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How Long Do Footing Drains Last?

Kneeling down to peer under the house can be a daunting task for the homeowner, but it is important to check on any type of foundation drainage regularly. 

The footing drain is exposed after the basement floor is removed, and this may be a first time look at what happens to water when it enters your foundation.

Likely, the footing drain was installed to prevent seepage or water from entering your basement, and is meant to last approximately 30 to 50 years.

For a dug-out basement, the footing drain is located outside the foundation wall and will be covered with a grating or disc.

Inspecting the footing drain is a good way to see how well your house’s foundation is waterproofed and can alert you to potential problems.

The footing drain is actually a horizontal pipe that connects to the vertical pipes of your sump pump, and it extends along the foundation wall.

Read on to learn what can cause problems with your footing drain, and how to prevent issues like these from arising in future.

How long do footing drains last?

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(Image: Billo76 via Getty Images)

Rain and drainage are essential for any construction.

Without proper drainage, water accumulation can lead to biological growth (mold) or deterioration of the structure due to water damage and rot.

The most popular choice for construction is a slab-on-grade foundation.

This means that the ground is excavated to form a shallow excavation area, then the foundation is poured and concrete basement walls are placed.

A concrete footing is essential for the stability of a structure.

An integral part of such a foundation is the drainage layer or weep holes, which allow any excess water to escape and drain away from the foundation, as well as keeping it insulated and safe from ground moisture.

A properly designed and installed concrete footing will prevent any damage to the structure, drainage or foundation walls.

As a general rule of thumb, footing drains should be replaced within thirty years or less. However, if the house has experienced foundation damage as a result of water and soil erosion, it is recommended that the homeowner replace the footing drain within five years.

Furthermore, regular inspections should be performed by a professional plumber or engineer to avoid any future foundation damage, as well as reduce the chance of a costly property insurance claim.

One of the most important things to check is whether the weep holes are still draining properly.

Properties of a good footing drain

I have never seen a footer drain that has not deteriorated with age, and always end up taking out the crushed rock drains in favor of something like perforated pvc drain pipe, tees with hoses at the bottom, or slotted plastic gutters over a gravel filled trench.

Be sure that the bottom of the plastic tubing is free to drain.

A footing drain is a part of the foundation of a building that consists of an underground drainage layer or weep holes to allow water beneath the foundation to drain away from it and keep the structure insulated and safe from ground moisture.

Maintaining good footing drain is important as it helps to maintain the interior of your home dry and mold free.

A properly functioning footing drain should have the following characteristics:

  1. Low pressure against pipes or joints
  1. Free flow of water in drain pipes and weeping tile trenches (if installed)
  1. Drain pipes should not flood
  1. No surface water or standing water at the bottom of the weeping tile trench or drain pipes and no visible moisture at the foundation walls or on the surface of the footing drain
  1. No water buildup at joints along drain pipes and weep tile trenches
  1. Easily cleanable joints and drain pipes
  1. No clogging or obstructions to the flow of water through the weep tile trenches and drain pipes
  1. Seamless joints between weeping tiles
  1. Drainage layer should be free from cracks
  1. No inflow of water into the weep tile trenches and drain pipes
  1. Drainage layer should be compacted properly
  1. No obstructions in foundation walls, such as wires, pipes or conduits
  1. Foundation wall footer should be level (flush) to ensure proper drainage of water into weep tile trenches and drain pipes

Problems with footing drains

Oftentimes drain pipes will start to leak, block or even collapse due to their constant use and exposure to the elements. A broken pipe can not only ruin your lawn, carpet or floor but may also cause some damage to the structure of your building.

On average, a footer drain will last up to 30 – 50 years with proper maintenance.

The primary cause of pipe failure is corrosion brought on by many different factors such as improper installation, lack of maintenance [regular cleaning and flushing], freezing water lines, tree root interference or other obstructions.

A few problems that you may have with footing drains are:

  • a broken pipe due to corrosion or other damage
  • slow draining of the standing water
  • standing water that does not drain at all

Footing drains are designed to handle standing water. However, a blocked pipe will prevent drainage of the water into your waste system or septic tank.

If you experience any of the above problems when using footing drains, it is vital to determine the cause and then take proper measures to resolve any issues.

If left unattended, a more serious problem like extensive water damage to your structure may occur and may even lead to the development of mold or mildew.

How do you determine if your footer drain is damaged, leaky or clogged?

A footer drain is often the most neglected component of a building, as it’s hidden from view and not much thought is put into its long term viability.

Footing drains have multiple functions and fail in many ways. The most important of these is the collection of any water that may be entering your basement, as floor drains have long been proven to be the most effective method for stopping water from entering a basement.

The purpose of a footing drain is to collect unwanted water and channel it out of the basement. 

The drain should be accessible at all times for inspection and cleaning as well as to check for damage over time.

Your footing drain should have a clean out or a trap door that leads to the outdoors.

Footer drains will sometimes have an elbow on them, which allows you to easily change the angle of the drain in case it gets blocked up. 

These are rare, however.

If your footer drain does not have these features or if you are unsure of its cleanliness and functionality, it is probably time to have it dug up and inspected.

Unfortunately footing drains are quite easy to damage, either by people stepping on them and breaking the seal in the drain or by animals chewing on the drain pipe. If any of your pipes are damaged you will see wet concrete around the piping when you are at ground level.

A common misconception is that if you see water in your basement after a heavy rain, it must be coming from the footing drain. However this is not always true, as the window well can overflow and fill your basement for example. 

On the other hand, a footing drain that is clogged or damaged will cause your water table to rise and recede very quickly.

This is why a footing drain must always be clean and fully functional, so you can keep track of the water table in your basement.

Prolong the life of your concrete footing

Routinely clean your drain pipe

A home is usually surrounded by a perimeter landscaping block, which can collect debris and prevent water from flowing freely. As a result, water builds up in the pipe. 

To reduce this issue, it’s important to make sure that there is ample space around your pipe.

Brick and stone mortar joints are susceptible to leaks.

The grout on a brick or stone footing can deteriorate if water is able to seep through the joints. 

Place landscaping fabric under your drainage pipe to prevent water from entering the joints.

Use transition pieces to help direct water flow

When transitioning from a concrete footing to a landscaped area, use transition pieces that are designed for this purpose. Transition pieces divert water while still allowing it to flow into the soil.

Hire a professional to help you maintain your footing

Routine maintenance is what will keep your concrete foundation from leaking. 

A professional can drain and clean your yard’s main drainage pipe, check for breaks in the pipe and any signs of leaks, and replace or repair sections of the cement pipe.

When you hire a professional, you can feel confident that your footer is drained properly and you won’t have to worry about the quality of your yard.

Over to you!

Keeping a home dry can be hard, as it may not always be easy to tell if a problem has developed. 

Many people rely on footing drains to keep their homes from getting too wet. 

These systems are pretty straightforward, and they help to prevent water from getting into basements or leaking into the rest of the home. 

If you have a home that has footing drains, it is important to make sure that they are working properly. 

It is also essential to keep an eye out for signs of a potential problem, such as water pooling or a strong odor coming from the drain system. 

These are warning signs that there may be more serious issues coming up. 

You should have a professional look at the drains and check them periodically to prevent costly problems from occurring down the road.

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