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What Are Drain Tiles

When you hear drain tile the first time, judging by the face meaning, you perhaps feel it is misleading, thinking it is a type of tile. For clarity purposes, Drain tile is far from being a tile. What then is drain tile? What is the origin of drain tile? How does drain tile work and how are they installed?

Types of drain tile? Materials for drain tile, Benefits of drain tile? For your reading pleasure, George ceramic is delving deep into these questions to aid your understanding. The article will no doubt come in handy for you when running your next construction project.

We also introduced in detail What is Fully Glazed Polished Porcelain Tile? in our previous article. If you are interested, you can click to read it.

Drain Tiles

what is Drain tile?

Drain Tile, also referred to as a footing tile system is a system of porous plastic PVC pipe or flexible plastic pipe that is laid beneath the ground around a home’s foundation.

It is intended to gather the water before it can enter a basement or crawl space, and it either directs the water downhill away from the home’s foundation using gravity or directs it into a collection pit where an electric sump pump can remove it from the house.

In some systems, the piping may run to a distant drainage pit buried underground, while in other systems the piping or sump pump dumps the water onto open ground where it can run into storm sewers or filter into the ground.

Therefore the purpose of drain tile is to prevent water from seeping through cracks or the cove joint (where the floor meets the wall).

Origin of Drain Tile

Talking about history, the use of drain tiles originated in agriculture over 2,000 years ago. The Egyptians and Babylonians used drainage techniques to remove excess water from the soil and improve crop growth. In its original form, these systems were made from segments of clay tile.

Despite centuries of use, field drainage systems weren’t used in America until Scottish immigrant John Johnston installed clay tiles on his farm in New York in 1838. His wheat production and profit per acre so exceeded his neighbors’ that he was disliked by many.

Johnston was not secretive about his methods, however, and in 1860, Henry French wrote a book that had such a profound effect that these drainage systems were renamed French drains.

Drain tile is the term most commonly used today, but in some regions of the country, such agricultural drainage systems are still referred to as French drains. Other terms you might see include footing tile, weeping tile, perimeter drain, perforated drain, and foundation drain.

How does drain tile work?

Drain tile systems today consist of crush-resistant plastic (usually PVC) pipes that are perforated with holes to allow groundwater in. It is best to install drain tile after the foundation footer of a new home has been laid. The pipe is typically laid in a trench that runs alongside the footer. Next, the drain tile is covered with a layer of washed gravel.

The gravel must be large enough to not have the ability to enter the perforations in the pipe, but still be able to filter water as it enters the pipe. The tile is then covered with a porous fabric that allows water in and keeps soil out. Finally, soil is placed on top of the covered pipe to complete the system.

For the installation of an exterior drain tile system, an experienced professional must dig up the area around the foundation, clearing away plants, sidewalks, and other obstacles. Thus, the construction process can last longer than an interior drain tile system installation—this need not disrupt your home’s interior.

Another benefit of doing the exterior drain tile is that you do not need to remove or touch anything in the basement. Save for the installation of a sump pump, all of the work is performed outside the home. So, if you have a beautifully finished basement, it need not be touched to complete the basement waterproofing system.

drain tile


Interior Drain Tile

Drainage systems in Interior Wall Tiles collect water from under and around your basement and direct it to a basement sump. There are three ways you can install an indoor system: above a concrete slab, within the edge of the slab, or below the slab.

A perforated pipe is laid in a bed of washed stone under your basement floor. As water gathers around and under your home’s foundation, this pipe gathers the water and redirects it to a sump pit. From here, the sump pump will eject the water from the basement.

The principles of field drainage systems are similar to those in play when drain tile is used in residential construction. The purpose of drain tile around your house is to collect water around your basement foundation and channel it to one of two places.

If you live in an area without a slope, the water flows to a sump pit in your basement where it is then pumped out away from the foundation. Alternatively, if you live on a lot with a sufficiently steep slope, the water runs downhill away from your foundation to some daylight exit point.

The pipe should be sloped at a minimum pitch of ¼ inch per foot, although a steeper slope is better. The whole system functions very simply and efficiently by creating a path of least resistance for water to follow. This means water is less likely to seep into your basement through any small, unnoticed cracks in the foundation or slab.

Exterior Drain Tile

An exterior drainage system directs outside water to a street’s sewer, draining the soil around your home and relieving pressure from the home’s foundation. The same mechanics are in play for this system.

Water gathers in a basin around your foundation, and a gravity pipe system directs the water into a sump pump. The pump then ejects the water from the home via a discharge line.

Both systems, while they may be different in installation, accomplish the same goal. It will allow you to finish your basement, adding usable living space to your home. Mold, musty smells, and pooling water will no longer be worries of yours.

Material for drain tile

There are two major types of drain tile pipes. One type is a rigid PVC pipe with holes on one side. The holes are placed facing down, and water makes its way into the pipe from underneath. PVC pipe comes in 10-foot lengths and, because it is rigid, it requires corner fittings to navigate around the house. PVC pipe is crush-resistant to 3000 pounds.

A second type of drain pipe is a corrugated flexible plastic pipe with perforations (small slits) that let water into the pipe but deter large soil particles from entering. Flexible plastic pipe can be purchased with a fabric covering that prevents small soil particles from entering the pipe.

Material for drain tile

Without the fabric covering, this pipe costs about $0.40 per foot. It is cheaper than PVC pipe but has a greater risk of being crushed during the backfill of the trench. Four-inch diameter piping is the standard size for foundation drainage systems, though diameters can range from 2 to 18 inches.

Drain tile is best installed immediately after the foundation footer of a new house is laid and before further construction has begun. The pipe is typically installed in a 5- or 6-inch-deep trench that runs alongside the footer.

Next, the drain tile is covered with at least 3 feet of round, washed gravel that is 1 to 1 1/2 inches in size. This gravel is too big to fit through the holes or perforations in the pipe but makes a great filter for the water as it travels to the pipe.

After the gravel layer comes a cover material—a porous fabric, such as roofing felt or landscape fabric, that allows moisture to seep through while blocking soil. Once the gravel cover is in place, soil is piled up to finish the job.

Drain tile systems are fairly affordable and easy to install during the early phases of home construction before the foundation has been backfilled. Given that you are protecting your home from water damage, it is probably worth having the system installed if you are contracting a new home construction.

And it is a definite plus to look for if you are buying a home—either a newly constructed home or an existing dwelling.Where water problems begin to appear in an existing home, drain tile can be retrofitted to eliminate the problem.

Having drain tile installed on an existing home to correct basement water issues is very costly and labor-intensive, but it may be the only solution. It requires major excavation around the entire foundation, inside the existing basement, or both. Outdoors, you may need to remove landscaping—including decks, patios, steps, and sidewalks—to install drainage pipes.

Click to read our article: Comprehensive Guide to Install Tiles Seamlessly

Troubleshooting Drainage Problems

If your drain tile is functioning properly, you won’t even know it is there. Sometimes, though, a pipe might become clogged with dirt, roots, or other debris and will then be unable to carry water away from your house. Or, if your system uses a sump pump to remove water from a collection pit, the electric pump may malfunction or stop working. 

Following are some signs of a drainage problem:

Water in your basement.

Water stains on your basement walls. This could be followed by serious flooding if action isn’t taken.

Puddles close to your home’s foundation. Puddles could also mean that your yard is not adequately sloped away from your home, or that your downspouts are not moving water sufficiently far away from the roof.

If groundwater is managed well, drain tile becomes just one part of a larger system of water management. Carefully grading the yard is important for directing water away from the foundation, along with roof gutters and downspouts.

Related Reading:How Do I Maintain My Tile

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