Enclosed Yard with Nowhere for Rain to go

sail0rm00nMarch 18, 2013

A few months ago, we had a pretty huge storm and I found out my backyard floods. My problem is that my backyard is enclosed so there is no way for me to create a drain, that I know of. The walls are made of concrete and are shared by my neighbors so I cannot dig a hole under the concrete, as the water will drain into their yards. I have no front yard access (no gate of some sort to take things from the front of the house to the back). Everything has to be taken through the house if I want it to go in the backyard. I'm wondering if the previous owner had covered over the drain, as I can't imagine a developer would actually design a house with enclosed backyards that doesn't drain out anywhere. My question is:
1) how would I find out if there was a drain? Is there some city entity I can call? I already requested blueprints, but there was nothing for outside the house. Also, almost the entire backyard is covered with flagstone, so that would be a chore to undo!
2) is there a way for me to create some kind of drainage system?

I have attached a picture from google maps. You can see how my house is attached to the neighbors' houses and that the backyard walls are made of cinderblock, also attached to the neighbors' backyards. Any help is greatly appreciated!

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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

Well that sounds like an absurd situation! I take it you live in the Southwest? The general appearance plus cinder block walls sounds like Arizona, Nevada or Calif.

How old is your house and when did you buy it?

You can call your city's building permit office and ask them what the requirements are, but if your house was built prior to code requirements for that issue, it may not be subject to it. It certainly does seem like a problem to have no drains.

I used to live in Albuquerque in a house surrounded by cinder block walls. The builders had incorporated blocks with drain holes at the bottom of the wall at the downhill side - which in this case was either side of the front of the house. So it can be done.

Below is a link to a photo of a wall with drain holes.

Generally, a piece of property is allowed to have water run off it downhill onto adjacent properties, so long as it is not aimed directly at the house such that it causes problems. In other words the codes recognize that water needs to run downhill. Builders usually have to take this into account somehow with grading, drainage ways, pipes, etc. All that is approved by the building inspector.

How well do you know your downhill neighbors?

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 4:57PM
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While lower lots have to accept natural runoff form higher lots, if you put down an impermeable surface (or collect runoff from a larger area) they may not have to accept the excess flow you created.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 12:45PM
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Hi toxcrusadr,

Thanks for the reply! I live in California. I've already tried looking at records and permits for my house, but nothing came up. The house was built in 1969 and I bought it in 2010. I also tried contacting the city's engineering department, hoping they had blueprints of the drainage system. She couldn't come up with anything either, but mentioned that the house was built graded towards the front (which surprised me because that means it is graded so that water runs into my house)! This leads me to my suspicion that the previous owner must have hidden it because I can't think of a developer who would not have the foresight to provide drainage in an enclosed backyard, and also grade toward the house!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 12:06AM
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"I can't think of a developer who would not have the foresight to provide drainage in an enclosed backyard"

Was it enclosed when your house was built?
What houses are infill or built after yours?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 12:00PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

I doubt there was much detail in the codes on this In 1969.

Draining 'toward the house' may not be as bad as it sounds. If the general topography of the land is that way, it's unavoidable. Many houses have higher ground in the back yard. Including my Albq. house that had drains in the short lengths of wall that connected to either end of the house in front. The builder simply has to allow for the runoff to go AROUND the house, and to make sure the house itself is elevated just a bit above the surroundings so water drains away from it.

Considering the age of your house and the possibility of adjacent houses being built later, it does not surprise me that some remedial work may be in order, and it may not be any one party's fault.

Are there any drain pipes coming out anywhere that you can see? Such as a small 2-4" pipe exiting through the curb out front?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 3:34PM
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There is a 2" pipe exiting through the curb out front. I also have an atrium and that has a drain that I know drains through the curb. Looking into the drain, I see two pipes on either side of the square-shaped drain (or gutter). One drains through the curb out front. The other is directly across from it. I assume (and hope) that is the pipe that would lead to a drain in the backyard.
How would I follow that pipe? The pipe would have to go underneath my house to the backyard.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 12:59PM
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I'm in So. Ca. house built in 1966. They did slope back yard toward the house!! We were there every day as it was being built. A lot of mistakes were made, light switch for bathroom in bedroom behind door! They changed it for us. Drunken painter left paint running under every door knob in house. (He was fired)I fixed that mess. City inspector to check attic insulation was a guy in a suit white shirt & tie, I asked him what he was doing as he came off the ladder from the crawl space. I told him & builder that inspector should have overalls on & I insisted he go back up there as only place that had loose insulation was around the hole a few feet. I handed him a good flashlight & he agreed it was very poor job(I had looked the night before) But they did have a regulation about the house having to sit so there was minimum of 5 or 6 ft on 1 side & more on other. So in L.A. county at least there was that requirement. After we regraded our yard it was great until after the quake & then we had to run a 4 in. drainage pipe to the front as yard started flooding. You can stick a hose in curb section & see where the water ends up. I don't see how it is you have no way you can walk to back yard except through the house. How do you mow or remove tree limbs or cleanup ?Just walk it dripping or dropping dirt through the house?? Either someone added on to house or something or you live in unincorporated area where people do whatever they want. Just be sure to get drains unplugged, may be cracked or broken from quake movement also. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 6:07PM
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In my experience, much of the water is usually from roof runoff. Most flooding on developed lots can be mitigated by simply capturing and diverting the rain gutter downspouts into the storm water drains.

From your air photo, I can see mostly roof cover on your lot. I recommend looking at the locations and functionallity of your gutters and downspouts.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 11:43PM
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Hi Aidan,
Yeah, that will be plan B. If I can't figure out whether there is a drain in the backyard, then I plan to get some rain barrels to collect the water from the downspouts. Only problem will be in order to empty the rain barrels, I'd have to use a pump and take the hose through the house as I don't think there's a water pump strong enough to pump water up and over the roof to the front of the house. There are 4 (!) downspouts in the enclosed backyard. I've walked around the roof to see if there's a way for me to divert the rain water to the front of the yard because as you suspect, I believe most of the rain water is coming from the downspouts. However, to my knowledge, there is no way to divert the rain water to the front of the yard.

To answer your question, yes... everything that I want to remove from the backyard (or place into the backyard) has to go through the house. It has been a pain in the butt!!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 11:47PM
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If you do have drains out to the curb, I'd be willing to bet they're blocked or broken (if they're terra cotta pipe). You can have a plumber run a camera up through them to check, but that's usually pretty expensive.

We don't have as severe a problem--our back yard isn't enclosed like yours, but our drains to the street seem to be blocked. We came up with a relatively inexpensive solution. Rain Barrels. Hook them up to your down spouts, you can hook several together, if needed. That gives the water someplace to go, and you can then use or dispose of it at your leisure. We bought ours after the season and picked up 8 $90 barrels for only $25 apiece. Since our back yard isn't enclosed, we attach a hose to the barrels, and, if really severe weather is forcast, we run the hose to the back of the property and leave the tap open. That diverts enough of the water, that it isn't a problem around our foundation. For moderate storms, we let the water collect in the barrels so we can water the plants for free later.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 10:17AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

Re: drains in the atrium, that sure sounds like there is a drain coming from the back yard. Short of hiring someone with a camera, consider pushing a rod up in there to see how far it goes. Or perhaps a drain snake, you can get one for $25. See how far it can reach before hitting a dead end. I assume this is several tens of feet if the 'atrium' is like a courtyard in the center of the house. This might tell you how many feet away the original backyard drain is that is now under pavement.

As far as getting rain barrel water out of the backyard, you could have some one bore a hole at the base of the block wall, big enough to stick a hose through.

Keep us posted!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 4:49PM
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Toxcrusadr, don't think he can drill a hole in block wall as has neighbors on all 3 sides, can't flood their places!! He could shove a hose in a long way unless it is blocked. Helps to have a stiff hose.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 7:29PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

I guess you're right, on looking again at the pic it does not seem like there are any sections of fence or block wall in between the houses, but they are all attached.

Could you put an arrow on the pic to show where this 'atrium' is?

Finding the former backyard drain might be the only solution that will really do it. BTW you can rent a drain snake if you don't want to buy one. Here's a link to one available at Lowe's. Home Depot and all the others will have them too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Drain Auger

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 5:19PM
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Thanks, everyone, for all the suggestions! That's correct, I can't bore a hole at the bottom of the cinder blocks because it will lead the water into the neighbors' yards. I've attached a picture with the atrium circled in purple if that gives anyone a better idea of what I'm working with.
I assume there should be a pipe leading from the atrium gutter to the backyard and that it runs underneath the house. I guess I'll have to rent this drain snake thing the last few posters mentioned.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 11:03PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

Keep us posted on what you find.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 3:58PM
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Just a note, snaking the drain may not be a good idea. IF the drain is broken, and you snake it, it's only going to do further damage, and not fix the problem. If you're considering that, it might be better to bite the bullet and spring for the camera thing first. I know, around here, that can be $300+, but at least you'll know what you're dealing with, and will have a better idea of what might or might not work as a fix.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 9:47AM
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