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Gutters Resources

What Are French Drains?

Gutters and downspouts are an essential part of protecting your home because they run water away from the house during heavy rains, as well as when snow melts after winter storms. This can go a long way toward maintaining the integrity of your home since gutter systems prevent roof damage, leaks, and structural damage to the house. However, gutter systems may not be enough to provide the protection your home really needs. Although gutters are effective in directing water away from the house, what happens to that water afterward? That’s where French drains, which are designed to efficiently move runoff water, come in.

Continue reading to find out what French drains are, how much they cost, and the pros and cons of installing them.

Table of Contents

What Are French Drains and Do I Need Them?

French drains are trenches that are dug in the ground and filled with gravel and a pipe to ensure water is further directed away from your home during a storm after it flows through the gutters and hits the ground. The illustration below shows each component of a French drain.

Illustrated components of a French drain

This allows water to flow effectively so it doesn’t pool in certain areas around the house, potentially causing the very damage the gutter system should protect against.

Below, you can see a cutaway illustration showing how this functions internally as well as what the finish product looks like from the top.

Cutaway illustration of a French drain

There are ways to tell if you need French drains to help manage water outside of your home. If there are areas where water tends to pool on your lawn or driveway after a storm, it’s one sign that these will be helpful because they leverage gravity to help water travel even further away than gutters and downspouts are able to move it. Also, if you’re finding that water is getting into your basement or crawl spaces, they can help prevent the damage this excess water may cause.

How Much Do French Drains Cost?

On average, installation of French drains is $5,000 for the entire job, however, the general range is between $1,000 and $18,000, depending on how much area needs to be covered. The cost depends on whether you get interior or exterior French drains based on the needs of your home. Exterior French drains usually cost about $5,000, which amounts to $10-$50 per linear foot. Interior French drains range from $1,000-$18,000 for the entire job, which is a linear foot cost of $40-$400. The cost also includes labor of between $50 and $100 per hour.

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Pros and Cons of French Drains

Before installing them on your property, consider the following pros and cons.

  • Pros

    • Prevent damage
    • Last a long time
    • Attractive
  • Cons

    • Can clog
    • Pipes can crack
    • Digging them in may not be possible


Prevention. French drains are designed to continue the work that your gutter system does in pushing water away from your home. As a result, one of the benefits of getting them installed is they can help prevent water damage to your basement and the overall foundation of your house.

Cost effectiveness. They are built to last, so when they’re installed, their longevity can be between 30 and 40 years. Although the upfront cost may seem expensive, their durability and ability to protect the home from water damage can save you money in the long run.

Aesthetic appeal. Depending on your aesthetic, French drains can help enhance the look of your home because they’re often covered with decorative rocks and plants that make them as attractive as they are useful.


Potential clogs. Over the years, dirt and plant material that has been pushed through gutters and downspouts may collect around the drains and lead to clogs. In other cases, if a contractor uses the wrong type of material, clogs may occur much sooner.

Pipe problems. French drains may be made from plastic piping, which means that the gravel and dirt that are placed on top of the pipe for backfilling can crush it over time. In addition, just walking over the area on top of the drains can cause soil to compress, creating weight that collapses the pipe.

Potential dangers. If there are power, communications, or water lines in the area where you want to add your French drains, this could be a dangerous proposition. Digging in these areas has the potential to cause a great deal of damage that will be expensive to fix.

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