How To Dig A Trench For Drainage: The Ultimate Guide for DIYERS

It is a wise thing for homeowners to install a trench in their yard. One of the best uses of a drain is to help prevent water from getting into the house when it rains.

Wouldn’t it be great if you know how to dig a trench for drainage? That means you will save your money while you build a drain you will be proud of.

Keep reading to see how you will get this job done without stress.

Step-By-Step Guide For Digging A Trench For Drainage Pipe

how to dig a trench for drainage

You will feel more comfortable when you have a steady drainage system in your house because you are sure that you won’t have issues with floods and stagnant water.

Digging a trench is easy when you use the proper steps and avoid common mistakes of digging a drain. So here’s how to build a drain like a pro.

  1. Map out a plan

    Even if you are an expert in digging trenches, you will need a layout plan to follow for the job. It will help you get a better result and save you more time you will commit to the job.

    When preparing your plan, consider looking at the location where water keeps accumulating and where excess is coming from

    Don’t forget to include in your plan the area you will like to direct the excess water to ensure a balance in your yard. The best way to do this is to channel the excessive water downhill from the waterlogged areas.

  2. Find Out The Appropriate Slope

    By all standards, a trench should slope downwards at a minimum of 1 inch for every 10 feet. It is the set measurement to drain away water effectively.

    So what this means is that you are not permitted to dig a trench below the required slope measurement. Here’s how you will determine your slope when digging a trench.

    Get 2 stakes and mark each at a 1-inch interval. Pinpoint the first stake at the point where you want to start the drain.

    Also, pinpoint the second stake at the point where you want to end the drain. Connect the first stake to the second stake with a string and make sure it is balanced.

  3. Start Digging

    Now, you can proceed to dig your trench. All you have to do is to use the right tools for digging a trench. In this article, we will tell you about the right tools for digging a trench.

    The standard measurements for digging a trench are about 9-12 inches in width and 18 inches in depth.
    Listen: Dig a trench that is big enough to allow a drainage pipe to sit comfortably.

  4. Lay Your Underlying Material

    It is the point where you should use landscaping fabrics to underlay your trench. But by now, you are probably wondering why this is necessary.

    An underlayer in your drain will help fight against plant roots and grasses from clogging your drainage pipe which may lead to a lawn bubble. Without further ado, proceed to finalize the underlay with gravel.

    When you have enough gravel in your trench, you can be sure of a better drainage system. The best part is that you can decide to make simple drainage by digging a trench and filling it up with gravel.

    That’s how ridiculous it is to dig a trench for drainage.

  5. Fix The Drain Pipe

    Make sure that your drain pipe is connecting to the outlet. Depending on your choice of the drain pipe, ensure that you follow the instructions stated for installing a particular drain pipe.

    Above all, ensure that the holes on your drain pipe face downwards to get the greatest draining capacity.

  6. Cover The Drain Pipe

    After you have successfully installed the drain pipe, proceed to cover it with about 3-inches of gravel. Give it more protection by using a piece of landscape fabric to secure the gravel materials.

  7. Cover The Trench

    The final step is to cover up the trench with any material you find most suitable. Some materials you can consider for use are bricks, gravel, or sand. You can also decide to reseed your trench with grasses.

The French Drain Design Guidelines To Get You Started

diging a trench for drainage pipe

With the proper materials and planning, you will dig a French drain pipe that you will be proud to show. Think I’m exaggerating? Find out more about a pipe-less French drain in this section.

  1. Confirm The Underground Safety

First, check whether it is safe to build a French drain in your selected location. The things to check out include underground pipes and cables.

Make sure your drainage plan does not interrupt the underground installation, fences, and walls.

  1. Get An Approval

Nobody wants to go through all that process of installing a French drain to be disassembled by the local agencies. While some areas get approved for installing a French drain, others get disapproved.

So you must contact your local agency to know where you stand before moving along with your project.

Don’t be in a hurry to install a French drain without the approval of your local agency. It may end up as a sheer waste of time and resources.

  1. Look For A Downhill Slope

The standard for digging a trench is a downhill slope that allows the excess water to flow away from the logged area. See step 2 of the previous section to determine the slope in a trench.

Note: Excess water tends to move under the force of gravity. You will need a downhill slope to get the force of gravity.

But don’t worry if you could not find a natural downhill slope in the area. All you have to do is create a slope that goes deeper per every 1 inch of a 10 feet run.

  1. Get Your Tools Ready

What you need to make digging a trench easy is a trencher, a landscape fabric, and some gravel. Depending on the size of your project and your capability, you can settle for hand trench digging tools, or you can rent a trench from your local machinery rental store.

Don’t forget to familiarize yourself with the tools before your project start date.

  1. Dig A Trench And Build Your Drain

Now that you are ready for the big day, follow the steps outlined in the section- the step-by-step guide for digging a trench for the yard drainage mentioned above.

The only difference here is that you will use a PVC drain pipe as the corrugated drain pipe set for the previous section.

It sounds easy, and it is. You don’t need high technical know-how for digging a trench for a water pipe.

What Is A Trench Digging Tool (Trencher)?

As earlier mentioned, using the right tool for digging a trench will make your job easier and faster. But before I share the trench digging tools with you, here is what you should know about a trench-digging tool.

A trench-digging tool known as a trencher is specifically designed to dig trenches for drainage, electric cables, or other kinds of installation. Trenchers vary with sizes for varying installation sizes.

A trench-digging tool is in two categories which are the hand trenching tools and the trencher. Check them out in detail.

  • Drainage Spade

You can consider using this trench-digging tool if you are seeking to dig about a 12×5 inches trench In your yard. The drainage spade has a long blade that allows for easy digging.

Additionally, the round point is good for breaking through hard soils and rocks underground. For digging shallow trenches, the drainage spade is your go-to tool. It makes the work easy and quick.

  • Trenching Hoe

Also known as the Grub hoe, it is effective for digging trenches up to 24×5 inches. Such drains may showcase a flat bottom which is sometimes a bit difficult to dig with hand trench digging tools.

The trenching hoe works similarly to a power trencher, but at a slower pace.

  • Trenching Shovels

Another trench digging tool is the trenching shovels used for digging trenches up to 18 inches deep.

The trenching shovels have high-lift angle handles that allow you to raise soil out of your trench. And thanks to the upturned back surface, you can step on the trenching shovel with your boot.

Here is a video to check its effectiveness.
  • Walk-behind Trencher

As its name implies, this trencher allows you to walk behind when trenching. The tool is effective for digging a trench about 3-4 feet deep and 4-8 inches wide.

To operate this trench-digging tool, you have to position yourself in front of the trenches where the controls are placed.

And while the trencher dig, you will walk backward in a slow movement. The best part about the walk-behind trencher is that it is easy to use.

  • Large Trenchers

They can dig a trench about 4 feet deep. It is a good choice if you are considering installing a French drain.

But here’s the rub. The trencher requires a high level of expertise to operate it successfully. You can consider seeking professional help to help you handle the trencher.

Make sure to adhere to the safety precautions to avoid mechanical accidents when digging. Because this tool is a bit pricey, you can rent them for a token at the machinery rental stuff near you.

Get Your Trench Ready In No Time With These Trench Digging Hacks

We all know that trenching is important for drainage and irrigation purposes. Not to mention giving you access to electrical utilities within your building.

Seriously, you don’t have to sweat it all out when digging a trench for water pipe.

We have provided a few tricks to help you dig a trench with less effort. Make sure to check them out.

  • Remove Sod And Roots

It sounds ridiculous, but sure it has one effective way to dig a trench without burning much energy. You do not have any problems if your soil is rock-free and root-free.

But, if you have a large population of the root, sod, and rock in your soil, get rid of them to make digging a cakewalk. For best results, use mattocks or a long-handled pick to remove all obstructions from your way.

  • Avoid Soil Compaction To Trees Within A Drain

It is okay to dig a trench near a tree, but here’s what you must do. Avoid soil compaction to the tree to prevent death.

When a tree is compacted with soil, it will result in a decrease in soil permeability. In the long run, it will eventually cause inadequate nutrients available for root intake.

Of course, you wouldn’t want to kill your tree for a trench. The best way around this is to avoid soil compaction to the tree when digging.

  • Dig When The Soil Is Dry

Don’t make the same mistake most DIYers make when digging a trench for drainage pipe. You will be stuck in between wet and more heavy soil when you dig a drain in the rain.

What you have to do is to wait till the soil is dry before you start digging. It will make the job less stressful and effective. Besides, there will be no annoying soil sticking to your hand digging tool/trencher.

  • Spray The Drain Area With Little Water

The trick is to spray the drain area with water to allow it to compact a little and adjust itself to the demand. A small bucket of water is enough to set your drain pipe in motion to drain away excess water.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is there a machine to dig trenches?

Using a trencher is the ultimate machine to dig trenches for installing drainage or laying pipes.

How long does it take to dig a trench with a trencher?

Around 30 to 40 minutes depending on your skill of using a trencher.

What is the best tool for digging a trench?

Trenching shovel is the best tool for digging a trench. There are various types of hand tools like Trenching Hoe, SharpShooter Shovel, etc. that can be used for that purpose.

Will a trencher go through gravel?


Can I use a chainsaw to dig a trench?

You can use a chainsaw to dig a trench for a while but it will severely damage the chainsaw.


Whether you want to prepare a drainage system for your house, or an electric wire, digging a trench is the wiser decision to take.

It begins with getting the right digging tools in place and knowing what to do to dig a trench that fits your purpose.

So we have taken the burden away from you with our detailed guide- how to dig a trench for drainage. We look forward to your questions, opinions, and suggestions.

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