Need some help on a drainage project

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by MJK, Nov 23, 2011.

  1. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,623

    Yeah bud I read that bold and clear on the first pass.

    But what good does that do for the person seeking guidance? Earth to jim!


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  2. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    The point is; here in Oregon it rains like crazy. And we have very heavy clay soils. So if the O.P. or anyone else reading this is in an environment like that, I'm saying I'd steer away from dry wells or flow-wells. They're just going to get full and you'll be back at square one. They're not always the "solution" that they are supposed to be. And that's because you're not getting the water off the property. You're just giving the water a place to sit on the property until it gets full or until it permeates deeper into the earth. But if it doesn't permeate fast enough to keep up with the volume of water that is coming in, then you're "solution" isn't really solving anything. I've learned that the hard way on multiple occasions.

    It's always best to get the water totally off the property, IMO. Sometimes that means creating a flow-well at the lowest point of the property for all your French Drains to empty into and then installing a sump pump near the top of that well so that once it gets overwhelmed and full, it can pump the water out up into a rain drain (the drain the gutters empty into), out to the street, out to a green space, or whatever. Better to get the water off the property.
  3. MJK

    MJK LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 356

    I don't want to sound like a hack for saying this, and this is the first time a french drain systems hasn't worked for me, but due to the cost of removing the fresh sod I just layed, working in the muddy area causing me to re-grade the area once and then digging more drains, is the crushed concrete or a cracked cobble a off the wall stupid idea?

    THis way all i have to do is pull the sod up, fabric fill fabric fill sod. I had so much confidence in french drains because they work so good for me I'm a little flustered.
  4. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    Trust me, you don't need to feel like a hack because you're having troubles with drainage. Anyone who tells you that drainage is simple and they hardly ever have problems with it either doesn't do much of it or is L-Y-I-N-G.

    Drainage is the single most difficult & frustrating thing in this industry. It's because we're making educated guesses as to where the water is coming from and what the best solution is. Often times, we our guess as to what is causing the saturation problems is wrong and often times the solutions we implement aren't enough. I tell this to every customer who hires us and I also have something to that effect in our contract as well.

    Drainage is not a perfect science. That is, with irrigation systems, I can tell you with almost certainty that I can install a good irrigation system and it will keep your landscape watered properly. With pavers I can install a patio and tell you with reasonable certainty that it will look nice and last for a long, long time. With a retaining wall, same thing. When we install outdoor lighting, I can pretty much guarantee you what I will do will get the desired result as well. But drainage isn't like that. It's a lot of guess work based on your experience. The more experience you get doing it, the better your guess work will be.

    Often times, I find it takes a mulch-faceted approach. I find I have to imrpove the soil a great deal, install underground drainage, and install perimeter drainage to catch surface water before it can get onto the property.

    Anyway, don't feel bad. Drainage is difficult and sometimes disappointing. I always tell people that what I am going to do will usually IMPROVE the situation. But it may not totally SOLVE all the water saturation problems that exist. Often times, we have to come back and take additional measures.
  5. MJK

    MJK LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 356

    How do you protect yourself in your contracts? Are you asking for a lump sum or are you providing them an estimate for the project and doing a cost plus type contract with a maximium price?

    All my contracts are lump sum and I never had a problem until this season. I had 2 drainage jobs have issues, one had none stop rain while I was in the middle of it which caused double the work and now this project. I feel like there should be a better way for myself as a contractor to be protected and still be fair for the homeowner as well.
  6. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    We always contract for a firm, flat price. That's the only way to earn a great reputation. The #1 thing customers hate about contractors is that the price they were quoted wasn't the price they ended up with. People HATE that. You want to be the contractor that was on time, and on budget. I don't care if I have to move Heaven and earth, my main goal is to do quality work, be on time, and on budget. And we do that 99% of the time. Even if you have to lose money because you underbid, it's better for your long term reputation to be seen as a man of your word than to come back and ask for more. Nobody likes time & materials jobs either.

    The only time we don't charge what the contract says is if something unforeseen UNDERGROUND comes up that we had no way of knowing about. For instance, we start trenching and run into a big 4' tree stump that was just buried below ground level. And now we have to hire a stump grinder guy to come grind it out before we can continue. Or if we run into big boulders that need to be removed for us to continue....something like that. Our contract has a section that reads

    2. UNFORSEEN CIRCUMSTANCES/ UNDERGROUND OBSTACLES. Prices within this proposal are firm unless there are unforeseen circumstances that result in delays or obstacles. An example of such would be if contractor begins excavating digging or trenching and finds large boulders, large tree stumps, sewer drain, a piping situation that requires a plumber, etc. If such circumstances arise contractor will notify client immediately with an evaluation and proposed change in price or work. If the obstacle deems the job unable to be completed or if client decides the cost to proceed is too prohibitive the client is responsible for labor costs incurred until that point and for any materials used that cannot be returned

    As for rain, etc. you just need to bid accordingly. And I would recommend to you that for drainage work, you bid about 30-50% higher than you would think. Because there are so many variables, the possibility that you will have to come back and inspect something later, etc. Also, drainage is something that a lot of contractors won't touch, because it's so difficult. So demand is often high while the supply of contractors who are really good at it is fairly low. I used to bid with our regular rates (which is based on $70 an hour labor rate and 25% material markup) and I found I was often the lowest bidder. I quickly learned what the others in the market had learned. Bid high when doing drainage work!

    Yah, sometimes you're going to end up doing it when it's wet, mucky, muddy, etc. You need to account for that possibility when you are bidding. But the customer shouldn't have to pay more than they agreed. Also, the customer should have a firm price too. Even if the firm price is a little higher than they think it should be. It's better than giving them some ambiguous number with a stop-loss. Best to just give them a firm price, even if it's a little high. On some jobs that go really smoothly, you'll make more profit. And on others that end up getting done in the rain you'll make less profit. But if you bid properly all the time, it will all equal out if you do enough of them.

    Also, while I'm referencing my contract, I might as well show you the section of my contract that deals with the drainage warranty as well. Here you go:

    Drainage: LLS Warranties the functionality of the drain itself – that is, that the drain works – for a period of 5 years from the date of installation, provided the drain is kept free and clean of debris, silt, barkdust, etc. However, LLS does not warranty that any drain will fix all water saturation problems that exist. Drainage work is difficult by nature. French drains, tile drains, etc. usually help but they may not always totally solve a drainage issue. French drains with river rock on top should be kept clean on top at all times in order to function properly.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2011
  7. LindblomRJ

    LindblomRJ LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,570

    I was poking around the site for a while and found this PDF. "Principles of Exterior Drainage." if anyone is going to mess with drainage this is a good read. While it is not a 100% it is a good foundation for drainage principles.
  8. MJK

    MJK LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 356

    You guys are the best, thanks so much for your help. The information you can gain from this website is just amazing.

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