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When Should You Replace a French Drain?

Last modified: 2022-06-30 | Approximate reading time 4 mins

Cynthia Pigeon

Your French drain (or foundation drain) has a lifespan of about 25 to 30 years. You might be wondering if and when to replace it—check out this article to find out more!

A complete French drain replacement requires certain precautionary measures before proceeding.

Replacing a French Drain

Look Out for These Warnings Signs Around French Drain

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If you begin to notice the following warning signs around the foundation of your home, or in your basement, it may be an indication that your French drain is not functioning properly. Process of elimination! First off, start by identifying the problem before undertaking a costly excavation and French drain replacement. 

As a general rule, you should be on the lookout for any prolonged signs of moisture in the basement. A malfunctioning French drain will have a limited ability to redirect water that naturally collects near the foundation, which can lead to increased humidity in the basement.

Should you notice a build-up of moisture on your drywall, or that your basement walls appear to be “sweating,” then you might have an excessive amount of water around the foundation of your home. However, that does not necessarily mean your French drain is malfunctioning. 

In any case, the humidity level in your basement is probably too high and you might want to take the opportunity to rectify this problem. Take the necessary measures to lower the humidity level in your basement, if only for the sake of your personal health!

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Concrete Efflorescence: Telltale Sign of the State of Your French Drain

Should you observe a build-up of white powder on the surface of your concrete, that is a sure sign of efflorescence, an occurrence whereby the minerals in the concrete surface as a result of prolonged exposure to moisture.  

If you notice a significant amount of efflorescence on the concrete walls of your basement over an extended period of time, this is most likely a foregone conclusion that something is faulty within the drainage system of your foundation. 

It is important to stress the presence of efflorescence over a significant period of time, especially in the basement. This is a natural phenomenon that may occur during periods of increased humidity, such as spring or fall.

efflorescence_Quand faut-il remplacer un drain français?_Soumission Rénovation

Warning Signs Your French Drain Needs Replacing 

Camera Inspection

While you may not see any signs of humidity, water infiltration, or efflorescence, your property may still be showing other signs indicating a problem with the foundation drainage. If, every spring, you notice a lot of excess surface water on your property, yet your home is equipped with a French drain, have it inspected by professionals. Before undertaking any work, they will proceed with a camera drain inspection. Often, it just needs to be cleaned!

The drain camera inspection can be performed via two entry points:

  • Through the catch basin (or sump), if you have one;
  • Through the drainage access chimney of the French drain.

Without a catch basin or drainage access chimney, the hired professionals may suggest digging a small access pit to allow the camera to travel to the French drain in order to begin the inspection. If it is clogged, it can be cleaned with a drain cleaner

From the inspection, you should be able to determine if the French drain needs to be partly replaced due to a broken piece or completely replaced if it is completely obstructed or damaged beyond repair. If it is partially clogged, check with the on-site contractor to determine if it can be unclogged.

If you suspect the presence of iron ochre or if the on-site contractor points it out, replacing the French drain will have little impact on this natural occurrence. However, there are actually types of drains that are preferred for this particular situation.


The best advice to remember when it comes to replacing a French drain is to proceed by elimination: Check for signs of excess humidity and efflorescence in the basement, and have the inside of your French drain camera inspected. Having the entire French drain replaced should come as a last resort. You can either opt to have it cleaned, or partially replaced. 

That being said, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, a French drain has a lifespan of 25 to 30 years. If you do the math based on when your house was built or know the exact year the French drain was previously replaced, it might need to be changed completely.

A section of the drain can indeed be replaced, but if it has reached its maximum lifespan, all others sections will need to be replaced at some point or another.  Replace it completely, or risk having to constantly repair it, which will become more expensive in the long run. 

Check out this article for additional information:

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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