How to Make a Basement French Drain

A French drain removes water from a basement by collecting moisture in a shallow trench, pulling it into a perforated pipe, and expelling it to a basin and sump pump. Named after Henry French, who popularized the technology in 1859, the drain is a popular and effective method for drying out basements that are constantly effected by rainwater and other runoff. Because of the need to dig into the foundation of the building, installing a French drain is a major project and should only be tackled by those with significant building or maintenance experience. Before putting a French drain in your basement, you should already have a basin, sump pump, and exterior drain to which the water collected in the basement can flow.


  1. 1
    Plot out and mark the path of the French drain.
    • The drain should run about 1 foot (or 30 cm) away from the basement's exterior wall. Place it in the area with the greatest moisture. It should run to a collection basin in the basement (ideally placed in a corner), from which a sump pump will expel the water to the outside.
  2. 2
    Dig out the floor of your basement along the path of the drain.
    • The trench in which you place the drain should be about 8 inches (or 20 cm) wide and 18 inches (or 45 cm) deep. Use a pickaxe or a jackhammer to break through the floor of the basement. Remove the soil beneath with a shovel.
  3. 3
    Grade the bottom of the trench.
    • Your drain needs to slope downwards in order to effectively carry water to the basin. Tamp down the soil at the bottom of the trench with your shovel, and make the trench 1 inch (or 2.5 cm) deeper for every 8 feet (or 2.4 meters) of length. For example, if you have a trench that is 24 feet (or 7.2 meters) long, the end of the trench should be 3 inches (or 7.5 cm) deeper than the beginning.
  4. 4
    Place the French drain piping into the trench with the perforations facing down.
  5. 5
    Connect the piping to the water collection basin.
  6. 6
    Fill the trench around the piping with drainage gravel.
    • The drainage gravel allows water to seep down to the bottom of the trench, where it goes into the perforated holes into the piping and flows into the basin. Make sure the trench is filled with gravel all around the piping, including on top, but do not pack the gravel down tight.
  7. 7
    Seal the trench with cement. Leave a 2 inch (or 5 cm) gap at the edge of the trench closest to the wall.
    • Quick-setting or quick-dry cement is the easiest option for sealing the trench. Mix the cement mix with water and pour it over the gravel that lies on top of and to the side of the piping. Tamp down with a trowel. Leave the 2 inch (or 5 cm) gap so as to allow water to run down the wall and into the drain. Let dry for 24 hours.


  • All elements of your French drain system--including the collection basin and sump pump at the end--are readily available at any home supply or hardware store. Be sure to buy perforated pipe (which has holes that allows moisture to seep into the drain) and drainage gravel (which allows water to fall through) rather than limestone gravel.
  • By placing the piping face-down and surrounding it with gravel, your French drain should remain unclogged. However, if you are particularly worried about silt or other solid matter getting into the drain, consider wrapping the piping in a drain sleeve, which allows water in but filters out larger particles.


  • Do not use limestone gravel in your pipe trench. Limestone can degrade with moisture and produce a viscous, cement-like substance that will clog your pipes. Always use drainage gravel.

Things You'll Need

  • 4-inch diameter perforated French drain piping
  • Water basin
  • Sump pump
  • Exterior drain
  • Pickaxe or jackhammer
  • Shovel
  • Trowel
  • Drainage gravel
  • Quick-setting cement

Article Info

Categories: Plumbing Drains Waste and Vents