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Ask McEnearney: How Do I Get Rid of a Backyard Swamp?

This week’s Q&A column is written by Ann McClure of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant market news, contact Ann at 301-367-5098 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: How do I get rid of a backyard swamp?

Answer: We’ve all heard that Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp. And, unless you live under a rock (maybe one that’s been exposed by erosion), you’ve heard that a certain someone was going to “drain the swamp.” But, what do you do when your swampy backyard really needs draining? If backyard mosquito breeding grounds aren’t your thing and worrying about your foundation has been added to the current list of woes (along with what to do with the kids this school year and how to carve out home office space in search of a peaceful existence), maybe I can help.

I want your biggest investment to remain sound and ensure that, unless it’s coming through a faucet, water does not get into your home. Property maintenance goes beyond appearances and a long way toward maintaining your home’s value.

Recently, I’ve been hearing of flooding backyards, and worse, water intruding into homes. That tends to happen this time of year when we get quick-moving storms that dump lots of water in a very short period of time. That water needs dirt and ground to absorb it and if there isn’t any, it becomes an invader. Think about how much blacktop we have in the Metro region.

In fact, I read somewhere, that one of the worst polluters of the Chesapeake Bay is Tysons Corner because of all of the impervious surfaces (pavement, garages, parking lots, etc.). So, how do you know if you have a problem and what can you do if you are experiencing issues?

Look for tell-tale signs of poor drainage around your home: standing water, dreaded mosquitos, erosion, exposed surface roots from trees or maybe roots pushing up driveways, walkways and foundations, surface depressions, an inability to grow grass, a change in water patterns during heavy storms (has your neighbor’s property changed?), rotting wood, or water stains on baseboards.

Don’t let these issues go unchecked. Something must be done to improve the situation before there is foundation damage, water in the home or a myriad of related issues, such as drywall or flooring needing to be replaced, mold, mildew, funky smells, etc.

I recently asked a home inspector what is the biggest issue he sees related to poor drainage. He replied, without hesitation, that the number one issue is a foundation problem. Foundation problems can be VERY expensive, think tens of thousands of dollars.

Finding the cause of the drainage problem will often lead to a fix that is quite simple.

  • Are gutters and downspouts secure and free of debris? They should evacuate water easily. Blast a drain with a pressure-washer (carefully), or as my Dad used to use, a high-powered leaf blower.
  • Is water directed away from the house? Downspout extenders may be needed.
  • How is grading? Does it slope away from the house?
  • Are any water management systems, like a French drain, inoperable or perhaps failing? Are discharge/evacuation points clear?
  • Is water run-off coming from unexpected/unnoticed areas?

If the fix isn’t obvious or the issue can’t be identified, it may be time to call a professional. Before settling on an expensive waterproofing system, talk with a drainage/erosion professional (some professionals do everything from grading and landscaping to interior waterproofing systems, but some are very specialized).

As usual, I recommend that you talk with more than one professional to get different viewpoints on possible solutions and costs. Consider trying the least expensive recommended fix first. If that doesn’t work, try another option.

According to landscape architect and “drainage queen,” Pragya Mishra (owner of Artscapes Landscape Design), for more serious problems, an in-ground drainage system may work wonders. These might include a dry creek bed, a very attractive landscaping feature to channel water away. A “rain garden,” is another great option. A professional of her caliber might also look at installing an underground drainage pipe, a drain pipe discharge, a French drain, or a dry well.

As more and more structures are built throughout our region and as our environment changes (drought and/or heavy rains can really affect the landscape and the trees), we will need to be ever more diligent about monitoring our properties to ensure that we address any issues quickly to minimize the impact on our homes. 

Ann McClure is a licensed real estate agent in Virginia and Maryland with McEnearney Associates, Inc. If you would like more information on selling or buying in today’s complex market, contact Ann at 301-367-5098 or visit her website

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria

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