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Do Lawn Pop Up Drains Work?

We’ve all seen the damage fast-flowing storm and rainwater can do to homes and gardens, so pop-up drains are a good way of quickly, easily, and cheaply getting high volumes of water away from your house.

Lawn pop-up drains work well in channeling stormwater away from your property and garden, so it doesn’t damage your topsoil or foundations. PVC pipes buried under your lawn take downspout water far from your home where hydrostatic pressure pops open the drain lid letting the water out safely.

Let’s dive down into this subject in greater detail by looking at what pop-up drains are and how they work, and considering how to fit one and if there are any better alternatives.

What Are Lawn Pop-Up Drains?

We all have gutter systems in our houses. Most homeowners install extensions or splash blocks onto the downspouts to channel water away from our house, by a few feet. But that’s not enough.

Water is a powerful eroder. A spring rainstorm can wash away the topsoil in your garden. It can carry away mulch and even wash away your perennials. But worst of all, it can damage the foundation of your home.

There are several ways to channel water away – far away – from your house. Surface drainage systems use a series of solid plastic pipes that start at the base of your downspout. The pipes continue underground across your yard, and end in a drain that lets the water out.

This system is also called an “underground downspout”. Surface drainage systems end in a drain, and there are several types. One type is called a “pop up emitter” – a weird name for a pretty simple drain.

Do Lawn Pop Up Drains Actually Work? (And How Do They Work?)

Yes they work very well. The drainage pipes (typically PVC) in a surface drainage system are installed in trenches across your lawn or garden and run many feet away – and downhill – from your house. The underground pipes end in a drain that pops up and emits the water, hence the name.

The end drain is typically installed level with the ground. On rainy days, the hydrostatic pressure from the storm water will cause the drain to open. Here’s a video of a pop up emitter during a rainstorm.

On sunny days, the pop up drain will be closed flat. You can mow or weed whack over it. No dirt, leaves, grass cuttings, pebbles, lizards, bugs or snakes can get inside the drain. Most pop up drains are colored green, so they blend in with your lawn.

Expert opinions on pop up emitters is good. There are several manufacturers, and some have springs that hold the lid closed and some don’t.  Some landscapers prefer the lids with springs attached, so the lid doesn’t get eaten so often by lawn mowers. Mowers create a powerful suction to hoover up grass cuttings – and drain lids.

Another common problem cited is pop up lids freezing shut in cold climates. This causes a potentially bad chain reaction. With the lid frozen shut, melt water from the roof fills the PVC pipe system, then freezes and cracks the pipes.

While this may be a valid problem, the reality is that alternative drain designs are not maintenance-free either. Some, like “daylighting” the pipe end are not allowed in many suburban neighborhoods. One landscape expert said that, yes, freezing was a problem but only when torrential rains came down on top of snow-covered lawns.

If freezing might be a problem for you, there may be something to try. Most pop up drains come with a hole in the elbow that allows water to trickle out into the soil below. If you are DIY’ing your own drainage system, consider drilling a couple more drainage holes in the pop up drain elbow.

Also, design your pipeline to be a little deeper at the drain end and fill the trench in there with a few extra inches of pea gravel. With extra drainage holes in the elbow and the elbow resting on several inches of pea gravel, freezing issues should be solved.

How Do I Know if I Need a Pop Up Drain On My Lawn?

You need a pop up drain system if you notice erosion next to your foundation. Most new landscaping is designed to slope away from the house, but after several years it might not. If you notice water pooled next to your foundation, act at once.

Don’t wait until you see damp in your basement or cracks in your foundation. Here’s a great resource for lawn drainage issues.

All soils are different and yard topography varies. Soils with a lot of clay content don’t drain well. You will have puddles. Bogs.

If your lawn doesn’t drain in a few hours, then the grass roots can suffer rot. Tree and shrub roots can also get root rot. Moss loves to be wet – can’t get enough – so your lawn may get mossy. Mosquitoes also love puddles. 

Most of us landscape around our houses – right up against the house. It beautifies the house. Downspouts, even with extensions, don’t reach all the way across our landscaped borders. Water from downspouts can wash mulch – even flowers – out onto the lawn. 

The bottom line is, too much water standing in the garden or the lawn takes away from the pleasure and peace we all get from our yards.

Lawn drainage
How Do I Know if I Need a Pop Up Drain On My Lawn?

How Do You Install a Pop Up Drain?

Before you dig in your yard, be sure to check for utility lines. There are services who can help with this, sometimes for free.

Also – take some “Before” and “After” photos – and all the other photos along the way!

Installing a landscape drainage system sounds simple, but there are a couple of key design considerations: the slope of the pipe and the location of the pop up emitter.

The slope of the pipe system is critical. Experts say you need a 2% slope. Here’s how to calculate landscape slope. If your slope is too flat, water won’t drain efficiently, and it may freeze in winter. Without enough slope, rainwater may not have enough pressure to “pop” open the drain. Drains can clean themselves naturally with a full water flow – but not ones with inadequate slope.

Next, think through pop up drain placement. Experts say the drain should be a minimum of 10 feet away from your house. Ideally, you want the drain located where water can run into the street’s drain system. During a strong rainstorm, your drain will be gushing water. Make sure the location of the drain allows for all that water, or you may create more problems than you solve.

Large rocks are always good for water discharge areas. If you don’t have a good spot for all that water discharge, consider creating a natural-looking rock feature. Softball-size or larger rocks are hard to dislodge and will spread the water energy.

Once you have determined the location of the drain, you can measure and buy materials. Some experts recommend using pipes with a smooth interior instead of the corrugated ones. After checking for utility lines along your route, start digging. 

Cut through your sod cleanly and set the pieces aside so you can put them back where they came from. Here’s an installation video. Try to keep the slope even as “bellies” in the line will end up clogged with dirt and leaves. 

After the hard part of digging comes the fun part of putting the pieces together. Assemble the connection to the downspout, lay out the pipe in the trench, and attach the pop up drain. When you have all the pieces together, check again for bellies with a long level or a piece of string.

Are There Any Pop Up Drain Alternatives?

Yes! If you want to install an underground downspout system but don’t like the idea of a pop up emitter, you can install a grated one. They are nice-looking and – no moving parts to get sucked into and chopped up by a mower.

Another alternative is to “daylight” the end of the drainage pipe. Daylighting pipe means that the pipe sticks up out of the ground. It may be a tripping hazard and you will have to trim around it. Many subdivisions don’t allow them, so check first. 

In Conclusion

If you notice water damage near the foundations of your home you should definitely act fast and fit either a pop up drain (cheapest) or a grated one (a bit more expensive). 

Both options work very effectively in channelling excess water away from your property, yard and garden – and will stop any further erosion of your foundations and top soil.Underground downspout systems are not complicated, and provided they can take the water at least 10 feet from your home and direct it into the main street drain – you shouldn’t experience any more problems with water ingress in future.

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >