Armchair Builder

Reader Question: Are Drain Tiles Required for My Home?

Reader Question from Terry B. in Wisconsin:  “Do you know if drain tiles are required by law in Wisconsin?  We do not have them and are getting water from the cove joint.”

Perforated Pipe Drain Tiles

Drain Tiles: Perforated Pipe

Building Codes

First off, your local building code dictates the types of drainage systems required on new homes.  When a builder, or armchair builder, goes in for a permit the code official will review the plans for compliance.  Ultimately, the person taking on the general contracting role is responsible for conforming to the local codes in place at the time of building.


Building codes change on a regular basis.  If your home was built last year, the building code could have changed since then.  Even if your house is just being completed, the applicable building code would be the one that was in force at the time the permit was pulled.

Soil Type and Drain Tiles

Many of the building codes of today, including the 2012 International Residential Code, say that a drainage system is required when there is habitable space below grade.  The code says, “Drains shall be provided around all concrete or masonry foundations that retain earth and enclose habitable or usable spaces located below grade.  Drainage tiles, gravel or crushed stone drains, perforated pipe or other approved systems or materials shall be installed at or below the area to be protected and shall discharge by gravity or mechanical means into an approved drainage system.”

There are exceptions to this rule.  If the foundation is installed on well-drained ground or sand-gravel mixture soils, a drainage system is not required.  So, the determination as to whether a drainage system is needed and what kind should be used, is also based on the type of soil on the lot at the foundation location.

Final Determination

So were drain tiles required on Terry’s home?  The only way to really get the answer to this question is to check with the local building department.  Now if the house is located outside of city limits in the country, there may not be a governing body that issues building permits (this situation covers about five percent of the population in the U.S.).  In that case, the scopes of work and specifications the builder provided would tell whether drain tiles were paid for at least.

Regardless of whether the code required the drain tiles or some other drainage system to be installed, a good builder provides a warranty for these types of problems.  This is a good reason to take the time to really check out your general contractor before building.  It’s also a good idea to have quality checks performed during construction, either by you or a third party, to make sure proper practices are followed.

Resources on Drain Tiles

For those of you that need more information on drain tiles or foundation drainage systems, check out the following useful links and video below.

Checklist:  Keep Moisture Out of Your Finished Basement

Prevent Basement Leaks:  Tips From a Builder

Foundation Drainage, The Major Quality Components


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