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Footing Drain vs. French Drain

While it can be counter-productive to get caught up in the details, paying attention to them is never a bad thing, and it is especially true when it comes to your home’s foundations. After all, foundations are constantly at risk of damage from a variety of hazards, and water damage is one of them.

Source: flickr.com

Dealing with water damage is particularly challenging on account of the fact that water could come in from a variety of sources and in a variety of quantities, from large rainstorms to gradual rot and erosion from something like a leak or extremely wet ground. 

For this reason, a proper drainage system is imperative to maintain you rhome’s longevity.

Currently, there are two types of drains that are quite commonly used in most modern homes—the footing drain and the French drain—and in this article we will be pitting the two head-to-head to help you choose the one that works best for your home.

What is a Footing Drain?

The footing drain (also referred to as an external foundation drain) is a drain system that is installed along the outer side of the foot of the foundation wall, guiding any incoming water and moisture away from the foundation to safely seep into the ground. 

Compared to French drains, footing drains are arguably the more common of the two, as the drain itself is a relatively trivial process to install.

In the case of new homes, the footing drain pipe (which is a plastic pipe with many small perforations along its length) is installed early on in construction as soon as the foundation wall, after which it remains in place until the construction of the house is complete. 

Upon completion, most if not all of the vertical space between the drain pipe and the surface is backfilled with relatively rough gravel (in other words, gravel with larger rock sizes) in order to guide water into the drain pipe more quickly. This detail is critical to the footing drain’s performance, as we will discuss later.

What is a French Drain?

The French drain, also called a trench drain (although other places have different names for the concept) is a home drain system that makes use of a trench to draw and collect water towards it, where it will be then carried by a drain pipe similar to the footing drain.

Compared to a footing drain, a French drain has a few quirks associated with how it is constructed. For instance, the trench needed to install the drain can be done at a much shallower depth, unlike footing drains that have to be installed at the base of the foundation for peak effectiveness.

The French drain is also typically installed several feet away from the house to more effectively draw away surface water.

Choosing the Right Drain for Your Home

Now, which of the two is actually better? 

Generally speaking, both footing drains and French drains are quite effective at channeling water away from your home’s foundations, protecting it against water damage. However, you might be inclined to pick one over the other depending on certain conditions. 

Below, we’ve detailed two sections dedicated to certain concerns regarding both drain types discussed in this article. 

Concerns on Foundation Drains

One of the primary considerations when choosing an appropriate underground drain is the location to which the drain will guide water to. Under most circumstances, the water discharged from the drain is typically sent to a catch basin, storm drain, or simply the surface. 

If, for instance, the storm drain is built at a higher elevation than the base of your home’s foundation, a foundation drain may not be feasible as any drained water will accumulate in the ground surrounding your home. However, this may be rectified with the installation of a sump pump. 

In addition, the ability of the foundation drain to actually drain away water can be jeopardized by the grading or slope angle of the surface of the ground around the house. Ground that slopes towards the house will inevitably collect much more water, which can overwhelm the foundation drain as it tries to siphon water away.

If the drain is overwhelmed, the excess water will exert pressure on the foundation itself and possibly even cause it to crack.

Another concern regarding the foundation drain is the quality of the installation itself. As we nnoted earlier in the article, it is very important to ensure that the foundation drain is backfilled with rough gravel to ensure the best water drainage. However, some contractors may fail to do this.

The result is that the foundation drain ends up taking along more fine dirt particles as it takes in water, which clogs up the drain pipe over time and rendering it unusable. 

Concerns on French Drains

Of course, French drains have their own issues as well. A particularly pressing area of concern is the terrain surrounding both the house and the drain. As it is with the foundation drain, it is important for the ground around the drain to have the right conditions in order to provide effective draining for its expected lifespan. 

In the case of a French drain, the surface of the ground surrounding the drain must have a sufficient grade or slope angle to ensure that surface water (such as that collected from rain) is guided quickly into the French drain.

While a French drain typically has a sort of fabric installed to minimize the risk of dirt and soil ingress into the drain pipe, proper landscaping is also still recommended as looser or sandier soils have a greater tendency to clog up the filter fabric of the drain itself.

There is also the issue with the actual nature of the French drain. As we mentioned previously, the French drain is installed some distance away from the home for better drainage of surface water. However, this comes at the cost of not being abel to drain out any water pooling in the ground around the foundation.

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