Most Common Types of Storm Drainage and How They Work

Storm drainage options

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A home’s storm drainage system is one of its primary defenses against water damage and other structural risks. They come in various forms, designed to manage and redirect stormwater.

From gutters to permeable pavement, the sections below will highlight common drainage styles, explain how they work, and provide practical tips for maintaining yours.

What is Storm Drainage?

Storm drainage refers to the systems designed to direct and dispose of stormwater from roofs, driveways, and other surfaces. The primary goal is to prevent water from accumulating on or around your property.

Water intrusion can lead to a host of problems like flooding, erosion, and structural damage. But efficient stormwater management helps maintain structural integrity!

Comparing different types of storm drainage.

Common Storm Drainage Systems

These can be broadly categorized into surface drainage and subsurface drainage, with each type offering unique benefits and challenges. Understanding the different options available can help you choose the best solution for your specific needs! Plus, you ensure that your property remains protected from the damaging effects of stormwater.

Surface Drainage

When most people think of storm drainage, they picture surface drainage systems. These are the most visible and commonly recognized, designed to collect and direct stormwater runoff away from your property. Two common examples include:

  • Swales and Ditches – Swales are shallow, gradually sloping depressions in the landscape, often lined with grass or other vegetation. Their primary function is to guide water away from your property while slowing down the flow and preventing erosion. Swales are a low-maintenance solution for managing runoff, particularly in areas with gentle slopes and larger landscapes.
  • Gutters and Downspouts – Gutters and downspouts are essential components of your home’s surface drainage system. Gutters collect rainwater from your roof and channel it towards downspouts, which then direct the water away from your foundation. To ensure proper function, clean your gutters and ensure that downspouts extend at least 5 feet.

Subsurface Drainage

While surface drainage systems are the most visible, subsurface drainage systems work behind the scenes to manage runoff. These systems are installed underground instead. They’re useful in areas with high water tables, poor drainage, or frequent flooding. Two common types include:

  • French Drains – A French drain is a gravel-filled trench with a perforated pipe running through it. It intercepts and redirects groundwater away from your home’s foundation, preventing water damage and keeping your basement dry. French drains are often installed around the perimeter of a home or in areas where subsurface water is a concern.
  • Dry Wells – Similarly, dry wells are underground structures designed to store and gradually release excess water into the surrounding soil. They are particularly useful in areas where surface drainage is not feasible or where soil conditions allow for effective infiltration. Dry wells collect runoff from roofs, driveways, or other surfaces, allowing it to slowly percolate into the ground.

Proper Grading

Next, one of the simplest and most effective ways to manage stormwater runoff is by ensuring proper slope grading around your home. By directing water away from your foundation, you can reduce the risk of flooding and structural damage. Here are some key guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Maintain a slope of at least 6 inches over a distance of 10 feet away from your home’s foundation.
  • Fill any low spots or depressions in your yard that may collect water.
  • Regularly inspect and repair any erosion or settlement that may disrupt proper slope drainage.

Permeable Paving

Lastly, permeable paving is an innovative solution that allows water to pass through the surface and infiltrate the underlying soil, reducing runoff and promoting groundwater recharge. Some common types of permeable paving materials include:

  • Permeable Interlocking Concrete – These pavers have gaps between them that allow water to pass through and infiltrate the soil below, offering a durable and attractive surface option that promotes effective stormwater management.
  • Porous Asphalt and Pervious Concrete – These materials have a more open structure that enables water to pass through the surface and infiltrate the ground below, reducing runoff volume and improving water quality by filtering out pollutants and sediment.
Storm drainage in a curb.

Storm drain on a curb

Other Recommended Maintenance

Maintenance is the best way to ensure your storm drainage system’s long-term performance and effectiveness. To prevent clogs, reduce damage risks, and extend your system’s life:

  • Regularly clear obstructions from catch basins and storm drains, using a rake or hoe and considering inserts or grates to prevent larger items from entering.
  • Clean gutters and downspouts at least twice a year, removing debris and checking for leaks or damage.
  • Maintain healthy vegetation in swales and ditches by mowing, reseeding bare spots, and removing sediment or debris.
  • Finally, keep permeable paving surfaces clean and free of debris by regularly sweeping or vacuuming, avoiding harsh chemicals or high-pressure washing.

When to Call a Professional

If you experience recurring problems with flooding, standing water, or poor drainage, it’s time to consult a professional. Also, if you notice any signs of damage or malfunction in your storm drainage system, contact a professional immediately. For instance, issues like cracks in your foundation, sinkholes in your yard, or unusual odors.

When considering a new storm drainage system or needing extensive repairs, work with a pro who has the knowledge and tools for effective solutions.

In some cases, storm drainage issues may be subject to legal or regulatory requirements, such as stormwater management permits or environmental regulations, and a professional can help you navigate these complex issues to ensure that your system complies.


Your home’s storm drainage system plays a crucial role. Taking the time to understand it and committing to regular maintenance are the first steps to ensuring its continued smooth function.

Simple tasks like clearing debris from gutters, removing obstructions from catch basins, and maintaining healthy vegetation in swales and ditches can go a long way in optimizing your system’s performance and extending its lifespan. While these maintenance tasks may seem minor, they can make a significant difference in preventing costly damage and repairs down the line.

If you encounter more complex issues or find yourself facing persistent drainage problems, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. To schedule an inspection of your current drainage system or get guidance on upgrades, call Fox Mountain Property Inspections in MD, PA, WV, and VA.

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