Be Prepared: El Niño 2015

Many forecasters are predicting that our rain levels this winter due to the El Niño weather pattern could be the strongest on record.  I remember the last big El Niño winter, 1997-98, when record storms pummeled the state.  Highway 101 was completely flooded, homes along the coast slid into the ocean, and there were severe flooding in the flats and mudslides in the mountains.  And to top it all off, wherever there was standing water, structural property damage and mold issues occurred.

If this winter is as wet as the forecasters are predicting, it is very important to prepare your home now.  You don’t want to wait until drainage pipes are sold out at Home Depot.  There are some simple steps that you should take prior to the rains:

Check your roof and make sure it is sound:  If your roof is older, consider getting a roof inspection and/or do a tune-up on the roof to make necessary repairs.  A common leak includes deteriorated flashing around vent pipes, fireplaces, and roof valleys where sections come together.

Know your sprinkler system:  Please modify your watering cycle during the wet months.  It sounds obvious, but I consistently see homes watering their landscaping while it is raining.

Inspect the caulking around your windows and siding:  Water can penetrate the smallest of openings.  It is a good idea to re-caulk your windows and siding joints to prevent water intrusion.

Evaluate your drainage system:  Consider modifications and/or upgrades to better manage water around your home.

It may surprise you to know that a 2,000 square foot single story home’s roof collects approximately 1,246 gallons of water per inch of rain. Think about that much water falling off your roof and seeping into the ground around the perimeter of your home. Now think about this: Santa Clara County gets an average of 19 inches of water per year; that’s 23,674 gallons of water dumped around your property. With this year’s El Niño predictions, you can double that number to just over 47,000 gallons of ground water from your roof alone.

With mold and structural damage ricks lurking, it’s best to keep as much of that roof water away from your home’s perimeter as possible. The two main ways to manage water run-off are capturing or redirecting it. You can evaluate the best solution for you depending on your home location, topography and goals.

Capture Runoff: You may consider capturing water for use in the garden or other landscaping focus, but for most families, a capture method will include a dry well.  This is a gravel-filled pit in your yard that catches the water at the source (via gutters or catch basin) and dumps the water (via a pipe) into the dry well where it ultimately soaks into the ground (away from your home foundation).  You can capture the dry well water in a garden or other landscaping location where the water will inevitably soak into the soil.  There are other options that enable you to catch the water and reuse, but those solutions are extremely expensive to build and utilize.

Redirect Runoff: This is the most economical method for safely discharging water to a location away from your home.  There are several redirection solutions:

Control Heavy Runoff With These Redirection Drainage Solutions


Think of a swale as a shallow, man-made channel dug to redirect water like a creek. During the wet season, it may have moving water, but in the dry months in looks like a slightly lower section in your yard. People typically put river rock along its pathway for ornamental purposes and the end result is a dry creek bed when not in use. You may see this on large properties, but not typically in a suburban neighborhood.

Cost: ★★★★☆
Complexity: ★★★☆☆
Timeframe: ★★★★☆

French Drain

A French drain involves digging what is basically an underground moat around your perimeter below the foundation line, installing a waterproof fabric along your foundation, and adding drainage rock and special piping that directs water away (likely into a dry well).  Once the French drain is completed, you will not visibly see the drainage.

Cost: ★★★★★
Complexity: ★★★★★
Timeframe: ★★★★★

Catch Basin

A catch basin is typically used within hardscape, such as patio concrete or pavers.  It is basically a drain catch that will collect water and run it away from the location via an underground pipe.  They are typically made of plastic.

Cost: ★★☆☆☆
Complexity: ★★☆☆☆
Timeframe: ★★☆☆☆

Downspout Extensions

This is the simplest and cheapest way to direct water away from your home.  These are the accordion-like extenders that stick on the end of your downspouts and keep water from dumping at the base of your foundation.  At minimum, you should have downspout extensions along the perimeter of your home.

Cost: ★☆☆☆☆
Complexity: ★☆☆☆☆
Timeframe: ★☆☆☆☆

Sump Pumps

If your home does collect water underneath or you typically have standing water in your yard, you may consider a sump pump solution.  It is relatively inexpensive and moves the water well.  The sump pump can be placed under your foundation in the crawlspace, or along the perimeter or in the yard.  Its job is to collect water where it is not draining and divert it to another location.  The net result is the pump moves water into a pit and then pumps it to another location like a dry well, sewer system, etc.  You will need to have a method for making sure the sumps pumps are operating when needed since they will need an electrical outlet and are a mechanical component.

Cost: ★★★☆☆
Complexity: ★★★★☆
Timeframe: ★★★☆☆

Preparing your home for the wet season can be a daunting task, but I am here to support you.  If I can offer any suggestions, guidance, or referrals, please do not hesitate to contact me.  Here’s to a non-drought season!

suzanne sarto