Decorative Drain Covers Enhance Surrounding Concrete

decorative outdoor drain covers in concrete ductile iron tree grates and drains in the Locust Leaf pattern provide drainage for stormwater and supply fresh water to the trees
In Etna, Pennsylvania, Iron Age Design’s ductile iron tree grates and drains in the Locust Leaf pattern provide drainage for stormwater and supply fresh water to the trees. This drainage benefits vegetation enclosed by sidewalks and street pavement in urban settings. Photos courtesy of Iron Age Designs

Let’s say you’re part of a design and construction team that has settled on a stunning look for a high-profile exterior concrete project. This could be a corporate office entryway, a monument to fallen heroes or maybe an upgraded pedestrian walkway downtown. But you’ve got water issues to deal with.

When it rains, all that moisture must go somewhere so visitors aren’t wading or skating their way across the hardscape. A key part of the solution is installing the proper drain system. And in cases where visuals carry high priority, that means a drain system that won’t detract from the design. It might even contribute to it. Enter decorative outdoor drain covers.

Following is a glance at projects where these kinds of water-handling systems were integrated into the design. Consequently, they provide a means to transfer stormwater while meeting pedestrian safety requirements. And they do all this while preserving or enhancing the visuals.

Supporting cast

Iron Age Designs was called on to supply the right look for projects in two older urban settings. One is in Etna, Pennsylvania, and the other in Boston, Massachusetts. Iron Age, based in Burien, Washington, specializes in cast-metal grates for trench drains and catch basins around trees and architectural elements.

In Etna, Buchart Horn designed a novel streetscape upgrade. It fashioned a serpentine, river-like trench-drain system with decorative grates that connect to tree grates along the sidewalk. The drain system in this urban setting not only provides drainage for stormwater, but supplies fresh water to the trees. Subsequently, this provides a real plus to vegetation enclosed by sidewalks and street pavement.

Dominique Watkins, partner and managing director for Iron Age Designs, says the design and decorative grates make a “bold aesthetic statemen.” Overall, they create a unique streetscape feature “that makes an impression on people” visiting the town’s downtown business district.

decorative outdoor drain covers in concrete partial tree grates from Iron Age complement surface pavers
In Boston, 16 full or partial tree grates from Iron Age complement surface pavers. They are part of a redevelopment program in the city’s South End. Each grate is different.
Complementing pavers

The grates, cast with ductile iron in Iron Age’s Locust Leaf pattern, contain magnesium. This element gives the iron the ductile property. Subsequently it makes the grates more resilient to wear and loads without breaking.

In Boston on Albany Street, Iron Age supplied oval tree grates made to complement surface pavers. They made up one small facet of a significant redevelopment program in this city’s South End. Working with the architects of Ground Inc., Iron Age created 16 full or partial oval tree grates.

“Each grate was oriented in a unique way to complement the overall streetscape pavers and concrete plan,” says Watkins. The openings for the trees were cast in different spots in the various grate elements. As a result, they added to the individuality of each grate.

Inspiration for grate castings

“The idea behind all of our castings is to make each project unique and stand out,” Watkins says. “Both drainage grates and tree grates are typically overlooked. And most are very generic. Our aim as a company is to elevate grates to become more of a focal point, artistic feature or decorative detail that’s the final touch on a well-finished project.”

placing decorative drains
Balco Inc.’s custom-made curvilinear decorative outdoor drain covers for a fountain plaza in Wichita, Kansas, features a welded extruded aluminum frame. It includes cutouts for fountain placement. Photos courtesy of Balco Inc.

Mark Armstrong and Craig Diamond, who worked together at another foundry in the Pacific Northwest, founded Iron Age Designs in 2005. They saw a potential market niche for American-made, artfully designed trench and catch basin grates.

These grates fitted standard-size drain systems made by numerous companies, including ACO Polymer Products. Iron Age Designs made these metal grates out of ductile iron, regular “gray” iron, aluminum or two types of bronze. Architects and designers can specify them during a project’s planning phase or for a retro-fit into existing installations.

circular decorative drain

The impression of seamlessness

In contrast with Iron Age Designs’ sculptural artistry in its cast-metal grates, ACO’s drain systems feature designs that tend to blend unobtrusively into contemporary architecture. Like the highly competent umpire in a high-stakes major-league baseball game, these essential drain-systems go unnoticed, a testament to their seamless integration into the overall plan.

Three notable examples that illustrate seamless integrations of decorative outdoor drain covers follow:

Officer Sean Collier Memorial at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Collier was an MIT police officer killed in the line of duty during the pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers, the notorious 2013 Boston Marathon bombers.

A striking,190-ton sculpture in his honor comprises 32 massive pieces of polished New Hampshire granite. The ACO Brickslot installation is in two sections. The first section consists of 33 meters along the memorial’s eastern boundary. The other covers a smaller section between two of the large granite pieces inside the sculpture. Overall, the drain components include ACO’s 4-inch-wide KS 100 polymer-concrete channel drain with a stainless-steel edge protection and slot.

Only the slot, 7/16-inch wide, is visible on the surface. Hence, this minimizes the visual profile of this important functional element. Access units located at intervals along the slot allow for the channel’s periodic maintenance. This involves clearing debris that might block flow. So, stormwater runoff enters the slot and runs down the subsurface channel into the stormwater collection system.

“With Brickslot, they’re looking for something low profile but still capable of catching the water efficiently,” says Charlie Reber, ACO’s New England-area sales manager.

Designed to allow trimmed surface pavers to fit tightly against the slot’s edge, the Brickslot system looks like a joint or seam.

decorative drain in concrete up close to a window on a city side walk
A lengthy section of channel drain from ACO runs along the base of a building in Atlanta’s Georgia-Pacific Plaza.
American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, Washington, D.C

This project, completed in 2014, features an ACO channel drain system covered by stainless-steel grates that resist high-heeled shoes penetration. The Brickslot product also creates a unified, integral impression close to the memorial’s wall.

a memorial for disabled veterans has a decorative drain running right beside it to help with standing water
The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C., features a drain grate designed to unify the visual aesthetics. With ACO’s Brickslot system, installers trim surface pavers to fit tightly against the edge of slot drain openings. This yields a surface appearance similar to a joint or seam. Photos courtesy of ACO Polymer Products Inc.
Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia

Installed in 2014, ACO’s 8-inch K200 decorative outdoor drain covers blend with the downtown center’s hardscape in the Georgia Pacific Plaza. One runs at the bottom of a long run of steps, Another runs alongside the building.

Importance of material selection

Reber says ACO representatives discuss several key issues involving drain-system product choices with designers, specifiers and contractors:

  • Type of use — pedestrian and/or vehicular
  • Cost/economics
  • Detailed guidance references for material selection. These are based on exposure to various substances since resistance to chemicals and other substances can be crucial in many industrial and commercial sites. Stainless-steel, galvanized-steel and composite drain and grate materials provide strong chemical and acid resistance. Overall, the stainless steel offers superior performance with most corrosive or acidic agents. However, certain acids can be corrosive even for stainless steel.
  • drain next to a memorialVehicular load — Ductile iron grates offer superior flexibility (“give”) in high-load settings, Reber says. Weights are classified on a scale of Class A to Class F. Class C is the most common weight classification specified for grates subject to vehicular traffic.
More choices

For stormwater-drain system grates in recreational settings, Balco turns to extruded aluminum or bronze as its material of choice. The Wichita, Kansas-based maker of an assortment of architectural products supplied the custom-fabricated architectural grating for the curvilinear drains at the Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park’s fountain plaza. The radius grating aids with drainage and also includes cutouts for fountain placement, a company spokesman says. Extruded aluminum with welded-frame construction make up the composition.

Another drain element from Balco — the PDG pool drain — was installed in a residential pool/recreation area.  A clear anodized finish coats the aluminum drain system so it resists corrosion. It also features wider treads and narrower slots to protect bare feet while allowing water to drain in the pool area.

Additionally, the integrated system includes both drain channel and outlet and surface grates. Overall, these traits minimally effect the decorative surface’s looks and complement the pool surroundings, a company spokesman says.

Got more questions about your project?

  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpeg, jpg, gif, png, pdf, Max. file size: 50 MB.
      Allowed formats: jpeg, jpg, gif, png, pdf
    • How would you like us to respond?

    • Note: Some questions will be published anonymously with their answers at the end of this story to share with other readers.