the sides together and secure the top of the dry well with the appropriate size screws.

Place The Dry Well In The Hole

Wrap the sides of the dry well in filter fabric and tuck about an inch of fabric under the top cover (you will need to loosen the screws to do this). This will prevent soil and other debris from entering the dry well through the perforations on the sides. Place it in your dry well hole, making sure that you have at least a 3-inch layer of gravel for it to sit on.

Attach The Drainage Pipe

Installing a drainage system

Now it’s time to connect the drainage pipes to your dry well.

Ensure Your Trench Is Properly Sloped

Make sure the trench that is holding the drainage pipe connected to your downspout is properly sloped (aim for a 1/8 inch per foot of pipe length). Use a bubble level or a laser level to ensure the correct depth.

Put Fabric Over The Drainage Pipe

Wrap your drainage pipe in filter fabric if it’s perforated. Use Root Ban to secure any connections between different pieces of the drain pipe.

Ensure The Drainage Pipe Slopes Properly

After you have laid your drain pipe into the trench, you’ll need to recheck the slope of the drain pipe with your level.

Connect Downspouts To In-Ground Drainage Pipe

Connect the drain line from your downspout to the in-ground drainage pipe. This step may require special fittings or adapters for different-sized pipes. Use a hacksaw to cut pipes to size as needed. Remember to use Root Ban for any joints between pipes. Cover the pipes with several inches of gravel.

Add Overflow Drainage Pipe To The Dry Well

Depending on the volume of water being directed into your dry well, you may need to add an overflow drainage pipe to it. If this is the case, just make sure you follow the same process for digging the trench and attaching the overflow pipe. The only difference is that this time the drain line will slope away from the dry well.

Your overflow drainage pipe should direct any excess water to the street, where it can flow into the municipal stormwater system. You can also attach it directly to the municipal system, but this will require permits from your local government.

Add Drain Cover To The End Of The Overflow Drainage Pipe

At the end of the overflow drainage pipe, you can add a drain cover to prevent critters from entering your in-ground drainage system. Alternatively, you can attach a pop-up emitter to the end of your in-ground drainage system. The pop-up emitter opens due to water pressure, then closes once the excess water has been drained.

Backfill The Trench And Hole

Finally, use the soil you excavated from your trenches and dry well to backfill. Apply straw, grass seed, plants, landscape fabric, or any other landscaping materials as needed.

2 Common Drain Types

Here is a quick overview of two of the most common drain types:

French drain: A French drain is an in-ground drainage system that works by carrying water away from a structure in order to lessen the risk of water damage.

Trench drain: Also known as a channel drain, a trench drain is an in-ground drainage system typically composed of a linear, narrow channel lining made from durable, corrosion-resistant materials such as steel and plastic. You can learn how to install a trench drainage system here.

Let The Experts At Simmons Landscape & Irrigation Solve Your Drainage Issues

Installing an in-ground drainage system is a great way to protect against flooding and keep excess rainwater away from vulnerable areas around your home. We have over 100 years of experience installing top-quality drainage systems that will keep your lawn looking great all year round.

Fill out our contact form today to schedule a consultation and see how we can help you get the perfect drainage solution for your needs.