Grading my backyard

fillthemupApril 5, 2014

Hi all,

I must have read dozens and dozens of postings and their replies, but can't seem to find what would work for me. It seems all I've done is research for the past couple of weeks yet still don't know what direction to take.

We're in Michigan. We moved into a new house at the end of last summer. Our backyard is about 3,000 square feet (61 feet by 46 feet). Our entire yard is bumpy...twist your ankle type. It is also about 3" lower than our neighbors. We have some leaking in the basement on bad rainy days. And we have a few spots in our yard that are especially low, leaving pools of rain water for days after a rain (see attached image).

We're on a budget, and would like to do the work ourselves. Would any of these solutions work for us?

I have also attached a picture of the top 6 inches of our soil.

* Till the entire backyard, slope it properly
* Grade the yard with mason sand & fill in low spots with mason sand
* Grade the yard with screened top soil & fill in low spots with top soil
* Something else?

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Or, do I want to install a French Drain around the house, and connect the areas of pooling water, re-direct the water somewhere else?

If I did either or (grading or french drain), which would you recommend?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 5:56PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

If you have water in the house, then you have a very serious drainage issue. Water should flow away from all buildings, but yours flows toward the house.

I don't know squat about far north soils and freezing and upheaval, but I've heard the words. If you were down here I would tell you that the reason for having a bumpy soil now is that someone rototilled it 3 years ago. Rototilling normally results in bumpy soil 2-3 years later, so that option is out. Bringing in sand or soil might work but your very first priority must be to stop the water from entering the house. You'll need to figure out why that's happening and take care of it. It could be you need to remove a lot more soil to get your drainage right. I also don't know anything about Michigan law but your neighbors should not be allowed to drain water onto your property. If they won't fix that on their side of the fence, you might need to fix it on your side. The fix is to build a hill inside your fence to stop the water coming over. Could it be the source of water in your house is the water coming from the neighbors??? Maybe that is the simple answer.

Rather than rototilling, you might rent a dethatcher or power rake. Those tools have blades which rotate vertically on a spool. You can adjust the depth of the cut from above the ground to below the soil level. Start at the high spots to loosen the soil. Sweep that into the low spots with a push broom. The idea is to loosen the very top of the soil. Then you could regrade it with a screed or by pulling a drag around. Ideally the soil height ten feet away from your house should be 6 inches lower than the bottom sill of your house. You can make a drag out of chain link fence with rope and a bag of sand to weigh it down. Look for videos on YouTube. Most are pretty poor, but you'll get the idea by watching. In fact, turn the sound off, because most of the people don't know what they're talking about in their editorializing. Also look on this forum for "leveling bermuda". Those are the search terms. As it turns out most people with bumpy lawn issues have bermuda. Bermuda, along with centipede and creeping bentgrass, is a grass which should be mowed low, so uneven soil shows up as scalped areas. All the rest of the turf grasses should be mowed high.

You might also want to look into why that utility box is off kilter. Straightening that would help the appearance.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 6:00PM
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Ah - look what I found after looking closely. See below picture. Our house is on the left, neighbor's on the right. You can see that the land is sloping towards my house, my front yard is slowing towards my backyard, and both of our's and my neighbor's downspouts water is heading towards my house. You can even see moss growing!

I'm assuming throwing some Top Soil on top would be beneficial, but installing a French Drain hooked up to my downspout would be the best?

This post was edited by fillthemup on Sat, Apr 5, 14 at 19:37

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 7:36PM
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Can you dig a trench and install drainage pipe from your downspout to the street? That would get the water off your property and into the street storm drains. Also make sure your gutters and downspouts have no obstructions.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 7:14AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

If this were new construction in California (the only place I've seen new construction on hills), they would have both a swale (low running ditch) and a hill between the two houses. These soil structures would be designed to guide the water to the back (in your case) and out to some sort of official drainage - not onto the next neighbor. It looks like you're getting all your neighbor's front yard runoff right down to your front corner. Here is an example from SoCal.

See how they guide the water toward the curb. The hole in the curb drains the water from behind the wall on the lower house.

Your downspout should be on the downhill part of the yard. It might be easier to reroute it than build a French drain back to the back.

I suspect your brick structure is there to keep some of the runoff out of the house. I further suspect if you dig out the mulch from that brick structure you'll find the base of your tree has been buried in mulch or even soil. Tree bark will rot and kill the tree when it is buried like that. It seems to me you have several issues based on your neighborhood drainage.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 2:50PM
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How could I get the water to the street? Wouldn't that require going underneath public sidewalks or the curb?

Would a dethatcher even out my yard better than rototilling?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 7:53AM
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My drainage pipe ends at the sidewalk so water exits the pipe and goes onto the sidewalk and from there flows downhill to the storm sewer at the corner of the block. Is the street higher or lower than your house? Water won't flow uphill.

Don't rototill. That makes things worse.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 2:27PM
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In the backyard there are 2 spots with standing water after heavy rain - both with 1-2" of water about 4' by 4'. What if I built a dry well filled with stone underneath each?

And for the side yard/front yard in between my house and the neighbors, what about a pop-up emitter connected to the downspout?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 10:36PM
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