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Q&A: Replacing Broken Trench Drain Grates

For the past several years there have been more requests for replacement grates by homeowners and contractors than is typical. I’ve watched this trend with growing interest, trying to pinpoint the reasons behind it, and have come up with a couple theories. With the downturn in the economy, people have been stealing cast iron grates to sell for scrap metal. Also, 20 year-old systems are beginning to wear out; companies on tight maintenance budgets are retrofitting these old trench drain systems instead of spending the extra money on a new drain that needs to be installed.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to address a common question about replacing broken trench drain grates.

broken trench grates, rusted trench grates, rusted iron grating(Q) I need to replace broken trench grates in my driveway/loading bay. I’m not sure what type it is. What are my options?

(A) I hear this question all the time, but I’m always amused when contractors and homeowners are surprised at the detail that goes into finding an appropriate replacement grate. There are two big reasons that grates break. The first reason is age. As much as we hate to acknowledge the impermanence of things, even trench drains can get old. Concrete edges begin to chip, plastic shifts in concrete and grates become loose over time. Part of the problem is maintenance.

Why do trench grates break?

  • Improper planning
  • Aged grates
  • Grate shifting

replacement trench grating, broken trench grating, replacing trench drainsAll trench drains need regular cleaning at least once a year. Typically, this means that a maintenance worker unlocks and removes one grate to wash out the trench interior. Once the locking device is removed, it never fits the same again and the grates sit looser than when they were originally installed. The worker knows this and tries to minimize the effect, so all of the grates are removed at least once over the years. If your grate rattles when it’s driven over or can be wiggled, the locking devices holding it secure aren’t working. From there it’s only a matter of time until the grate breaks.

Find replacement grate options now!

Another reason grates break is because of improper planning. Finding the correct drainage system for your application is the most important part of any job. Buying the wrong system or hiring an inexperienced contractor to do the installation can leave your drain broken or ineffective.

In this case, when I say “wrong system” I mean a trench drain system that cannot properly distribute the weight of vehicles crossing it. The reason trench drains are installed in concrete is because weight passing over the grates is transferred into the concrete, reducing the stress on the drainage system.

Get help finding your replacement trench drain grate!

trench drain installation, plastic trench drainage system, bad trench installationsWhen the vehicle traffic crossing a drain is too heavy for the trench drain’s load capacity, the grate literally can’t handle the pressure. A prime example is installing a pedestrian-grade plastic trench drain for a residential driveway.

What you need to find replacement grates:

  • Length of grate
  • Width of grates
  • Thickness of grates
  • Distinguishing marks, if any

You’ll also see this problem sometimes when a small commercial trench drain is installed in a high-traffic area. In cases like this, it’s more likely that the site sees heavier traffic was originally anticipated. This is less common, however, because of the engineering that goes into such projects.

Regardless of the situation, the first step in replacing a broken grate is to be prepared. To find the grate manufacturer, you need to know the dimensions of the grate; height is the most overlooked part of the grate but also the most important because it figures into load class and the recommended vehicle traffic crossing the system. Make note of any markings on the top and bottom of the grates while you’re getting the measurements. If possible, take photos of the broken grate. It seems simple at first, but there are dozens of standard drainage systems on the market and even more custom poured-in-place drains. Without narrowing it down, there are thousands of options available!

Spee-D Channel, plastic drainage system, nds trench drain, residential drain system, driveway drains
This Spee-D Channel was installed in a commercial application. A forklift drove across it.

I see a few homeowners a year that install the NDS Spee-D Channel system in their driveway; they’re looking for replacement grates within a year because the system isn’t designed for regular vehicle traffic. I find that the Spee-D Channel’s structure puts strain on the channel rather than distributing it outward into the concrete. If it is installed in a driveway, extra care needs to be taken that the grates are recessed ¼” below grade so that vehicles put less pressure on the system.

For help identifying the trench grate you need replaced, call Trench Drain Systems at 610-638-1221 or send a photo to one of our specialists!

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