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Drains with a Difference

15yearsagoBy David Tisherman

‘You’d think that having lousy-looking deck drains was inescapable, given that about 99.9% of them look like a thing you’d find in your shower.’  That’s how David Tisherman launched into his Details column in the January/February issue of WaterShapes 15 years ago, and he didn’t mince many words thereafter.

‘Whether you’re using PVC or brass grates, they disrupt the surface of any decking material and to my way of thinking are an unnecessary eyesore – nearly criminal when they interrupt the look and texture of a beautiful expanse of stone.  It just doesn’t make any sense to draw that much attention to the drains.’  He continued:


‘That’s why I decided to develop a deck-drain detail that doesn’t break up the visual lines of the deck.  . . .  In a nutshell, the idea is to drill holes in a piece of decking material to create a removable drain grate that blends in with the rest of the stones on the deck.’


‘As with any drain, of course, the key to success is proper grading and drain placement.  If the surface of the deck directs the water toward the drain, you won’t have any problems.’


‘When we pour the concrete sub-base, a cone-shaped area is gouged out of wet concrete, creating a funnel effect toward the drain line.  The idea here is that the water is to be collected over a wide area, approximately 12 inches across.  . . .  When the deck goes in, we select a strategic piece of stone and leave a space for it.  We bore 1/8-inch pilot holes using a stone masonry bit, then enlarge the holes to 3/4 or 5/8 inch – six or eight holes in all.’


‘To blend the grate stone in with the rest of the deck, we grout against the stationary stones but leave about a 1/4-inch gap around the moveable stone.  As water flows toward the drain, some of it flows into this perimeter space while the rest falls through the holes.  . . .  Once this work is finished, the stone rests on the sub-base and is only occasionally lifted for cleaning by a service technician or the homeowner.’


‘This same treatment can be used for skimmer lids – the only added step being to make sure you line up the grout lines over the top of the skimmer.’


‘This detail is expensive as much as ten times as costly the best PVC or brass drain heads – so this isn’t a detail for low-end projects.  But for quality work with beautiful stone decking, I won’t accept anything else.’


‘I believe it’s time,’ David concluded, ‘for pool builders take a look at their work and decide if they are truly building quality – with quality details such as this one – or are just talking about quality and really only building to the norm.’

Is this one of David Tisherman’s details that you find yourself using in or adapting for your projects?  Or have you found other ways to deliver visually unobtrusive results to your clients.  Please help build a dialogue on this key subjest by commenting below!


David Tisherman is the principal in two design/construction firms: David Tisherman’s Visuals of Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Liquid Design of Cherry Hill, N.J. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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