Dry Well vs French Drain: Which Drainage System is Best for Your Property

Dry Well vs French Drain: Which Drainage System is Best for Your Property?

You know you need a drain system in place to protect your property - but with so many different types of drainage solutions out there, which is right for you? Two of the most common are the dry well and the french drain. 

But what’s the difference between a french drain and dry well? And in comparing the dry well vs french drain, which is better for your property? You’ve got questions, and we’ve got the answers you need to make the most informed decision!

At Michaelangelo’s, we specialize in drainage solutions. We’ve installed our fair share of french drains, and we’re no strangers to dry wells either. One isn’t necessarily better than the other - it comes down to weighing what matters most to you in a drainage solution and choosing accordingly. 

While french drains can easily be tailored to your unique property and are incredibly effective at preventing water damage/drying out soggy lawns, they’re expensive. Dry wells, on the other hand, are very affordable and can reduce the burden on your sewage system. Yet, they sometimes fall short during heavy rain events and require regular maintenance.

These are just a few things you need to consider as you begin this journey to overhauling your drainage system or installing one from scratch. Below, we’ll start by explaining why choosing between a french drain vs dry well isn’t something you can afford to overlook.

Why Choosing the Right Drainage Solutions Cannot be Overlooked

Imagine that after months of planning & designing your dream landscape - spending thousands of dollars along the way - you’ve finally transformed your outdoor space into a beautiful and functional haven

But one day, after a heavy downpour, you notice water pooling around your home's foundation, your once-lush lawn now a muddy mess, and you're left feeling helpless, watching your hard work and investment wash away.

This is a situation no homeowner ever wants to find themselves in, and it highlights the importance of choosing the right drainage solutions for your property. Ensuring proper drainage is not just a matter of aesthetics or convenience; it's a crucial component of maintaining the structural integrity and long-term value of your home. If you don’t choose the correct drainage system, a number of issues can arise - including:

  • Water damage to your home's foundation: Excess water pooling around your foundation can seep into the walls, weaken the structure, and ultimately cause cracks and settling. This kind of damage is not only expensive to repair but can also compromise the safety of your home.

  • Basement flooding: Inadequate drainage can lead to water infiltrating your basement, causing flooding, mold growth, and damage to furniture and belongings. The cleanup and repair costs can be staggering, not to mention the health risks associated with mold and mildew exposure.

  • Erosion and landscape damage: Without proper drainage, water can wash away soil, mulch, and plants, leading to erosion and a ruined landscape. This not only diminishes the beauty and functionality of your outdoor space but also requires significant time and resources to restore. While you may have a beautiful lawn, it can quickly become unusable without proper drainage.

  • Pest infestations: Standing water can attract pests such as mosquitoes, rodents, and other unwanted critters that may carry diseases or cause damage to your home and garden. This will have you hiding inside rather than enjoying the property you’ve worked so hard for.

  • Environmental concerns: Improper drainage can contribute to stormwater pollution, which affects local waterways, ecosystems, and even your community's drinking water supply.

In saying all this, we want to make sure you’re aware of all that’s at stake when you choose your drainage system. So, let’s get into what you came here for - what’s the difference between a french drain and dry well?

What’s the Difference Between a French Drain and Dry Well?

While each of these is a popular drainage solution for homeowners and businesses alike, that’s where the similarities end. We’ll use this section to break down the way a dry well vs french drain works separately before comparing and contrasting them against one another later on.

What is a French Drain?

A French drain is a type of subsurface drainage system that helps to redirect excess groundwater and surface water away from a specific area, such as a foundation, basement, or soggy lawn. 

It consists of a sloped, gravel-filled trench that contains a perforated pipe, which is usually wrapped in a piece of filter fabric to prevent sediment from clogging the pipe. As water enters the trench, it filters through the gravel and enters the pipe, which then carries the water away from the problem area and discharges it at a safe distance.

What is a Dry Well?

A dry well is an underground structure designed to collect and disperse stormwater runoff from roofs, driveways, or other impervious surfaces. 

It is typically a cylindrical, gravel-filled pit or a prefabricated plastic or concrete container with holes to allow water to seep into the surrounding soil. Water is directed to the dry well through gutters, downspouts, or drainage pipes, where it slowly infiltrates into the ground, reducing the risk of flooding and erosion.

Dry Well vs French Drain: Which is Right For Your Property? Consider These Factors…

Now, it’s time to help you choose the right system by comparing and contrasting the dry well vs french drain systems side by side. Below, we’ll look at the main factors you should consider to make the ideal choice between a dry well vs french drain in your unique circumstances. 

Speed of Drainage

Let’s get right into how quickly each of these systems can drain excess water from your property. After all, if we’re asking which system is best, surely the speed of drainage should be a top priority. The longer excess water sits on your property, the more opportunity it has to damage your yard and perhaps even your home itself.

In terms of groundwater issues, french drains take the cake. They redirect water away from the problem area fast, keeping your landscape looking great. On the other hand, dry wells may take a bit more time to disperse stormwater runoff, but they're excellent at handling water from roofs and driveways.

Installation Location

Your specific property is perhaps the biggest determining factor in whether you should choose a dry well vs french drain. There is a lot that goes into this consideration - but the specific soil type is one thing that cannot be overlooked. For instance, French drains may not work as effectively in clay-heavy soil, while dry wells require soil with good permeability to function efficiently.

Beyond your soil type, you should consider the slope and grading of your property - as this can influence which drainage system is more suitable for your yard. French drains rely on gravity and require a slope to function effectively, while dry wells can be installed in flatter areas.

Moreover, some areas may have specific regulations or permit requirements for installing drainage systems. It's essential to familiarize yourself with any restrictions or requirements in your area before deciding on a drainage solution.

In general, you’ll find that french drains are more versatile in where they can be installed - either at the highest or lowest points on your property or even right near the foundations. Dry wells have to be installed in low-lying areas, though and are typically limited to corners away from your house.

Water Source and Volume

It’s important to consider your water source and the volume of water you want your system to be capable of handling when trying to choose between a french drain vs dry well. 

French drains are your go-to solution for groundwater and surface water problems. As mentioned earlier, they keep water away from your home's foundation and prevent soggy lawns. Dry wells, however, are perfect for managing large volumes of stormwater runoff, making sure it doesn't flood your property. They can be configured with your roof runoff system as well.


At a certain point, your budget is the limiting factor in which system you go with. French drains are definitely the more expensive option as they require extensive excavation and labor. You can expect to pay as much as $13k depending on the size of your property, with the average cost falling around $6,000.

Dry wells are generally more affordable as they’re a simpler installation. The average cost for these systems falls closer to $3,000. And as you’ll learn below, the cost-effectiveness of a dry well goes beyond the initial price…


You don’t even want to deal with installing a new drainage system once - let alone again in the future. That’s why you should consider the longevity of your system. So, which lasts longer between a french drain vs dry well? 

Dry wells are seen as the much more long-term solution, as they can last up to 30 years with proper care. French drains last a long time as well, but have an average lifespan closer to 10-15 years. If you want to kick this can as far down the road as possible, stick with the dry well.


Nobody wants to spend all their free time maintaining a drainage system. French drains need regular upkeep to prevent clogs and ensure they're working effectively. Dry wells also require maintenance, but they're generally easier to manage as long as debris and sediment are regularly cleared out.

Aesthetics and Landscape Integration

When it comes to blending in with your landscape, both French drains and dry wells have their advantages. 

French drains can be concealed with gravel or other landscaping elements, making them unobtrusive in your yard. You often won’t even notice the presence of a french drain, and neither will guests. 

Dry wells, on the other hand, are typically installed underground, which means they're practically invisible and won't interfere with your landscape design at all. We consider this consideration to be a toss-up. Because when you partner with a quality landscaping company like Michaelangelo’s, your property remains stunning no matter what.

Environmental Impact

French drains help improve soil drainage, preventing excess water from causing damage to your property. Dry wells, however, have a more direct environmental benefit by promoting groundwater recharge and reducing the burden on local sewer systems. So, if you're looking to make a more eco-friendly choice, dry wells might be the way to go.

What About Using a Dry Well and French Drain Together?

Sometimes, it’s not a matter of one or the other - but both! As you can see, each system has its advantages. Sometimes, your property could benefit from a french drain and dry well working together to eliminate any worry surrounding drainage issues.

Using a combination of a french drain and a dry well can be an effective solution for properties with complex drainage issues. This approach can help manage both surface water and stormwater runoff, preventing flooding and water damage on all fronts.

The French drain would be installed to collect and redirect surface water away from your home's foundation. The collected water would then flow into the dry well, which would slowly disperse it into the surrounding soil. The dry well would also collect and manage any stormwater runoff from your roof, driveway, or other impervious surfaces. Here are a few scenarios where using a French drain and a dry well together might make sense:

  • Your property has both surface water and stormwater runoff issues: The French drain can handle surface water while the dry well can manage stormwater runoff.

  • Your property has different soil types: French drains are ideal for well-draining soil, while dry wells work best in soil with good permeability.

  • Your property has limited space: French drains can be installed closer to the foundation, while dry wells can be placed farther away in the yard.

If You Need Help Choosing Between a French Drain vs Dry Well, You Can Rely on Michelangelo’s!

At this point, it’s time to decide between a french drain vs dry well. We’ve empowered you with all the key considerations you need to make, and we hope that now it’s an easy decision. 

But if you’re in the Alpharetta area and still feel a bit skeptical as to which choice makes the most sense for your property, we’re just a phone call or live chat away ready to help! 

We can go over your needs and survey your property, and from there, outline your options and provide a recommendation. Maybe it’s not even a matter of choosing between a dry well vs french drain - maybe you should choose a different drainage system entirely!

We’re the #1 choice for landscape design and installation in Alpharetta, GA - which means you can rest assured whatever drainage solution we install will blend perfectly with the rest of your landscape. 

Plus, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing the job is getting done right the first time around. No more stressing about drainage problems affecting your home, no need to worry about issues down the line. Reach out today and let’s make this concern a thing of the past!

Final Thoughts on the Dry Well vs French Drain Comparison

That wraps up our comparison of french drains and dry wells. Hopefully, you feel more confident making a decision one way or the other after reading this guide. 

While both french drains and dry wells have their place in the world of drainage solutions, only one of them is right for you (unless you’re in a unique situation where you should install both!). So - don’t hesitate to get in touch with the most trusted Alpharetta landscaping company around: Michelangelo’s.

If you want to learn more about landscape design, our blog has great guides on topics like how to design landscape beds, how to design landscape lighting, sustainable landscape design ideas, modern pool landscape design ideas, and more. Otherwise, what are you waiting for? Let’s bring your ideal drainage solution to life today!