Sorting the Confusion around Exterior Drain Tile
Exterior drain tile is more of a misnomer--there is no actual tile involved in the common use of the word. This leads to much confusion, especially if you move from one part of the country to another. Here are the other names that exterior drain tile goes by and why it is so confusing to talk to contractors about a drain for your foundation.
For anyone who moves into the U.S. from Canada, or for those who live in the North and Northeastern states, this type of drainage system is often referred to as a "French drain." It is called a French drain not because the French invented it, but because a man with the last name of French created it. Many people get confused by this fact, and think a French drain has something to do with a French-engineered system, which is why it is called by other names in other parts of the U.S. and Canada.
This is another name for the exterior drain tile. Although the pipes involved in this drainage system are perforated on top to collect the water that seeps down into the pipes, this is also a misnomer because no tile is involved and because the only "weeping" this drainage system does is into a sump pump in your basement or out the far end of the pipes into the street. It is mostly a Canadian reference, but states in the Northwest have begun to use it due to their proximity to Canadian provinces where this phrase is more commonly used.
Why the Three Names Obfuscate the Drainage System's Real Set-Up
The word "tile" is involved in two of the three names given to this drainage system because your foundation is plastered with a type of waterproof sealant and then special boards are stuck to the foundation to prevent additional water seepage from sinking through. Because the drain pipe is also covered with pea gravel, and the pea gravel is leveled to allow water to seep through it down into the drainage pipe, it takes on the appearance of large-grain tiles used in flooring. To further complicate things, many people in Southern states now call the system a "foundation drainage system," although it is probably the most sensible title for this drainage system yet. Wherever you happen to live, use all four of the names given to exterior drain tile when speaking to a contractor like Rite-Way Waterproofing.