What materials should you use for a French Drain?

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Whether you are doing it yourself or having a drainage contractor install it, there are many different types of materials you can use for a french drain. In this article we will go over pros and cons of each type of material you may encounter when installing a French Drain. If you are looking for information on how a French Drain works, click the link here.


Corrugated Single Wall Pipe:

You may have seen this type of pipe while perusing the garden section at Home Depot or Lowe’s. It comes in 10′ sections or 100′ rolls. It’s black pipe and has ridges down the entire length of the pipe.

Pros: Corrugated single wall corrugated pipe easy to work with, it is not rigid which makes for an easy install. When installing your French Drain, you may have to make cuts or connections on this pipe which can easily be done with something as simple as a pocket knife. The product is lightweight and fast to install, saving you money on both material and labor. This product is best installed in landscape areas where anything larger than a lawnmower is not going to be going through.

Cons: Corrugated single wall black pipe is not a premium product by any means. As stated above, you can cut the pipe with a pocket knife. This is because the plastic on the pipe is not very thick. For reference, if you were to stand on this pipe, it would crush it.

Another con to this pipe is the corrugations down the pipe. If the pipe fills up over time with debris, it can be extremely hard to flush out as the debris can stick in the corrugations. You would not be able to “snake” the line such as a plumber would use on a sewer pipe to remove a clog. You can potentially flush the pipe with a pressure washer, but because the pipe is thin, you have a chance of breaking it or not clearing the clog.

Prefabricated French Drain Pipe:

While you are walking the outdoor section at Home Depot or Lowe’s you may also encounter Prefabricated French Drain Pipe. It is composed of single wall corrugated black pipe (as described above), but is wrapped in a white sock filter and filled with styrofoam packing nuts. 

Let’s break down the pros and cons of this pipe:

Pros: Because the Prefabricated French Drain Pipe comes with its own “filler” material, it is cheaper than installing a traditional French Drain. A traditional French Drain installation will require a larger trench dug, filter fabric, and drainage rock. When we talk about “filler” material, we are referring to the void created with the packing nuts in between the pipe and the dirt. This pipe requires a smaller trench and due to the single wall pipe, it is faster to install.

Cons: Prefabricated French Drain Pipe is composed of single wall corrugated pipe. You can see the pros and cons of this pipe above, but the downside boils down to ability to flush the line and how easy it crushes once installed. 

Another con to this type of French Drain is that as opposed to a traditional system, this French Drain will capture/hold less water due to minimal “filler” material. This means during heavy storms or dealing with subsurface water, the French Drain will hold and discharge less water than a traditional system.

Dual Wall Corrugated Pipe:

Similar in name (and appearance) to single wall corrugated pipe, but the difference is in the extra wall on the inside!

Pros: This Dual Wall Corrugated Pipe is extremely more durable than the single wall pipe. If you were to stand or jump on this pipe, it would not crush. It is good for high trafficked areas or under concrete. If the pipe fills up with debris, it would be easier to flush because of the extra wall on the inside that makes the pipe smooth. You can snake the pipe just as a plumber would, or use a pressure washer jetter to blow out debris without having to worry about the pipe being damaged. If you are looking for a long term solution, this is one of your top choices.

Cons: If you decide to go with Dual Wall Corrugated Pipe, there’s not a lot of cons with this. One consideration is that it is more expensive than Single Wall Corrugated Pipe, but you can flush and snake this pipe for a lifetime drainage solution.

PVC Pipe:

If anyone was to mention PVC you more than likely know what they are referring to. But did you know that there are two different types of PVC that could be used on a drainage job? One is known as schedule 40 PVC which is thick walled PVC that has a pressure rating of about 220 psi and the other is known as sewer or drainage PVC which has a thin wall and pressure rating of about 5 psi, but is not intended for any pressure at all. The cost of both varies significantly by almost double the cost. At Excavation Contractors LLC, we have installed both types of pipe for different customers based on preference. Below is what we believe the pros and cons of both.

Pros: PVC Schedule 40 Pipe is a very rigid pipe that can be stood on, jumped on, and run over by a riding lawn mower and (more than likely) will not break. This pipe is good for under heavily trafficked areas, gravel driveways, or under concrete. The inside of the pipe is smooth which allows for the pipe to be maintained for years to come with a pressure washer jet or sewer snake.

Cons: PVC Schedule 40 Pipe is just like Dual Wall Corrugated Pipe, there is not a lot of downfall to this pipe. If you are looking for a drainage installation that will last you years to come, you will want to invest in a quality product like this.

Pros: PVC Drainage/Sewer Pipe is a little more durable than Single Wall Corrugated Pipe, but not by a whole lot. You can stand on the middle of it, but if you jumped on it (especially the end of the pipe), it would easily crack. 

An additional pros is that it is smooth on the inside which allows for easier drainage maintenance. 

Cons: PVC Drainage/Sewer Pipe is more brittle than Dual Wall Corrugated or Schedule 40 PVC. It is just as labor intensive as installing PVC Schedule 40 but a lower quality material.


Corrugated Single Wall Pipe: 

  • Not as durable as Dual Wall Corrugated Pipe, Schedule 40 or PVC Drainage Pipe
  • Not easy to maintain for years to come

Prefabricated Single Wall Pipe:

  • Not as durable as Dual Wall Corrugated Pipe, Schedule 40 or PVC Drainage Pipe
  • Hold less water than a traditional French Drain
  • Not easy to maintain for years to come

Dual Wall Corrugated Pipe:

  • More durable than Single Wall Corrugated Pipe
  • Easier to maintain for years to come
  • Holds more water than Prefabricated French Drain pipe when installed in a traditional way

PVC Pipe:

  • Schedule 40 (SCH 40) is thick walled PVC while PVC Drainage/Sewer Pipe is thin walled PVC
  • Both are easy to maintain for years to come
  • Both hold more water than Prefabricated French Drain Pipe
  • PVC Drainage Pipe is good for landscape areas

French Drain Rock

Drainage Rock: When it comes to drainage rock for your French Drain there are multiple different options. At Excavation Contractors LLC there’s one rock in particular we like to use. Some refer to it as 57 stone, some call it ¾ washed, some just call it ¾. No matter what you use, there are a couple things to consider when choosing your drainage rock.

The idea behind the drainage rock for your French Drain is to create a void in the ground to allow water to disperse back into the ground, capture groundwater, and discharge water when heavy storms come through. If you need more insight on how a French Drain system works, Click This Link.

Using 57 stone or ¾” rock allows water to travel through the soil and into the French Drain without having settling issues after installation. You will see some people online like to use a round rock, but in our experience, it leads to settling and is a more expensive material.


  • French Drain Rock is meant to make a void in the ground to capture and disperse water
  • ¾ washed, 57 stone, or bagged drainage rock (from Lowes or Homedepot) are what we recommend for rock

French Drain Fabric

A true French Drain will always have fabric surrounding the rock or filler material. This is so that the sediment does not mix in with the filler material and restrict water from entering the pipe. There have been many times in the past where we dug up failed French Drains that did not have fabric around the rock or filler material.

When selecting a French Drain Fabric it is important to make sure water is able to get through the fabric, otherwise it completely defeats the purpose of having a French Drain in the first place. You are looking for a permeable “non-woven” fabric that has a cotton-like feel.


  • Use a fabric that allows water to pass through it
  • French Drain fabric is meant to separate the dirt from the rock or “filler” material so it does not clog up

What Goes On Top of A French Drain?

Now that you have all of your internal French Drain materials selected, it is time to decide what you will put on top of your French Drain. There are two main options for French Drain “toppers” we recommend; one is dirt and grass and the other is more rock. Both have their pros and cons that we will go over below:

Pros of Dirt/Grass Topper:

  • Makes French Drain nearly invisible in your yard
  • Can be installed in a grassy area

Cons of Dirt/Grass Topper:

  • Water infiltrates the French Drain slower

Pros of Rock Topper:

  • Water infiltrates French Drain faster which helps during big storms
  • You can construct it to look like a “dry creek bed”. This can create an appealing landscape feature in your backyard. (See image below)

Cons of Rock Topper:

  • More maintenance to keep debris/sediment out of the dry creek

Final Thoughts on French Drains

If you made it this far, I hope we haven’t fried your brain too much!

Some of our last suggestions to installing a French Drain would be installing area drains or drain boxes. Drainage boxes allow water to enter the system faster during large storms.

Now that you are a professional on materials for French Drains you can make an informed decision on what to DIY or ask a contractor about on your next drainage project.

To get a quote from Excavation Contractors LLC on your French Drain, click the “Get a Quote” button and fill out the form!

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