When it rains, it pours

Contributing Writer Mimi Simmons talks about how drainage can be affected by the the hot and rainy weather during the summer months.

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  • | 9:00 a.m. June 1, 2024
A foundation wall hedge is a great way to prevent erosion and provides additional security.
A foundation wall hedge is a great way to prevent erosion and provides additional security.
Photo courtesy of Mimi Simmons
  • Baldwin Park Living
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I used to live next door to WFTV/Channel 9 meteorologist and former Baldwin Park resident Brian Shields and his family. Every so often, I would wake up at 3 a.m. as he pulled his car out of the garage on his way to work and think, “Now that’s commitment.” Then, I would roll over and catch a few more hours of Z’s. Meanwhile, Shields would get busy preparing the morning’s weather report.

Everyone knows it gets hot and rainy here during our summers, but according to Shields, a high probability of La Nina conditions developing in June could mean even wetter conditions. 

“Expect higher than average periods of wet weather, plus it will be a more active hurricane season, too,” Shields says. 

In other words: Prepare for soggy soil if your property is not set up to handle the downpours. 

Mimi Simmons owns Mimi Simmons Designs.
Photo courtesy of Mimi Simmons


As an architect and landscape designer, I often get called in to fix the quagmire that can develop in the narrow nether regions between homes as a result of poor drainage. Initial requests are often understandably superficial solutions that act more like a band-aid when a medical intervention is needed. If you have ever tried to cover your muck with mulch, sink pavers into it, or install sod one more time, consider a more comprehensive approach to decreasing the dampness. 


Single-family residential properties in Baldwin Park were initially set up for successful drainage — at least in theory. The home and its components, including the roof, soffit, façade and surrounding pavement (aka “impervious surfaces”) were designed to deflect and direct rain away from vulnerable construction seams, openings in the structure and foundations. Once water hits ground level, the site was engineered to: (1) allow it to be absorbed by the soil (aka a “pervious surface”) or (2) to run off laterally toward property lines and then toward the alley or front sidewalk to the street. The city of Orlando’s Streets and Stormwater Division takes over from there.


Note that each lot style in Baldwin Park has a “Maximum Allowable Impervious Surface Percentage.” If you are thinking about building a home addition or adding a pool deck or paved area, calculation of the resulting “Impervious Surface Percentage” will be required as part of your ARC application. Artificial turf recently was deemed impervious by the city of Orlando, so it should be included in your math. 

Homeowner Michael Lynch turned a damp, narrow side yard into a beautiful and functional space.
Photo courtesy of Mimi Simmons


Drainage was planned at an even larger scale here. Back in the early 2000s, after the former Navy base that preceded Baldwin Park had been decommissioned, more than 250 of its concrete buildings were demolished, yielding 600,000 tons of concrete. As told by Navy Base to Neighborhood: The Baldwin Park Story, “About one-third of the crushed concrete was used in an exfiltration trench to improve water quality of the lakes on the property.” Basically, the bottom part of Blue Jacket Park closest to Lake Baldwin sits on top of this massive pile of Navy base rubble serving as a giant-sized Brita filter.


In your own yard, things can occur over time to produce unwanted standing water or change drainage patterns. Check for these issues to understand the cause of your drainage problem:

Irrigation leaks. Have your system checked annually to be sure you are getting adequate coverage for your landscape but also to make sure heads are not leaking, inadvertently cut or buried by your lawn care team, and brittle PVC lines have not been cut. The glue that holds PVC joints together can fail at about 15 years.

Erosion. Heavy rain dropping from roof lines can create channels that eventually take away some of the soil protecting your foundation walls. On an optimally operating property, soil levels should be higher against the exterior walls of your house with a gradual slope toward your property line. 

Ground lift. Now that live oaks and other canopy trees are maturing, extensive roots of these trees and other plants can raise the ground level significantly enough to trap water where it does not belong.

Clogged gutters or downspouts. Make sure to examine what happens while it is raining. Gutter guards in areas with trees can help prevent this. 

Aged irrigation joints are fragile.
Photo courtesy of Mimi Simmons


Solutions range from simple to complex, most of which require HOA approval:

Re-grading. The minimum slope recommended away from your foundation wall is 4%. If you have an ongoing issue, consider over-grading to ensure successful runoff after some level of erosion. In the process, make sure exposed roots get re-covered.

Replanting. Perhaps it’s time to add a plant bed against the foundation wall to help hold the soil and prevent erosion. Foundation hedges serve this purpose, achieve shrub coverage requirements and other added benefits.

River Rock. Adding stones under the roof line can facilitate drainage away from the structure and further prevent erosion. Note that rock, pebbles and stepping stones are allowed only within a private zone and screened from the public right-of-way.

New gutters. A more expensive but effective solution is to add gutters, being mindful of the placement of downspouts and direction of extensions. In Baldwin Park, gutters must be K-style or half-round, and downspouts must be smooth round or smooth rectangular, according to your home’s style.

French drains. This term covers a range of techniques that could be as simple as burying gravel wrapped with a weed barrier in a trench (a la Navy base rubble reuse) and as involved as attaching corrugated black pipe to downspouts that connect to underground vents or catch basins. The idea is to increase the capacity of the soil to store water once the ground becomes saturated. Eventually, the water will evaporate.

Tree removal. In a limited number of cases, removing trees and grinding roots may be required to re-route draining water. Canopy tree removals require city of Orlando permitting.


Often, homeowners with adjacent properties must work cooperatively to address the situation adequately. ARC has approved common French drains in the past. Also, if only one homeowner gets gutters, wet conditions might persist. It helps if both sides invest to solve the problem.


A final recommendation is to embrace and even celebrate the shadier damp areas. One of my clients recently did just that. After trying to grow sod multiple times in a narrow 7-foot-wide fenced area along the side of his house, he ended up turning this isolated area into a tomato garden with raised plant beds, stepping stones in river rock, sweet-smelling shade-loving florals and a rain barrel. It’s now a pleasant and functional place.

Mimi Simmons is the owner of Mimi Simmons Design.


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