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Drainage Solutions Prevent Rain Damage

Maybe you’ve noticed. We’ve had way more than our share of rain so far this year. In fact, according to the weather statistics keepers at NOAA, the Gainesville reporting station had recorded about 42 inches in total rainfall in these first six months of 2020, compared to the normal rainfall amount of around 27 inches that’s usually fallen here by the end of June.

That extra 55% of rainfall has made itself known in many ways. If you tend a garden or even enjoy one from the window, you’ve probably observed changes there. Assuming enough breaks for the sun to shine through, plants growing in healthy soil conditions with good drainage may have taken off like the clappers this spring. Same thing if you have a lawn. The lawnmower may have been getting a workout.

Where drainage is poor in the lawn or garden, that’s probably apparent, too. Shrubs and flowering plants may be showing signs of distress. New leaves may be brown, lower leaves may be turning yellow and falling off, and stems may be dying back. Moss may be blanketing the soil or replacing areas of grass. There may even be pools of standing water.

Or, there might be exposed roots, where the soil has washed away due to erosion, and been deposited in another lower area. You might see gullies and crevasses carved into the ground from rushing water headed downhill.

Sad that your lawn and garden aren’t looking their best, but it’s not that big of a deal, right? After all, there are some things you can do about it. You can add some organic material to the soil if there’s a lot of clay in it, add new soil and raise the flower beds and even put in some new and different plants that will tolerate the damp conditions better. You can choose plants better suited for the sloping areas of the landscape.

But, consider this:  You’re sad plants may be trying to tell you something important about the structural elements on your property, and you should probably listen.

Struggling or dying plants can be signs you’re at risk of severe property damage

If your plants are struggling, it’s time to take a walk around your property to see if anything else is in trouble. Even if all the extra rain hasn’t caused any major problems, it could have exposed some you weren’t aware of.

Here are some specific things to check out at ground level:

  1. Is the basement damp…or wet?
  2. Are there cracks in the foundation?
  3. Is your HVAC unit slab still level?
  4. Are retaining walls leaning, or is dirt washing away or cracking?
  5. Is the driveway “sinking?” Has a section dropped down?
  6. Is the sidewalk cracking or sinking?
  7. Are the concrete-based steps even?
  8. Is dirt washing out from the under the edges of the patio?
  9. How about the porches and decks?

These are common places for erosion and poor drainage to take a serious toll if they’re not corrected. Unchecked, they can lead to serious injury and disastrous and expensive property damage.

Here’s why you should leave the drainage solutions  and repairs to the pros.

 Most people don’t fully understand and appreciate how dangerous water can be. Especially in Northeast Georgia, where it can gather up amazing energy and speed on its way down our slopes and hillsides.

Retaining walls are one of the go-to solutions. It may seem like constructing a retaining wall is just a simple matter of building a short wall, or that it’s no big deal to build some steps into the side of a hill, but a mistake can be devastating. Some mistakes can jeopardize the structural integrity of your home! That’s why, as much as I support people learning about home improvements and taking on landscape projects, I strongly discourage inexperienced homeowners from attempting projects like these. Even the pros can run into problems in these foothills. I know this from experience.

Deck built on topsoil
This deck in Hiawassee was built on top of fill dirt. If the issue hadn’t been corrected, it could have fallen right down the hill—along with the home’s roof.

We were called in to help with a home in Hiawassee that had a gorgeous view off of a back deck. Unfortunately, the deck hadn’t been built correctly; it had been built on top of fill dirt on the side of a steep hill. We see problems like this every day. People want homes built on hillsides and some builders comply, and then they—and sometimes the homeowners, as well—try to save money by not having the proper engineering done. The further you get out from Atlanta, the more lenient some of the building codes are, so engineers aren’t always required.

In this case, the out-of-town homeowner, who had inherited the home from his parents, was concerned enough about the deck to call us. He asked us to build a retaining wall to support the deck and back of the home.

We do this work all the time and knew the job required digging down to “virgin soil.” That is, the soil that was there before the house was built, that had never been disturbed. Only virgin soil and ground are stable enough to properly support a wall. So we dug down four feet below the ground level to build the base on virgin soil—or so we thought.

Not long after we completed the retaining wall, and after some of the strongest rains the area had seen in a long time, I stopped by the home to add some plants alongside the front of the house. My heart sunk when I noticed there was an open space in the wall and that the soil had cracked and was moving.

Erosion problems showing in soil above a block wall
: Heavy rains exposed a problem with the retaining wall that was supposed to support the deck and the home. We called in a soil engineer immediately.
Erosion problems showing in wall
This is the wall on the other side. It shows how the block are separating due to the erosion.

We wasted no time getting a soil engineer to the site. His assessment:  If we didn’t install steel piers for support, the deck could fall completely down the hill and take the roof with it. We installed the steel piers and re-built the wall. And we learned our lesson. If a wall’s going to be built in the mountains and the soil has ever been disturbed, insist on getting an engineer’s go-ahead first—even if code doesn’t require it.

Block retaining wall in Hiawassee
Steel piers were installed, and the retaining wall was re-built. Retaining walls are best left to the pros, and soil engineers may need to be consulted—even if they’re not required by code.

There are lots of other drainage solutions that will help prevent rain damage

Retaining walls can cure many landscape ills. In addition to stabilizing slopes, they’re effective at slowing erosion, and they work well in all kinds of landscape designs. But there are other ways to slow down, redirect and reduce runoff. Here are a few others:

  1. Install in-ground drains that pipe water away to locations where it can be slowly absorbed into the ground
  2. Choose or replace impermeable surfaces, like asphalt and concrete driveways with permeable pavers or gravel that let water seep through
  3. Consider stone patio and garden walkway designs that leave spaces between stones for dirt and plants or pebbles.
  4. Terrace a slope with alternating step downs and level areas that let water soak in, like planting beds or ground cover.
  5. Create a dry creek bed.

Dry Creek Bed

I love using dry creek beds for redirecting water runoff and preventing erosion on hilly terrain. They do the job very well when placed and installed properly. (They have to strategically channel excess rainfall along a route that moves water, but not too fast and not too slow—and not onto somebody’s else’s property). And they can be blended into the landscape so they look perfectly natural. They can even be accompanied by recirculating pump systems that allow them to flow on demand, when it’s not raining.

To sum all this up, don’t wait for too long to inspect your property for damage all this extra precipitation may have caused or exposed. There are good drainage solutions out there that can help stop and prevent further rain damage.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go roll up my windows. I hear thunder.

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