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Four Considerations when Choosing your Swimming Pool Deck Drain

When faced with the prospect of selecting a channel drain for your swimming pool deck, your task can seem overwhelming.  Your contractor may only have a handful of the drain products available in his regional marketplace.  Additionally, if you are looking for custom or design-specific grating options, you may have to spend many nights researching on your own for a product that is just right.  A deck drain consultant can be a big time saver.

Pool deck drain selection is a balancing act between deck design, functionality, aesthetics, safety and cost.  It is important that the pool owner weigh the relative value that each of these features have to his project prior to designing the pool drain.

1. Budget Considerations

Is cost the overall driving factor in your selection?  Or, would you consider a drain with a little something extra to act as a conversation piece?  In the pool drain world, there is a broad spectrum of product costs.  The standard 1.5″ wide deck drains, which inevitably get clogged and break, are at the bottom of the spectrum.  From there, systems are available in all cost ranges, up to 10 times the cost of the low end product.  I should point out that quality systems are available at affordable prices for those watching the budget.  In general, pre-sloped systems are more expensive than neutral (non-sloped) systems.  However, pre-sloped systems have installation advantages that we will point out below.

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2.  Functionality Considerations

When I start discussing a pool deck drain with a client I ask them, “How is the pool deck to be constructed?”   Is the deck made of poured concrete, pavers, or tile?  All drains can be installed in a concrete deck construction, but not all drains work well with paver stone or tile.   Drainage systems that are designed with straight walls provide a linear surface that are great for laying paving stones against.  If the drain body has legs or support structure that are too close to the top edge of the channel, abutment of pavers will be compromised.

Examples of this are shown below.  Mini Channel and Polycast are both systems with straight walls and play well with paving stone.  Dura Slope and Pro-series #5 have rebar connection features that make it impossible for pavers to lay adjacent.  These latter products need to be encased in concrete prior to laying the paving stone.  In streetscape applications, this may be a reasonable design approach.

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6″ Dura Slope (left), 4″ Spee-D Channel (right)

3.  Drain Capacity

Wrapped in this conversation we should begin to consider how large of a drain we need for the deck application.  How large is the project and how much water is the drain required to handle?  Is this an Olympic sized pool or are we looking at a back yard sauna?  Long drains generally need to have a pre-sloped channel body if you plan to have only one drain outlet.  Neutral drain bodies, like NDS Mini Channel, can be used in long or complex drain designs as long as they are designed with bottom outlets every 15 – 20 feet.  This requires a parallel plumbing design running beneath the deck drain.  Though a little more complex in the construction, frequent bottom outlets gives you design flexibility that you can’t get with some wider, higher volume deck drain systems.

4.  Aesthetic and Safety Considerations

Once a deck drain is installed in your pool, the only evidence you have is the top grate – or grille, as some call it.  The selection of the grate will determine how much attention is brought to the drain and how safe the grate will be to pool goers.  My first “Rule of Thumb” is to make deck drain grates “barefoot friendly”.  The openings should be small enough to prevent a toe from getting caught in it.  This is not always possible if you have some really inquisitive children, however.

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Decorative grates bring an added touch of elegance to the pool deck, but need to be selected with safety in mind.   Cast iron metal grating not only can rust and become unsightly but have a high heat capacity that are hot to the touch during summer months.  Plastic, aluminum and bronze grates seem to be a more popular grating choice for deck drains in high foot traffic areas.

Grating color is another aesthetic parameter that comes into play.  Grates made from plastic, metal and stone are all available in a varieties of color.  White, tan and light grey are the three most popular deck drain colors.  Darker grey grates are used in bluestone and some paver pool deck designs.  Brass, bronze, stainless steel, cast iron and aluminum grates are popular in modern, designer pools.

Where to do research…..

After you have a drain design roughed out, visit www.DrainageKits.com and see some of the options available in kit form for pool applications.  Look through all the drain options, not just pool and patio drains.  You will be able to see options and pricing.  While doing this research, you will begin to narrow down exactly what it is you want.  If you still need to discuss the project, contact one of the drain professionals at Trench Drain Systems at 610-638-1221.  They can offer more direction to your search and help with the project estimate.

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Trench Drain Systems (TDS) is a leading supplier of trench and channel drain systems for residential and commercial applications.  In addition to having a full line of products used for walk-in shower and driveway drainage applications, they carry an attractive assortment of swimming pool deck drains that are chosen for both their safety features and great looks.

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Decorative Plastic Trench Grates Exist!

Ever since the first line of plastic trench drains emerged on the market, homeowners have welcomed the convenience of lightweight, affordable drainage systems. Easily purchased and installed, plastic drains bring patio and driveway drainage systems to an accessible level.

But a lingering flaw in plastic drainage systems has been the same simplicity that made them popular. The smallest plastic drains are about 1.5” wide and, though they come in up to three colors (usually gray, sand or white), are just narrow strip drains with no ornamental grating options. Larger drains between 2” – 4” wide come standard with plastic slotted grates that offered new colors but no design improvements.

Now NDS’ design efforts allow anyone to buy decorative plastic trench grates for new and preexisting NDS drain systems. The new Botanical and Wave designs are both beautiful. (see a side by side comparison below). While the pattern options are still developing, both styles come in trademark NDS colors of sand, black, green and gray.

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These grates are available for the 3” Mini Channel and the 4” Spee-D Channel systems, and they also work with 12” catch basins. Overall, I think the new decorative grates improve the 3” and 4” NDS profile drains. Let me show you why.

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NDS Mini Channel plastic drain system

The Mini Channel and Spee-D Channel profile drains feature honeycomb chambers within the wall. Spee-D Channel drains (not shown here) have thicker walls to accommodate their greater width, but the basic construction is the same. Profile drain grates rest on a lip in the channel body and are screwed into place.

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Mini Channel with Botanical grate (left), with Gray Slotted Grate (right).

Traditionally, either system’s slotted plastic grates rest fully within the channel and do not hide its edge (see above photo, right). Gray channel edges are visible on either side of plastic slotted Mini Channel or Spee-D Channel grates, a detail frequently commented on in upscale applications.

“[The visible channel border] has been a long running criticism of the Mini Channel and Spee-D Channel,” says Mike Schreiber, District Sales Manager at NDS.

Personally, I always felt this was a design flaw on the part of NDS not only because water can gather between the grate and the channel but also because it’s not aesthetically appealing. I’m pleased that NDS is taking steps to improve on the design.

NDS’ decorative grating (see above photo, left) is thicker. The grates hang over the channel walls. Once installed, all you see of the drainage system on the left is the Botanical pattern grate.

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The photo above shows how nicely the new decorative plastic grates fit into NDS profile drains. I do like these grates better because their added thickness makes the systems more durable. It also makes the grates sit higher in the channel, which means you’ll have to use special screws to secure the grates.

At first I was concerned that the additional height would tempt the Fates and lead to broken drains. However, NDS specifications recommend profile channels be recessed up to a quarter inch to improve drainage. Recessed drains also protect the channel from snow plows, which have been known to tear up grates. If there are any issues they will probably occur in preexisting drains that were not installed in a recess. But if the existing drains were installed properly there shouldn’t be a problem.

When decorative cast iron grates became a reality for homeowners, plastic drain manufacturers realized they were missing out on a large market. Contractors and homeowners saw cast iron grates as an upgrade to basic slotted plastic worth the extra cost, but decorative plastic was unsold real estate in the trench drain market. So far, only NDS has done anything to fill the market need.

Seeing an unmet market need, NDS began developing their line of decorative plastic grates a year ago. The manufacturer conducted surveys among customers and contractors to help choose which designs would be most popular before sending out small batches for trial runs. The end result is that homeowners can now buy Botanical and Wave pattern plastic grates for their profile drains and catch basins.

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A sampling of NDS’ decorative catch basin grates

The decorative grates are making in-roads on applications where drainage systems are visible such as commercial pools, patios and sidewalks. While they aren’t driving new sales – nobody who doesn’t need a trench drain is buying the grates just to have them – homeowners and contractors lean toward decorative plastic because of its improved aesthetics.

“I’m really starting to see the decorative channel take off,” Schreiber says.

Many NDS drains have a decorative iron option available (see our blog about decorative cast iron grating here). Plastic decorative patterns are still limited at the moment, but I expect options to expand once the idea of affordable plastic replacement grates sinks into the public’s mind. NDS, now busy incorporating new acquisitions such as KBI flow control and ADS drainage systems, is going to wait before expanding their decorative offerings.

Thanks for reading! Do you like the new decorative plastic grates?

Visit DrainageKits.com to buy replacement plastic grates for your NDS profile drains or catch basins. You can also call Trench Drain Systems at 610-638-1221 to speak with a trench drain specialist or leave a comment below!

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Product Comparison – Zurn Z880 vs. NDS Mini Channel

The Z880 Perma Trench is one of Zurn’s most popular residential trench drain product lines.  Its name may sound intimidating, but there’s nothing to fear from this plastic drain.  It was designed for pools, patios and landscape drainage much like its competitor, the NDS Mini Channel.  Both the NDS Mini Channel and the Z880 are 3” wide at the top, and both systems have similar features that give each other a run for the money.

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NDS Mini Channel drain compared alongside Zurn Z880 residential trench drain

Channel Body Differences

The difference between the two systems really starts with the channel bodies.  Take a look at the photo above.

The Mini Channel (shown left) has a gray, honeycombed channel design meant to distribute load stress and prevent the system from collapsing.  This design extends to the grate supports, which hang out from the channel walls in an upside down flying buttress.

You can see that the Zurn Z880 (shown right) has a thicker, solid channel body. It is composed of high density polyethylene (HDPE), the same material as the Zurn Z886 or NDS Dura Slope commercial-grade trench drain systems.  The inherent durability of the channel body gives some “street cred” to this little patio drain.

The Z880 channel body also has “ribs” extending from the outer walls that give the channel extra surface area at vital contact points to the surrounding concrete.  The ribs help “grab” the concrete, anchoring the system in place and providing additional strength.  The channel will not separate from the concrete once installed.  The ribs also add flexibility to the design of the system because they serve as cutoff points in the drain that can still connect to other modular channels or outlets.  I’d estimate the cutoffs are every foot.

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Zurn Z880 plastic drain features include ribs and support legs

The walls of the Mini Channel are made of smooth PVC.  The absence of ribbing is advantageous when installing in a paver patio but poses a problem in the long run if you want to install it in concrete.  Without ribbing to act as anchoring points, the drain body can begin to separate from the concrete years after installation.  In addition, water and dirt may begin to flow between the concrete-channel interface, causing the channel to pinch.  To prevent this pinching effect and the subsequent weakening of the channel wall, make certain that the Mini channel grates are always securely fastened down.

Grating Option Comparison

While Mini Channel grates come in a standard slotted pattern, the Z880 grates (shown below) have a more decorative pattern that gives them a classier appearance.  The thicker grate also holds more weight, providing more structural integrity than thinner Mini Channel grates, but ultimately has less open area for water to drain.

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Color options for the Z880 plastic trench drain system

The Z880 and Mini Channel systems each offer six color options which are the same with one exception.  The Z880 offers a sky blue grate while the Mini Channel offers a forest green grate.

If you choose the Z880 system, you’ll be surprised to see that the channel matches the grates’ color.  Unlike pool drains by other suppliers, the Zurn Z880 eliminates this “edge line of a different color” that borders the grating.  This gives the system an overall nicer appearance.

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Z880 grating matches the trench channel body

Grates for the Z880 system clip into place.  Each grate has several “tongues” on its sides that snap into the channel grooves.  It’s easier than buying grate screws and lock downs, won’t create weak points in the channel structure and can be popped out of place easier for cleaning.

Iron Age Grating Options – Cast iron decorative grating is available for both drainage systems.  Created by Iron Age Designs, the grates are both beautiful and efficient.

The Mini Channel has four decorative patterns that fit the system, three of which are shown below:  Minnione, Carbochon and Interlaken.  Each grate is slightly different in terms of thickness and how it sits inside the channel.   Iron Age cast iron grates make NO accommodations for screws needed to lock down the grate.

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The Minnione, Carbochon and Interlaken decorative iron grates by Iron Age Designs

So far there is only one cast iron grate option offered by Iron Age for the Zurn Z880 pool drain.  What amazes me about the pattern is that it’s a Regular Joe.  No, really, it is.  I’ve never found out who was behind it, but somewhere along the lines the decorative option for the Z880 drain became a cast iron slotted grate.  Of course, it looks entirely more sophisticated than a standard slotted grate, but it’s something I’ve never stopped being amused about.

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Zurn Z880 plastic grate compared to Regular Joe by Iron Age Designs

One thing that is not amusing about the Regular Joe grate for the Z880 is the placement of its “tongues.”  In the picture above, you can see the inconsistency between the plastic Zurn grate and the Iron Age Designs option.  The lockdown tongue on the cast iron grate is placed too high, which means it probably won’t secure into the channel properly.

I don’t want to sell the Z880 drain short, though.  Zurn does offer four other decorative options, including a bronze decorative grate, for homeowners who want to upgrade from plastic without buying the Iron Age grate.

Whereas, the Mini channel may wear and tear more quickly (especially in regions of freeze-thaw) because of the cellular channel design, the Z880’s solid body design and anchoring points makes it a more rugged product over the long haul.  The Mini Channel is a sleeker, less expensive channel drain system that works well when used with pavers. The Z880 is a sturdier system designed for concrete installation. These two systems are so similar, yet they are worlds apart.

For design assistance and pricing on any of these products, contact Trench Drain Systems at 610-638-1221 or send us an email.

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NDS Pro Series Channel Drains

NDS offers a line of channel drain systems called the “Pro Series”. These channels are injected, molded from polyvinyl chloride, and have a neutral slope (no slope). They come in a variety of widths (3”, 5”, 8” and 12”). According to NDS literature asterisk notes, this product is technology licensed from the Italian trench drain manufacturer First Corp.

This product line really has many options if you don’t want pre-sloped channels. From a manufacturing point of view, it makes sense.  NDS production facilities would need to stock a bunch of injection mold dies of varying depth in order to make pre-sloped channel systems  Injection mold dies are expensive!

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With the Pro Series, NDS instead opted to make four channel widths to account for different flow situations.  Three of the widest products have two depths (shallow and deep channels). So, in effect, there are seven different channel options in the Pro Series.

Request pricing on the NDS Pro Series drainage system!

The photo above shows three of the four width options (I didn’t show the 12” wide option). The 3” and 5” wide channels come in 40 inch lengths (1 meter).  The 8” and 12” wide channels come in 20 inch lengths (1/2 meter).

Pro Series Channels Mean a Flexible Layout

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A key feature of the Pro Series trench drain product line is the ability to cut the channels to any desired size. The channels come with a “double ridged” cut line every four inches (4”) along the length of the channel. This makes it possible to trim, for instance, 8 or 12 inches from the channel in order to custom fit the drain into a tight area.

Trim the channel using a simple hand saw. By making your cut in the slot formed by the double ridges, you can easily change the length of the drain while retaining an edge that allows all the standard hardware (end caps and other channels) to be attached . There is no patching of the channel in a custom length situation.

While you can cut a channel to a specific length, specialty channels are available for making 45 and 90 degree bends in the drain.  Side outlets are available in 5” and 8” wide channels.  Another notable feature is that every channel has a bottom knockout. This gives you flexibility when it comes time to place a bottom discharge. You can place a bottom outlet wherever you want.

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Pro Series Grates: Know Your Options

Grating options are not extensive with this brand and vary by channel size. For instance, the 3” wide Pro Series channel only has a gray plastic grate suitable for pedestrian or light vehicle traffic. This may be adequate for home owners that are looking for a budget driveway drain.

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The 5” wide Pro Series drain, however, has the most grating options. Plastic slotted grates (class B loading) are available in six (6) colors. Perforated plastic grating is available, but only in gray. A cast iron grate and a high impact resistant plastic slotted grate are also available in 5” width.

The 8” and 12” wide Pro Series products have fewer grating options. With the 8” wide channels, you have a choice of three plastic grates, one of which is perforated, and one slotted cast iron grate. The 12” wide channel only has a plastic slotted grate (light vehicle traffic) and a cast iron grate for heavy traffic. All grates, no matter the width, come in 20 inch lengths.

One thing I like about the Pro Series product line over other NDS brands (such as the Mini or Spee-D series) is that it offers more durability and life to your drain system because of the grate to channel width relationship. I feel it is important to have your grate wider than the channel of the trench. This is particularly important in plastic trench drain products. If the grate is wider than the channel, then the concrete that surrounds the trench will be giving added strength to the channel. Systems that don’t have this added support have to rely solely on the strength of the plastic channel. In this later case, if the ledge that supports the grate breaks, the load capabilities of the grate fail. More on this when I cover other NDS channel drains.

List prices of the NDS Pro Series cover a broad spectrum. The least expensive is, of course, the 3” wide system and prices go up as do the channel widths. Grates with higher load capabilities also come at a premium.

To request pricing, contact Trench Drain Systems at 610-638-1221 or by email. For more information, leave a comment below!

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Plastic Trench Drain vs. Residential Trench Drain

Are most residential drainage projects solved by plastic trench drain?

It’s starting to look that way.

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As society’s attention to stormwater runoff issues grows, so does our need to learn about water control products such as trench drains.  Concrete and fiberglass trench drains dominated the commercial market for years. These polymer concrete or fiberglass based drainage systems proved too costly, which leaves plastic as the alternative material for household drainage products. For many homeowners, plastic trench drain offers the best value – if they can find a drainage system right for their needs.

Go to the local landscape supply or home improvement store and you’ll only see a small sample of plastic drainage products. Maybe you’ll even find actual trench drain on the shelves. But ask yourself, “Is this what I want?” Most likely, this is not what you originally envisioned. Maybe you expected a bigger variety. Maybe you are uncertain of all the products available on the market or how to find them.

Read: Top Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Plastic Trench Drain

PlasticTrenchDrain.com is here to shed some light on plastic trench drain systems and manufacturers plastic drainage products. Homeowners and contractors alike will see products and find possibilities to solve drainage problems using plastic systems.

I will occasionally give you website links that will help you on your quest for knowledge. I will show systems that meet your engineering requirements, budget and aesthetic needs. If you have immediate questions that need answering, feel free to leave a comment below or email me.

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