Everything You Need to Know About Catch Basins

Pipes with text: Everything you need to know about catch basins

What Is a Catch Basin?

A catch basin is an underground masonry box or “basin” that acts as the primary part of many landscape drainage systems. This concrete box is set into the ground at a low point on the property. On top of the basin sits a grate whereby water runoff enters the basin. The drainage pipe slopes away from the building or home.

What exactly does a catch basin do, though? In short, catch basins catch and drain debris to prevent downstream pipes from clogging and lawns from flooding. Catch basins are commonly found in many older homes and buildings. They serve a combination of purposes, including catching, holding and filtering runoff water from your lawn, around your home and from your gutters.

Before water treatment facilities could treat water for contaminants like soap and sift out debris like stones, many homes and buildings had catch basins. With a catch basin, water contaminants float to the top of the basin water, while the debris settles at the bottom. Then, the downward-facing pipe's spout receives the underflow of uncontaminated water.

Here is a more detailed explanation of how a catch basin works:

  • Contaminated water enters: Water and solids enter the catch basin from above the ground through the grate.
  • Debris settles to the bottom: Inside the basin, solids settle to the bottom and contaminants float to the top so uncontaminated water can drain out of the pipe.
  • Clean water leaves: The pipe typically connects to the larger local plumbing system and directs the water to a sewage plant or stream.

Catch basins designed for homes are commonly 1-foot by 1-foot boxes and are sold in home improvement stores. Those used by the public sector are usually made of concrete blocks and are much larger than residential catch basins. They can also be made of polypropylene, in which case they are perforated on the sides and the bottom.

Is a Catch Basin the Same As a Storm Drain?

The terms “catch basin” and “storm drain” are often used interchangeably because both options catch and redirect water runoff. However, they differ by purpose and the types of water runoff they handle.

For example, a catch basin catches rainfall or garden and lawn water runoff and is a part of a residential landscape drainage system. On the other hand, a storm drain is located on the side of city roads to catch stormwater runoff and prevent road flooding.

A storm drain is a kind of catch basin and a part of a greater municipal storm sewer system.

Catch Basin Pros and Cons

The benefits of catch basins include:

  • They support drain systems. Catch basins serve as a pre-treatment stage in storm drains and sewer systems. Sediments and large debris found in rainwater are caught by and retained in the basin. They do not proceed into the storm drain or sewer system, which helps to keep the drainage system from overloading. If debris gets into the sewer system, it will lead to clogs and reduce the effectiveness of the drainage system. A catch basin can minimize drainage issues, which means less maintenance needs to be performed on the drainage systems, increasing their longevity. Of course, for a catch basin to be as effective as possible, it must be well maintained.
  • They act as a landscape aid. Catch basins are particularly useful for homes that receive heavy rainfall and have poor drainage. A catch basin, if properly installed, can serve as a rainwater reservoir to avoid stagnating water. Standing rainwater can cause many problems, like soggy soil, mosquitos, bacteria growth and foul odors. A catch basin is an excellent preventive measure for these issues.
  • They keep your basement from flooding. Poor-draining landscapes can cause problems inside the house, too — especially in your basement. Downspout water that doesn't drain away from the foundation can easily flood a basement. Ideally, your driveway should tilt away from your home to prevent flooding, too. If the home is in a region with heavy rainfall, this situation can be particularly hazardous. Over time, this water infiltrating the home can cause damage to many valuable things such as carpets, flooring and furniture. The best way to remedy this situation is by rerouting the downspout water using well-built catch basins, which are placed directly below the downspouts.
  • It boosts your home's value. As a catch basin is a useful addition to your home, it increases its resale value.

As is the case with most systems, catch basins sometimes experience issues, many of which you can avoid with proper maintenance. Common catch basin problems include:

  • They can attract unwanted pests. As debris takes a long time to dry out and can become hot during the summer, it creates an environment that's ideal for mosquitoes and other insects to breed. If you are having a mosquito problem but are nowhere near standing water, the debris in your catch basin may be the culprit.
  • They can cause sinkholes. If the pipes that lead to or from a catch basin collapse, a sinkhole can develop. The water that escapes can then erode the stone base that supports the asphalt, which may create a sinkhole by the basin. Although this seems like a serious situation, it can be fixed. Once you get a professional to repair the damaged catch basin, you can then reinforce the surrounding areas with concrete, which actually provides a better base than asphalt.
  • The debris can be discharged during heavy rainstorms. Catch basins allow solids, debris and trash to settle out to the basin's bottom, which is below the outlet pipe where the water flows out. If there is a heavy rainstorm, the catch basin can get so overwhelmed that it no longer allows debris and trash to settle out. If the rate of water flow is particularly high, the debris and trash can quickly rise to the level of the outlet pipe, and as these pipes don't usually have any trash-screens or hoods, any material that is suspended in the water by the pipe can flow out of the basin. To reduce the chance of this occurring, use a hooded outlet cover, which helps to reduce pollutants like trash, floatables, sediment and free oils.

Catch basins, even ones that are carefully designed, cannot remove pollutants as effectively as other stormwater treatment systems including sand filters, wet ponds or stormwater wetlands. They cannot remove soluble pollutants or fine particles, which include silt, clay, fine sand or colloids.

When Do You Need a Catch Basin?

When deciding whether or not your property would benefit from a catch basin, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you regularly see standing water on or near your property?
  • Does steel, concrete or any other impermeable material edge your yard?
  • Does your grass remain saturated?
  • Are parts of your lawn dead?
  • Do certain parts of your yard smell bad?
  • Do you notice an abnormally high number of insects, particularly mosquitos?
  • Is your yard's terrain sloped?
  • Does water pool in your garage or basement after a heavy rainstorm?
  • Does your home's exterior or interior have mildew or mold?
  • If you're experiencing any of the above problems, there is a good chance that the situation could be improved — and perhaps solved completely — by an appropriately sized catch basin.

What Kind of Catch Basin Do I Need?

The structure type, size and other specifications for your catch basin will largely depend on the type and amount of water that it will receive. For instance, a catch basin for a large parking lot would most likely need to be made of concrete and located directly below the surface that drains to it. In some cases, a water pump may be useful to redistribute the water in the basin, which will depend on the type of water that it holds.

Catch Basin Vs. French Drain

Like catch basin drains and storm drains, catch basins and French drains are similar in collecting excess water runoff. Because water follows the path of least resistance, these drain types feature piping strategically sloped downhill to funnel water away from your building or home and prevent flooding.

However, unlike a catch basin, a French drain is an elongated trench with a perforated pipe beneath a few layers of gravel. Gravity tugs the water through the gravel and into the piping. Why gravel? Water drains through gravel much more efficiently than soil. Why perforated piping? Water can penetrate a French drain from above or beneath the ground due to the holes in the piping. A French drain is excellent for removing water from large patches of soggy ground due to excessive precipitation.

A catch basin is a concrete basin embedded into the ground that is covered by a grate. Water runoff can only enter a catch basin from above the ground, and catch basins are ideal for redirecting a large volume of rain and stormwater runoff. If you have a concentrated, specific patch of ground that floods during heavy rainfall, a catch basin can help to redirect water runoff in those areas and effectively channel it into a draining system.

How Many Catch Basins Do I Need?

The number of catch basins that you'll need will depend on the peak flow rate of stormwater that the area experiences. Other things to consider are the slope of the property, the area of the impermeable surface and the average rainfall amounts in your region.

For instance, a big parking lot in a rainy climate might need several catch basins. An engineer can determine the best design and location for the system.

How to Maintain Your Catch Basin

You must clean your catch basin periodically so it can continue to drain stormwater and trap sediment. By taking out sediment, debris and the pollutants associated with them, you will make the basin look better and reduce the pollutants and foul smells that will be entering the sewer system.

To maintain the grates of your catch basin, do the following:

  • Take out leaves and trash. This will reduce the risk of the grate clogging.
  • Mark a message. If you live in an area that may be at risk environmentally, consider putting up a sign that says, "No Dumping, Drains to Stream" or something similar.

As for maintaining the catch basin itself, keep in mind that the more frequently you clean it, the more pollutants you will remove. According to the EPA, you should clean out the basin if the solid is at least one third the depth from the bottom of the basin to the invert of the lowest pipe that goes into or out of the basin. You can do this yourself by lifting the grate up and removing the water with a bucket and the sediment with a shovel.

You should dump the water into a sanitary sewer through a sink or shop drain. You can also dump it in a toilet or any other drain that is appropriate. As for the solids, let them dry out, then dispose of them properly. To decide which disposal method is best, consider the types of pollutants they contain and the activities that produced them.

Catch basins used near chemical or hazardous waste storage, equipment maintenance or material handling sites may catch chemicals that are used in these types of activities. Solids removed from catch basins at industrial or commercial sites are typically not considered to be hazardous waste and therefore can be disposed of as solid waste. However, as you are the generator of this waste, make sure to find out if there are any regulations in your area that stipulate how you must dispose of your waste. Do not dispose of your waste on your or someone else's land.

When maintaining your catch basin, make an effort to follow these safety precautions:

  • Remove the grate with caution. It may be heavy and injure your back or, if you drop it, your feet.
  • Don't leave an open grate unattended. While the grate is off, stay by it and make sure others don't walk near it.
  • Don't enter the basin. Unless you have the proper training, never enter the basin.
  • Don't expose your waste or chemical storage practices to rain or stormwater runoff.

We also have a few general tips to help you with your maintenance:

  • Regularly sweep your lot. By regularly cleaning the surrounding area, you'll reduce the need to clean your catch basin.
  • Consider adding catch basin inserts. This will enhance the filtering ability of your catch basin.
  • Make sure your outlet traps are in good condition. This means that you should replace or repair them if they're broken. If your catch basin doesn't have an outlet trap, install one — these components are an easy, cheaper way to remove any floatable pollutants that make it into the catch basin.

Hire a Professional Plumber for All Your Catch Basin Needs

Although removing debris from your catch basin may seem simple, it is often not a pleasant or easy job. Catch basins are usually quite deep, and scooping out the muck can be disgusting and sometimes dangerous as well. The best way to keep your catch basins clean is to hire a professional to handle the removal. Professionals have the appropriate tools for the job and know how to clean it in a way that ensures it won't back up quickly again.

What's more — when a professional is removing the debris from your catch basin, they can also perform a speedy inspection to see whether a clog has occurred in the drain pipe itself. If they do find a clog, they can fix it right then so that they won't need to make a second trip. When people decide to do the cleaning themselves, they often still end up having to hire a professional because there's a clog in the pipe. By calling a professional, you can potentially save yourself hours of work and be sure that it's done right the first time.

Contact Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse

If you live in or around Syracuse, N.Y., including the cities of Auburn, Liverpool, Port Byron or Baldwinsville, the company you want to clean and inspect your catch basins is Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse.

Whether it's for your home or your business, you can count on our team of licensed plumbers to maintain your catch basin, french drain or whatever drainage system you happen to have. We arrive at your location on time and diagnose the problem quickly with advanced equipment. Once we've pinpointed the issue, we'll then explain all of your repair options and the charges associated with each.

If you have an urgent problem, we also offer 24-hour emergency service. If your catch basin experiences a failure and your property is in danger of flooding, call us any time of the day, and we'll promptly send over a technician to resolve the problem before it causes serious damage.

You can request an estimate or schedule a service by filling out our form or calling us.