New sod being laid out in a yard.

Fight Off Potential Water and Structural Damage by Grading Your Yard

Regrading Your Yard

Water is one of the worst elements your home can be exposed to because lingering moisture and pools of water can cause mold, mildew, and foundational issues. That’s why there are so many systems to channel water away: gutters, roofing systems, awnings, and even landscaping.

That’s right; you can utilize your yard to protect your home against potential water damage. One of the ways to do that is by regrading your yard.

What is Regrading?

Yard regrading is basically correcting the slope of your yard. On a large scale, you’d need a contractor and some heavy equipment, but for areas in your yard where water collects, regrading is an easy DIY project if you don’t mind getting a little dirty.

Regrading involves the task of moving dirt from one place to another. Holes left behind from a stump removal, awkward pock-marks dug into the ground, and the general unevenness of an imperfect lawn are all fixable with a load of topsoil.

Why Should You Regrade?

At face value, regrading the yard seems like a weekend project that might not amount to worthwhile benefits. However, if you’ve noticed that:

  • Your basement is damp
  • Standing water is pooling in pockets throughout your yard
  • Your grass or plants don’t seem to stand a chance

Then regrading should be on your list of things to do.

Perhaps the most crucial reason to regrade a yard is to curb water damage and support healthy and effective drainage. A leaky, wet, and damp basement is the first sign of trouble, and while it seems like it could be something to simply put up with, there’s going to be significant issues down the road.

Improper drainage can lead to a host of severe house problems like compromising your home’s foundational integrity. A simple and easy fix is moving dirt around and regrading your yard instead of spending a ton of money on structural damage.

Measuring the Current Grade

For homeowners wanting to do a full-throttle regrading project, first measure the existing grade. You can do this by grabbing some wooden stakes, a line level, string, and a tape measure.

  1. Place the first stake into the ground near the foundation of your house. Then, place the second one about 10 feet away (or 100 inches for easier calculation).
  2. Tie the two stakes together with your string, making sure the connection is taut.
  3. Place your line level on top of the string, so the bubble is in the center, ensuring that the string is level. The measurement (in inches) you need to note is the distance from the string to the ground next to your second stake.

To get the slope percentage, simply divide the stake-to-ground distance by the distance between the two stakes. Multiply this number by 100, and you’ve got your slope percentage. For example, if you have 100 inches between stakes and the second stake is 1.5 inches from the ground, you would divide 1.5 by 100 and get the slope percentage of .015 — 1.5 percent.

The minimum number to look for in a slope is a 2-3 inch measurement roughly every 10 feet from the foundation (which calculates to about a two percent downgrade). The maximum the slope should be is 12 inches for every 4 feet (calculating to about 25 percent).

This planning can help you get a good picture of what you'll need to do to help your slope. When you measure in several places, you can see where you’ll need to place dirt and where to remove dirt for proper drainage. Taking inventory of your yard will also allow you to denote areas with hills or depressions that will need to be corrected.

Planning a Regrade

If you’re planning on regrading the slope around all of your foundation, there are few things to check off the list before you get started:

  • Make sure you won’t be covering any pipes, traps, vents, or downspouts.
  • Make sure your basement windows won’t get in the way of the regrade. You can get window wells if the calculations tell you that windows will end up getting covered. These half-moon-shaped wells ensure the basement windows will remain visible.

How to Regrade a Yard

After you’ve investigated all the areas that require dirt or dirt removal for an optimal slope, it’s time to get to work. Make sure you choose a day that’s not too hot or rainy — much like mulching.

You’ll need:

  • Power tiller
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovels
  • Gloves
  • Landscaping rake

While you can get a completely fresh start on your foundation’s slope by removing about eight inches or so of topsoil from all around your home, that is a lot of work. Plus, if your immediate slope near the foundation is already unfolding downward, there’s not really a need to begin from ground zero. Either way, you can get topsoil from this fresh start or find it elsewhere. Use your power tiller to loosen it up.

You will be using your shovel, wheelbarrow, and rake as you place topsoil around the foundation to make the optimal slope. Increase the slope by tossing extra soil to its top to boost the height while removing dirt from the bottom of the slope to help.

Once you’re satisfied with your fresh new slope, measure it for confidence’s sake the same way you first determined the slope before you started. The math should check out in your favor with an appropriate slope percentage.

Plant Grass

Regrading is that easy. It just involves some basic calculations and a lot of manual labor, but it certainly makes for a good workout that pays off. Your final step is planting grass.

The grass will not only make your yard look aesthetically pleasing and healthy, but it’ll also prevent erosion of your newly laid dirt.

When to Call the Pros

You should call a professional if you have severe drainage and water problems. Even then, it’s always worth a shot to try to regrade your yard yourself first. A professional can cost a lot of money but doing it yourself is cheap (and if you’ve got the topsoil and shovel — it’s free).