Jim Murray  & Tom O’Brien have written an article about evaluating & properly up-sizing a stormwater sump pump system.  Scroll down to view or click the link to download a pdf version.  JMI PHCC Article Spring 2014

A jammed or clogged sump or sewage pump will eventually heat up internally and the motor will shut itself down. There is a thermal overload switch inside the pump that will automatically sense that the pump has cooled down and eventually the pump will try to run and pump again.

The thermal overload switch will protect the pump motor from overheating and burning out the electrical windings of the motor.

There is a limit to how long the thermal overload will last, we have been told by various motor manufacturers that this heat sensitive switch will last up to 20 days of heating up and cooling down.

In most cases, within a 20 day period the property owner or someone will notice that the pump is not running and will have it removed and checked. Beyond that 20 day time frame the motor could be permanently damaged and a dead short in the windings will cause the circuit breaker to fail. By that time the pump would have to be repaired or replaced.

Depending on the critical nature of the sump or sewage pump, a high water alarm would warn the property owner that this pump is not working and steps could be taken long before the pump is damaged or a flood occurs.

Jammed/Clogged 2 inch Sewage Pump

If you are a Commercial Plumbing Contractor you probably know that building redundancy into your mechanical systems is a good thing. In fact in many states the building codes requires a duplex pumping system for wastewater pump systems.

Some states, like Wisconsin, go as far as specifically requiring a pump and basin sizing formula. This formula essentially insures that the proper size equipment is used in order to meet the demand of the inflow based on the water that supplies the plumbing fixtures.

The SSPMA (Sump & Sewage Pump Manufacturing Association) also has a set of standards or “best practices” that guide the Plumber and Plumbing Designer on what will work too. In many cases the individual state codes have incorporated the SSPMA’s tried and true methods into their plumbing requirements.

The link below will get you to the SSPMA sizing guide lines power point and will fill you in on general pump system sizing terminology and methods.

www. sspma.org

As far as Wisconsin plumbing codes goes, the Pro’s at Jim Murray, Inc. actually have a State of Wisconsin DSPS continuing education class where both simplex and duplex sizing is covered.

The Pro’s at Jim Murray, Inc. can also help you reverse engineer a pump system in the event that and existing pump data or information due to age is not available.

For the first time in over a decade a lot of homeowners have mentioned that their sump pump has stopped running on a regular basis. Hard to believe, but it is true that the water table has subsided and homeowners who had pumps that cycled steadily have dried up. This is also a signal that your foundation may be settling . Please click on the below link to read an article about looking for new cracks and movement in your foundation.

The Daily Reporter, 9-5-12, Fault Lines: Foundation Repair Companies Blame Drought for Increase in Basement Cracks

This is also an opportunity to remove and clean your drainage sump basin and pump. Yes, if you are mechanical, you can remove your pump from the sump basin and take an empty coffee can or shop vac and collect the silt, rock and construction debris that has settled in your basin over time.

While the pump is out, it would be a good idea to inspect and remove any stones or sticks that may be in the intake. Hose off any mud that may have built up on the pump. Inspect the check valve too; that is a wear item that can easily be replaced. Consider replacing it with a new silent check valve.

Reinstall your pump the same way it came out. Check your owners manual for other details. Use a garden hose or a large bucket of water to carefully fill your sump basin and activate the pump several times. Job Complete!

If you have a sump basin that is relatively clean, I would suggest adding water as mentioned above and allowing your pump to cycle several times. Exercising your sump pump during dry weather is always a good idea.

If you live in an area where your sump pump runs all the time, now would be a great time to replace your small diameter sump basin with a new larger diameter basin.

A lot of plumbers and home owners ask me “What is the biggest problem you have with sump pumps?”. They are surprised when I tell them it’s the size of the basin or sump that the pump is put in that is the problem. Most new homes built in Wisconsin an Illinois receive a standard 18″x22″ basin that only holds 1 gallon per inch. The typical draw down or pump cycle is 4-6 inches. So that means each time the pump runs it’s only removing 6 gallons at best.

If you increase the basin size to 24″ in diameter you could double output per cycle to 2 gallons per inch, or 12 gallons per cycle. Your pump switch, which is what most people think is the biggest problem in a sump pump, should in theory double the life of the pump. If you could go to a 30″ diameter basin your cycle would be 3 gallons per inch and subsequently triple the life of your switch and pump.

Most pump manufacturers recommend the 18″x22″ basin as a minimum size for drainage sumps. So that minimum has become the industry standard. Which is fine if your pump seldom runs, but if you live in a high water table area that’s bad.

A lot of folks think a bigger pump will solve their sump pump problems. The bigger pump will only eject the water faster, the pump cycle will actually be the same as a smaller pump unless you can adjust the length of the cycle. Here too you are limited by the depth of the basin and the space for the adjustable floats to work properly.

A larger basin will allow a larger pump to cycle longer. It’s better to allow your pump to get 10-20 seconds of run time. The larger basin will also accommodate a secondary pump or a battery back up system and will allow for a better installation, where the switches will not interfere with each other.

If you are building a new home in a high water table area, ask your builder or plumber to install a larger basin, your sump pump will last longer.

In some cold weather installations where the drainage sump pump pumps the water out to grade (your yard) or into an open site drain like your gutter or down spouts a plumber or installer may not use a check valve due to the possibility of the discharge line freezing the trapped water in the pipe during the winter. Even with the possibility of freezing there are some drainage installations that incorporate horizontal discharge pipes where you would want a check valve installed to prevent the lengthy discharge pipe from siphoning back into your basin after the pump shuts off.

We suggest consulting a licenced plumber or foundation specialist familiar with local plumbing codes when routing or connecting your sump pump discharge line. We also suggest that when you replace your sump or sewage pump you also replace the check valve, flappers have been known to break at the hinge and if your pump has failed, your check valve is soon to follow.

If you have a lengthy discharge pipe system we recommend a ball valve to be installed above the check valve to isolate the long column of water when servicing the check valve or the pump. There are some check valves that screw right into the discharge of the sump pump. If you use this type keep in mind that you will have the whole column of water to deal with when you change or services this pump. We also suggest using a separate check valve and ball valve for any two pump (duplex) system. This prevents one pump from back feeding to the other pump.

We also suggest bracing or clamping your pumps discharge pipe securely to the wall or structure to prevent any torque or movement of the pump when it starts or stops. We have heard of poorly installed pump discharge pipes coming apart at the check valve. Again, check you local plumbing codes, some areas do not allow rubber connections in the discharge pipe of any sump or sewage pumps.

Finally, there is a lot of discussion about whether a check valve should be installed horizontally or vertically. This too may be covered in the local plumbing codes. Most check valve manufacturers will emboss arrows on the valve for either method of installation. Some pump manufacturers feel that a check valve installed horizontally will open better if there is a build up of solids, sediment, or waste resting on the flapper. Others feel that the flapper closes better in the vertical position. I personally prefer the vertical installation.

Check out our online catalog for our full line of check valves, from 1-1/4″ thru 4″, including silent check valves and clear check valves, a selection second to none.

An integral part of most sump pumps and especially sewage pump installations is a check valve installed in the discharge pipe of the pump. In most plumbing codes there is a requirement for a full flow check valve to be installed in any application where a sump or sewage pump is installed. This prevents the back flow from the sanitary or storm sewer siphoning back into your basin or sump pit after the pump shuts off. (See typical installation below)

The check valve is a fitting that has a flapper that acts as a one way trap door by allowing the water flowing out to open the flapper while the pump is running. When the pump stops the water in the discharge line forces the flapper or trap door closed.

There is a secondary benefit to having a check valve, it helps prevent the constant recycling and re-pumping of the same water left in the discharge pipe when the pump shuts off.

Below is a drawing of a typical sump or sewage pump installation. Note the need for a 3/16″ diameter bleed hole in the discharge pipe. We suggest that it be located below the “On” point of the pump being installed. The bleed hole is to prevent an air lock and in essence it would allow water to fill the pump base with water, rather than air.

Typical Installation

Typical Installation

We get a few calls each year from plumbers, builders and inspectors about homes or buildings under construction that miscalculate the sewer elevation.

You guessed it, somebody miscalculated the location of the gravity sewer connection in the street or they set the elevation of the house too low.

If the building has a basement, the plumber can re-route and install a hung sewer that will offer gravity drainage for a portion of the building or home. If that is feasible they will only have to pump a portion of the home and the rest will be taken away by gravity.

Depending on the design of the lower level or basement, the hung sewer may not be an option. Then the whole house will need to be pumped. If that is the case we have the experience to help design and supply a properly sized waste water system that will work for your job.

Here are a few questions to consider.

How many water supply fixtures are there?

Is it a residential or commercial building?

What is the total vertical pumping height?

What is the total horizontal pumping distance, and are there any elbows or other pipe fittings?

We can size the basin, pumps, switches and controls to fit most situations. And as always we recommend a highwater alarm for all pump systems and suggest a duplex system (two pumps) for large estate size homes as added protection.

Every year when the temperature drops below freezing we get a few phone calls from frantic home owners that say “My sump pump seems to be running, but it’s not discharging water”.

This usually happens if you have a small diameter pipe or flexible hose discharging to a low spot in your yard, perhaps that low spot is full of frozen water. We will usually suggest that the home owner un-plug the sump pump and detatch the small diameter hose pipe and install a 3″ or 4″ diameter pipe that would be pitched away from the house allowing the water to flow by gravity through the larger pipe. Plug the sump pump back in and observe that the water is actually flowing away from the house.

If you have a buried sump pump discharge line and you think the discharge line is frozen this situation is a bit more complicated. You may want to consult with a plumbing professional. You will need to locate where the discharge line leaves your house. Sometimes it is below grade and other times it comes out and is “elbowed” down into the ground and the rest is buried below grade.

Depending on the temperature and your drain line set-up you may want to temporally cut into the discharge line and attach a larger discharge pipe above grade rather than digging things up during the winter. With the ground being frozen, it could be a huge expense. Consult with a plumbing professional if you are concerned with where your water is being discharged. If you are in a city with sidewalks, ice could be an issue.

Many homes with an active sump pumps have a check valve installed which prevents the water in the discharge pipe from flowing back into the sump basin and making the pump work harder than it needs to. There are situations where you may consider removing the check valve during the winter months to prevent the freezing of trapped water in your discharge pipe. If you remove your check valve make sure you have a good pitch for the water running away from your home, otherwise the water could siphon back into the sump basin inside your home.

“You need to look at this thing and understand how it works”

Failures of battery back up systems can occur due to lack of maintenance. People spend a lot of money on these products and sometimes they feel they should last for years without as much as looking at them.

I recently got a call from a customer who installed a battery back up system for a single woman who built a new home in a high water table area. The plumber recommended a battery back up system and it was an easy sale, as the primary pump ran every few minutes during construction.

Unfortunately the primary pump had failed after 18 months and the battery back up failed to turn on because the “wet” battery had not been maintained. The battery was totally dry and the homeowner said “nobody told me I had to maintain anything”. The homeowner also felt that due to the fact that she had never had a power outage the battery should be as good as new because “it never had to work”. Actually the batteries are being trickle charged and the chemical reaction working in some batteries causes the electrolyte to evaporate.

Well, from my perspective as the supplier of this system, the plumber or the builder needs to go over this product with the homeowner. There was in fact a label on the battery case as a reminder that this system needs to be maintained and that the battery should be checked on a regular basis.

There are newer and more high-tech systems that are coming out on the market that will alarm and alert homeowners when they need to check critical functions. The battery back up that this particular homeowner had was a pretty basic unit. Some can be hooked up to a home security system which is highly recommended. In fact you can have your security company add a separate float switch that will work to notify your alarm company that you have a high water situation.

Even with all this technology, a service agreement to actually visit the home and simulate a failure and test the pumps and system on a regular basis should be offered. If you can not get people to buy a service agreement, a file should be kept on them and a reminder sent to tell them it’s time for a new battery.

In our next article we will discuss batteries and maintenance free batteries, testing and installation.

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