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How-To Install A Channel Drain on a Budget

Lani has committed to the DIY process, increasing her sustainability and reducing her footprint while helping others do the same.

It's not as hard as you may think

Certain projects around the house may feel like they absolutely should be handled by a professional and I would be the first to agree with you. What my DIY journey has taught me is, cases where a professional seems as an absolute are few and far between. If you commit to do your due diligence and research the project prior to making a move you may find that you can do so much more than you thought you could.

A list of important tools I used are listed at the end, I purchased all my concrete from my local home center.

Step 1 Prep your area

If there is existing concrete or asphalt in your project location you will need to remove it.

Most expensive, least labor intensive

Option 1 Pay someone else to do it

I did not consider this option for this step as I felt the area was small enough to handle on my own. However, a simple google search can connect you to local organizations, equipped and prepared to easily take on the task.

Less expensive, more labor intensive

Option 2 Do it yourself with heavy equipment

I did consider this option, perhaps if I were up against a time wall I may have ponied up the cash but I didn’t. However, in my search I found adequate equipment could be rented from Home Depot and my local equipment rental distributors. The cost was as lows as $15 an hour which at most may have cost me around $30 but that was money I decided to save for potential cost down the road.

Least expensive, most labor Intensive

Option 3 Do it yourself without heavy equipment

This is the route I took. I hustled for the sledge hammers and let’s face it, if you put the word out, you will find a friend or two with an adequate sledge hammer, capable of getting the job done, and of no monetary cost to you.

How I did it:

First: Used my 16 lbs. sledge hammer to make big breaks in the shape of the area I wanted to remove.

Second: Used my 8 lbs. sledge hammer to break the pieces into smaller, more manageable sizes.

Third: Used my 2lbs. sledge hammer (and a chisel) to chip out the details on the edges.

8 pound sledge hammer

The Mattock ax...a God send

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Step 2 Dig to depth

You have removed obstacles to the ground beneath, now you must dig the area to depth to accommodate the drain you’ve chosen. I wanted the drain to sit on 2 to 3 inches of concrete, and the top of the drain to be below the garage threshold. I chose not to use a metal drain and grate because I knew a car would never go in my garage. Additionally I wanted a minimum 3 inches of concrete around the drain as well.

I ordered a mattock ax from Amazon because my shovel proved no match for the rocky soil I was dealing with. Once the ax arrived I made easy work of digging the ditch for the channel drain. The depth of the drain is 3.5in plus 2 in beneath the drain and the entire drain dropped 2 in from garage threshold (3.5+2+2=8)

Ditch dimension: Approximately 2ft x 14ft x 8in

Mattock Ax

Step 3 Build a form

I drove around town and found discarded pallets in addition to some scrape wood I had from my previous residence. Remember the form is only necessary in areas that require an absolute surface or shape. For me that meant my form only needed three sides because the only side that didn’t matter was the one situated against the garage threshold.

Frugal Note: Reclaimed pallet wood is great! This wood serves the wallet perfectly and is wonderful for sections of a project that will be discarded (like a form or a marker piece) and can also be resurfaced and used for nicer, more permanent projects as well.

The inner dimension of your form must comply with the final dimensions of your project area. Once the form is built set it in the desired location and find a way to secure it. Most videos will show wooden stakes driven into the ground and the form is then nailed or screwed to the temporary post. As I mentioned earlier I have terribly rocky soil so this option did not work for me. Time to improvise. I used large piece of broken concrete to push my form up against inner wall of the ditch and hoped for the best… all worked out in the end.

Example of a form


Step 4 Pour cement

Lay the base layer of cement first then set the drain on top (cover the drain grates with duck tap to prevent cement from getting inside) then continue to fill the remaining space between the drain and your form.

Option 1

Most expensive, least labor intensive

Pay for someone else to bring cement and pour it for you.

Option 2

Less expensive, more labor intensive

Rent a small cement mixer and mix it yourself.

Option 3

Least expensive, most labor Intensive

Mix cement by hand in a bucket or a wheel barrel. You may see a trend here…..this is the option I chose. Again I turned to YouTube to learn how to mix cement because at this point I’d never done it before.

This is the method I used then and still use now:

“How to mix concrete by hand”

Mix and pour until your form is filled. Note: be sure to pack your concrete into the form with your hands as you go, making sure all spaces are completely filled and pat it like a pet to remove bubbles.

How to mix concrete by hand

Step 5 Make It Pretty

Once you have packed all your cement into your form use a hand float to level and smooth the top surface and form any areas that require extra detail. In my case I had to shape the cement between the drain and the garage threshold by hand because it needed to slope down to stop water from entering. I did this part by hand because the angle of the slope was irrelevant, as long as the cement was sloping down it was fine and would accomplish my goal.


Hand float

Step 6 Let it Cure

Let the wet cement sit and cure for at least 24 hours before removing the form or putting any weight on the cement.


The finished product. My actual drain.


Channel drain

Seven video series on how to install a channel drain encased in concrete.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Lani Morris


RTalloni on August 12, 2019:

Neatly done with the options laid out for readers to consider.

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