Wednesday, December 4, 2013

NEW BOOK - French Drain for Health

French Drain for Health a new book written by industry expert Stephen F Andras is now available for purchase on   

A History of the French Drain in America written by industry expert Stephen F. Andras that discusses the subject of Early American cellar drainage and also today's modern methods of basement waterproofing. Steve traveled all over England, Scotland, Holland, Canada and the United States researching the history of cellar drainage. This book was written so homeowners and contractors can be throughly educated about the reasons Henry Flagg French drained two of his farmhouses. Steve shows clearly that he did so because he wanted the people living above them to be healthy. Great lessons from the 1860's for people today. Steve tells a great story about the small wooden heart on the cover.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Horseshoe Clay Tile

Recently I spent a few days visiting The Mike Weaver Drain Tile Museum in Geneva, NY. In 1835 John Johnston received several sample horseshoe shaped clay tile from Scotland. He had a local crockery produce 3000 of these horseshoe shaped clay tile so he could drain his farmland.

Henry F French no doubt read about John Johnston's experiments in farm drainage. In fact in the mid 1850's Henry purchased 1000 ft of clay tile at a cost of $25.00 per thousand (included shipping by rail) May have been 2" round clay tiles.
Picture courtesy of Geneva Historical Society

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Women, Plumbers and Doctors

I recently stumbled across a book entitled " Women, Plumbers and Doctors" written in 1885 by a woman named H Plunkett. It was very enlightening to me. I was amazed that she preached that if the woman of the house spent time in the kitchen, stable and cellar three minutes a day it was better than a 100 servants hands.

She goes on to say that Henry Flagg French, a judge from Massachusetts, who was well respected on the subject of drainage. Many don't know this (especially the HGTV Forums - Exterior guru "LicensedWaterproofer") that the man he says is not a cellar drainage expert happened to be the First President of Massachusetts Agriculture College in 1874 , later to be called The University of Massachusetts. Wrote more articles on drainage than anyone else in the last 150 years. His book Farm Drainage that was written in 1859 taught me more about basement drainage and why I do what I do. For Thirty Years, my job has been to help people solve a wet basement problem.

Henry French taught me an important lesson in life, rich and poor people need solutions to their wet basement problems. He wanted a way to make it that the average man could afford to drain the water in his cellar. In his day the average man had open trenches in their cellars, where water (along with sewerage from the outhouses) mixed with all kinds of things. He wanted people to use clay tile with tan bark surrounding it and covered with dirt so that the drain was "closed".

He knew that if a homeowner could keep their cellar from having water in it, the health of the women and children would be much better. This is why today I say the same thing " When was the last time you spent time in your basement? Does it ever have that damp moldy smell? Remember if you can improve the conditions in your basement you will make your family healthier.

In the above mentioned book from 1885 Harriette M Plunkett said this, "The cellar is the vital portion of a truly sanitary house - if it faulty, no amount of care above the ground-floor can neutralize, its evil effects".

She also on the title page of her book said "Showing that, if women and plumbers do their whole sanitary duty, there will be comparatively little occasion for the services of the doctors."

Since the 1970's energy crisis our homes have become tighter with less air exchanges. Yet at the same time we are using our basements for living space. " Bad Air in the basement needs to be dealt with in order for your home to be health. I guess some are willing to ignore the water and moisture problems in their basements and are perfectly satisfied to just " take another pill" to solve their problems. It is time for sensible people to wake up to the dangers that dwell in their basement and follow Harriette's advice from 1885 to look at your basement daily and pay attention to the health of your family.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Henry Flagg French Practiced What He Preached

Henry F. French, was not the first to use clay drain tile in America. I believe a Mr William Connors of Exeter, NH was the first in the area to use clay drain tile to "underdrain" his farm land to make it more productive. Tile Drainage first established here in 1838. Use of drain tile was not common until about 1850.

Henry installed an interior drain tile system on a farm house he owned in Exeter, NH sometime in the 1850's. He also installed such a drain tile system in a farmhouse he bought in 1865 on Sudbury Road in Concord, MA. In a lecture he gave he mentions that he installed drainage systems in both these houses and they were still functioning fine.

Henry French felt that it was absolutely important for the health of the home and family that people in his day should drain the water from their cellars (basements). His main reason for doing so was health of the women and children who were in the home most. He believed that diseases were directly caused from the bad air rising up from the cellar.

Today I am on a mission to bring attention to the importance of not only draining the cellar (basement) but making sure that a proper water and moisture control system be installed in homes today. No longer should contractors install open backed drainage systems in basements as these systems encourage radon, ground humidity, bugs and moisture which promotes mold. Please visit and for more information.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Minuteman Brochure

There is a brochure out there that has been nicknamed "The Minuteman Brochure". This 6 panel educational piece details how the "french drain got its name". The french drain got its name from a man named Henry Flagg French, a judge and farmer who lived in Concord Massachusetts in the late 1860's.

While it is true that the principles of the "french drain" have been used for centuries, it was named after Henry French. Henry did travel overseas and studied drainage in Europe. In 1859 he wrote a book entitled Farm Drainage. In that book he showed how drainage techniques needed to be different in (New England) America than in England. He said the average rainfall in England was around 24 inches while in New England they got on average - 42 inches. He clearly show the America farmer that we needed to drain our farm land different than farmers in England.

In that book back in 1859, Henry wrote a chapter devoted to "cellar drainage". Recently there has been alot of discussion on the HGTV Pro forums regarding exterior versus interior drainage (especially from a so called "know it all arrogant, self proclaimed liscensed waterproofer"). He is always trying to convince everyone that he knows best and that a "french drain should be on the exterior.

I have not gotten into it with him as of yet, but someone should tell him that the original "cellar drainage" or french drain was recommedned on the inside. (See Farm Drainage 1859 chapter on Cellar Drainage)

While I understand why some may feel that a drainage system should be done on the outside only, I must respectfully disagree. An exterior system has a major downfall - It will eventually fail and when it does, it will not be able to be maintained, it must be re dug up and replaced.

While I agree in new construction, it makes sense to install an exterior french drain along the footer, but I also recommend installing a closed drainage system like the GrateDrain on the interior. (see I agree that open drainage systems in the basement are not the right thing to do, especially with how the basement is being used in the 21 st century.
I understand why "liscense waterproofer" doesn't like interior systems but that is only because of radon, ground humidity, and bugs can come in thru an open channeled system. With a closed interior system all these things are dealt with. Bottom line is this - a closed GrateDrain system CAN be maintained without having to dig up the homeowner lawn and outdoor decks, etc. An exterior system will eventually clog and when it does it CANNOT be maintained.

For more information email me ( your mailing address and I will send you one of my "Minuteman Brochure". Just mention you want one of the Minuteman Brochures. It will be sent absolutely free.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Basement Waterproofing ?

This is a "on the footer" system - notice that even though there is a wall vapor barrier tucked behind this system it still has an open back which can allow radon, moisture, bugs to come up into the basement and into your home.

Basement Waterproofing is what our industry calls themselves. The proper term for what most basement waterproofing contractors do is really basement water control. If you are a homeowner with a wet basement it is important that you make sure your contractor installs a closed drainage system. DO NOT ALLOW a contractor to put in a sub floor drainage system with an open back channel. These open systems are what contractors have been installing for years. These types of systems allow radon to enter your basement (an odorless gas that the EPA estimates kills 21,000 people a year in the US)

If you want to see a closed sub floor drainage system that protect your home and your family visit

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Tan Bark"

When one reads Henry French's book on Farm Drainage he mentions his "cellar drainage" was two rows of 2" clay tiles surrounded by "tan bark". What is this tan bark? Well in doing research on this subject I found that tan bark was probably the inner bark of the red oak tree. During the 1850's "tannin" was very desirable as it was used in leather tanning. I believe the tan bark was probably the bark that was left after the tannin was extracted.

At first I asked my self, "why would Henry French use tan bark around his cellar drains instead of river stone. Was it because of it being readily available? Easy to install? Well I must say that when doing research on iron bacteria and its affects on drainage systems, I came across two separate research studies, one in Scotland and the other in Florida. In each of these studies they found that the acid in conifer bark or in the case in Florida (oak bark) actually aided in controlling iron bacteria clogging drainage fields.

Could it be that in the 1850's Henry French knew that the tan bark would actually keep the cellar drains in his farm house in Concord, Massachusetts running freely.. (Note: I have been in this cellar of this house recently and did see that there was iron bacteria present.) Knowing what I do about Henry French and the Concord Farmers Group, I believe they did know. Some times when we want to learn something to help us with a problem, it is always a good idea to look at the things our ancestors did in the past and then ask why.