Home Energy Hacks: How to Create a Drainage Swale

This year, Power Moves is launching a new series of helpful tips for homeowners interested in reducing energy use, saving money, and adding value to their home. We’re calling it Home Energy Hacks, and it’s backed by the DIY and energy efficiency experts you’ve come to know and trust at Power Moves.

We’re sharing ways for homeowners to cut down on energy use—a trick to simplify a process, info on a more efficient appliance, tips on how to optimize your current appliances, and other helpful ideas. For March, we’re kicking off the series by looking at best practices around water management. Our biggest piece of advice? Don’t wait until it’s a problem.

Plan ahead and save

Repairing water damage can come with a high price tag and unnecessary stress. Anyone who has experienced a flooded basement will probably agree. The good news is you can avoid the high cost of repairs by diverting water away from your house.

What is a swale and how can it help?

A drainage swale is a small ditch that blends in with surrounding landscape to encourage natural irrigation. Swales take advantage of slopes in the land to direct water instead of letting it pool in a single location, creating the potential for flooding and holding stagnant water that’s a risk for pets and small children. A well-placed swale can keep your basement dry and prevent your sump pump from working overtime and burning out—saving you energy and money.

Use your yard to your advantage

The first step to building a drainage swale is deciding where it should go. Your swale should carry storm water to a place where it can be released safely. This can be as simple as a garden bed with good drainage or a buried dry well. You can build a small swale yourself. But we recommend consulting a landscape contractor or civil engineer if you have a septic tank or if you live near a bluff or on a slope that drops more than one foot over the distance of your yard.

Start digging

If your swale is near a naturally sloping area of your yard, you might not need to dig. Just allow it to divert water into the designated divot. If you’re not so lucky, dig a gradual divot that slants downward by an inch or so from one foot to the next. For a small swale, this can be done by hand with a shovel. For larger swales, you may need to rent some earth-moving equipment or hire a landscape designer with the necessary machinery to get the job done.

Rock it out

Once you’ve done your digging, it’s time to lay gravel in the bed of your trench. This will help manage runoff, prevent erosion, and allow water to move more slowly and efficiently. Before you pour the rocks, line your trench with filter fabric. It will prevent the gravel or rocks from sinking over time. Pavers are another option, but gravel is less expensive. And a few inches should be plenty.

Don’t trip over water management

The sides of your swale should flare and extend three to four times wider than they are tall. They allow the rainwater to slope downward. Most of the time, the height of the sides of your swale won’t be more than a few inches. If they are, locate them in an area where people aren’t likely to trip over them or incorporate stones and other natural decorations that visitors are likely to step around.

Who says a ditch can’t be beautiful?

Once you’ve built your swale, you can take advantage of how well it irrigates your yard by incorporating native plants that will help absorb water, such as ferns, wildflowers, and decorative grasses to add beauty to your yard.

Founding father Benjamin Franklin was famous for many wise sayings and proverbs. One of his most famous was the line, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to being a homeowner, there are few examples where that proves truer than water management. Stay ahead of leakage and foundation problems by doing some landscaping to safely divert storm water before it infiltrates your home.