At many homes, downspouts are directed straight on to driveways. Rainwater runs quickly towards the street and into the sewer. This has advantages, but it can also cause problems like icing in the winter, and it degrades the quality of local creeks and eventually, the Ottawa River.
Adjusting your downspout to flow on to a permeable area slows the water down and gives it a chance to soak into the ground. This is closer to what happens in naturalized areas like parks or forests. Redirecting your downspouts to permeable areas is the easiest and cheapest action that you can take to manage rainwater at your home.
Follow these guidelines for adjusting your downspouts:
- Drain to a permeable surface - especially one that is built for infiltration like a rain garden or soakaway pit
- Drain at least 3m (12’) from your home’s foundation to an area sloped away from the home – this will help keep your basement dry especially in spring and after large storms
- Follow the Site Alteration By-law which prohibits the drainage of rainwater on to a neighbouring property whether it is intentional or not
Check out this video on how to drain downspout water away from your house.
Rain barrels are a great way to collect water to use on your lawn and garden. You will save on your water bill and keep water in the ground instead of the storm sewers.
- Selecting a rain barrel – rain barrels are available locally at garden supply and hardware stores. Rain barrels can also be purchased through local fundraising events(link is external).
- Location, location, location - place your rain barrel near where the water will be used; whether it’s for washing the car and gardening tools, or watering the flower beds and the lawn. Rain barrels should be placed on a solid, strong, level surface. A full 200L rain barrel can weigh 200kg or over 400 pounds (weight of the water) plus the weight of the barrel.
- Water at the Roots - keep rain barrel water off the leaves of edible plants and direct water into the soil around the plants instead. Drip hoses have the added benefit of slowly releasing water over time, keeping your plants well watered and making sure your barrel is ready to capture the next rain.
- Collect the max - drain your rain barrel before each rain event to ensure your rain barrel can capture as much rain as possible; this may also help to prevent mosquito population growth.
- Winterize your rain barrel - Before the first frost, follow these simple steps to ensure that your rain barrel continues to last for years.
- Empty the rain barrel and drain uses completely.
- Disconnect any hoses and leave the spigot open to prevent accumulation of water.
- Disconnect the rain barrel from the downspout.
- Reattach the cut portion of the downspout, or attach a temporary flexible downspout. To prevent damage, direct the downspout away from basement walls, window wells and neighbouring properties.
- Alternately consider installing a rain diverter for easy seasonal removal and re-installation.
- Stre the rain barrel and its attachments in the garage or other protected area. If you must leave your rain barrel outside, turn it upside down and cover. This will help to protect the barrel from the elements and water accumulation.
- Clean the rain barrel and screens and check fr any damage.
- Learn more about rainwater collection and health.
- Check out these videos on setting up your barrel (video link available in English only) and maintaining your barrel (video link available in English only)
Rain gardens are shallow depressed areas that promote infiltration of rainwater into the ground. They are planted with attractive hardy plants – ideally native perennials – and have loose soils that help rainwater seep down into the ground.
Because rain gardens are functional and attractive, they are the perfect addition to front or backyards and can help manage rainwater from a roof, a rain barrel overflow, or even a surface like a driveway. Rain gardens can even provide habitat for pollinators like bees.
Have a look at our rain garden guide: How to Build a Rain Garden
Rain gardens can take many forms from formal gardens with well-defined edges, to more casual gardens with a wild feel. Regardless of the style you choose, you will want to consider a few things when designing, installing and maintaining your garden:
- Size – the size of your rain garden depends on the size of the roof or driveway that drains to it. This is called the directly connected impervious area. For Ottawa, rain gardens between 10 and 20% of the size of your directly connected impervious area are generally acceptable.
- Rainwater entry – the area where water flows into your garden can be a site of erosion; protect this area with river stones or clear gravel to slow water down.
- Growing medium – if the native soils you have are slow draining (<15mm/hour) you will need to mix in sand and compost to provide good infiltration and enough nutrients for your plants. Don’t mix sand into clay soils, because that will lead to clogging.
- Plants – Plants are not just decorative in rain gardens, their roots loosen soils and maintain high infiltration rates. You should choose hardy wet-tolerant plants that can also experience periods of drought. Native perennials are the best for this and provide habitat for wild pollinators. For a full list of suitable species see this plant list or ask a local nursery.
- Overflow – when a big rainfall comes, your rain garden may overflow, ensure you have an overflow that is resistant to erosion, flows away from your house and neighbouring properties, and it a couple inches lower than your inlet.
- Distance from your house – rain gardens should always be at least 3m from your house in order to keep your basement dry.
Soakaway pits are below-ground reservoirs of permeable material. They collect rainwater and allow it to slowly infiltrate into the ground in order to reduce run-off. Soakaways can receive rainwater from surface sources or buried sources (e.g. a buried downspout connection) and may be covered with garden, lawn, or decorative stone.
Soakaway pits and rain gardens can both help infiltrate rainwater leading to reduced run-off from your property. Soakaways are particularly helpful when space is limited or when you want to maintain grassed areas while also infiltrating rainwater.
The effectiveness of your soakaway pit depends on a number of factors including its depth, size, the natural infiltration rates of your soil, and the fill material you choose for your soakaway. Consider the following aspects when designing your soakaway pit:
- Pre-treatment – screens and sedimentation chambers can prevent leaves and other debris from getting into your soakaway, this can improve function and extend the life of your soakaway.
- Rainwater inlet – your inlet can be on the surface or buried under the surface, but care should be taken to make sure it is sloped away from your foundation.
- Filter fabric / Choker course – to prevent sedimentation in your soakaway, filter fabric or a choker course (5-10cm of 5mm clear stone) should be used on top of the reservoir before the top dressing is applied.
- Reservoir – your reservoir should be at least 90cm deep and be filled with clear stone or engineered products designed to maintain void space in soakaway pits.
- Growing medium and top dressing – at least 30cm of soil should be applied above the filter fabric or choker course to provide enough soil for grass and you should plan for compaction. If you are planning to top the soakaway with stones, this layer can be eliminated.
- Distance from your house – always maintain a distance of at least 3m from your home’s foundation to keep your basement dry.
Check out this brief video on how to make a soakaway pit: How to make a soakaway pit
Permeable pavement can take many different forms. From gravel stabilized with structural plastic, to permeable interlocking concrete pavers, to pervious asphalts, they all serve the same purpose; to infiltrate rainwater where it lands.
Along with your roof, your driveway is probably the biggest impermeable surface on your property. Reducing this area and making it permeable can reduce the amount of rainwater that runs off your property.
Technologies and practices are constantly improving to make permeable pavements more durable and longer lasting. Because of the expertise and tools required to install a permeable paved surface, you should use a qualified contractor and you must do so to be eligible for permeable pavement rebates through Rain Ready Ottawa. Certified Fusion Landscape Professionals have the training and experience to ensure you get the most from your permeable paved surface. To find a Certified Fusion Landscape Professional, visit the Fusion Landscape Professional website.