Jan 252011
 

The biggest maintenance item with any sump pump or sewage pump system is becoming familiar with the product and periodically giving it a visual inspection.

If you have an active sump pump that cycles daily or more often you may already know something is wrong if you don’t hear the sump pump running. Don’t wait for your pump to fail. Be proactive and look in your sump basin and observe its function.

In this article we are going to focus on drainage sump pumps, these are sump pumps that handle foundation water that enters the sump basin from foundation drain tiles that are installed when the home is being built and serve as a conduit which is in turn connected to the sump basin that collects the water.

The sump pump is installed in the sump basin and is equipped with an automatic level switch, usually called a float switch,  that activates the sump pump when water reaches a set level. It will automatically turn off when it reaches the pre set “off” level.

Because of the nature of the sump basin being installed on the lowest level of the home it is not uncommon for sediment, sand or stones to erode into the sump basin along with the drainage water. This can cause a problem over time and in turn can cause a sump pump to fail or impair its operation.

For starters you should take a flash light and look into the sump basin to make sure the switch or float are clear and free, and that there are no obstructions that could prevent the pump from turning on and off. Second, look to see if there is an accumulation of sand, sediment or stones. If there is you will need to clean this out or have a professional do it for you. If you decide to do this yourself you must unplug the pump from its electrical outlet first. There are situations where the entire pump will have to be removed in order to thoroughly clean all the debris from the sump basin and then reinstall the pump. Other situations may only require use of a pair of rubber gloves or a wet/dry vac.

Every installation of a sump pump is not the same. I have found that sump basins in a new construction home have a tendency to accumulate more sediment and debris than in a sump basin in an older home. This is mainly due to settling of the material used in backfilling and soil conditions. So a sump system in a newer home should be inspected more often.

As far a covers for sump basins, we strongly recommend that they be installed on all drainage sump basins. Some covers are concrete and can be easily removed and reset quite simply, but often steel or plastic covers are used and are bolted down. If you are not comfortable taking the cover off call a professional plumber and have them inspect and clean your sump basin. At that point I would recommend that you ask them to install a high water alarm so you can be notified when your pump is not working.

Do you have a sump pump that hardly ever runs? That can be a potential problem too. Every sump pump needs some exercise or a test run. You can do that by carefully and slowly adding water to the sump basin and letting the sump pump run a normal cycle. If you have a sump pump that has not run for many years, don’t be surprised if it does not work. Over the years I have seen may sump pumps fail due to lack of use.

Remember to be proactive and inspect your sump pump basin. Many sump pumps fail prematurely because they are clogged or jammed with debris, a simple cleaning and frequent test running can extend the life of a sump pump.

How Long Should a Sump Pump Last?

 check valve, float switch, Sump Basin, Sump Pump  Comments Off on How Long Should a Sump Pump Last?
Jan 182011
 

This is a question that people ask me all the time. My answer always starts with another question, “How long has your existing sump pump been in service?” I feel if you have received 7 to 8 years of life from a basic sump pump you should consider replacing it. I do know there are plenty of pumps in service that are a lot older. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbvImHRE1FcI

I also know that there are a few sump pump installations that never make it through to the end of their warranty. When I hear about that I wonder if the problem was a manufacturing defect, an installation problem or an unusual job site issue. Sometimes poor installation and unusual job site issues can lead to a short pump life and in turn are mistaken as a manufacturing defect. We do receive a lot of returned sump pumps that we can find no problems with and that makes us wonder.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to visit many job sites with plumbing contractors to investigate and learn a lot about why sump pumps fail or why they have a shorter life. I feel the biggest issue with sump pumps wearing out prematurely is that people are building homes in high water table areas and builders are not sizing the diameter of the sump basin correctly. A lot of builders go with a “one size fits all” philosophy and home owners call us after they are in the home for a year or two wondering why their sump pumps don’t last very long. After a few questions you find out that their sump pump cycles every few minutes and it’s no surprise that the pump has failed because the switch has worn out.

A larger sump basin diameter would help increase the life of the sump pump and switch. An example I like to give contractors is that an 18″ diameter sump basin will hold 1 gallon of water per inch of depth where as a 24″ diameter sump basin will hold 2 gallons of water per inch of depth. With a sump basin that is 6″ larger in diameter you could double your switch and sump pump life.

A few other suggestions that I have to decrease the cycling of your sump pump, install a check valve in your discharge line. This will prevent the back flow of water when the sump pump shuts off, you won’t be pumping the same water over & over. You should also make sure the sump pumps discharge pipe leaving the home is pumping water far enough away from the foundation to prevent recycling of the same water over and over. Also, checking your gutters and down spouts to make sure the drainage system is carrying water away from the foundation.

Check back for my next article about how simple maintenance can extend your sump pump life.

Jan 132011
 

“I need a grinder pump.” is a call we often get from plumbers when in most cases what they really need is a sewage pump. Some people think that all sewage pumps grind up the waste when in fact they pump the 2″ solids by velocity with either a “vortex” or “deep vane” impeller. The “deep vane” impeller will break up the sewage, but by no means will it be ground up.

A true grinder pump will actually chop and shred the sewage and pump it through a 1-1/4″ pipe. These are powerful pumps, usually 1 or 2 horse power and 230 volt depending upon the brand, they in fact are capable of pumping the waste for over a mile to a gravity sewer.

A sewage pump for most residential applications is either a 4/10 or ½ horse power and 115 volt, they have a 2″ or 3″ discharge and they will , in most cases, only need to pump up to 15 feet of lift to a gravity sewer.

There  is a huge difference in the replacement cost of the grinder pumps, which can have a $2,000.00 to $3,000.00 retail price depending upon installation and labor. The replacement cost of a sewage pump could be in the $400.00 to $600.00 price range depending upon installation and labor.

The typical sewage pump installation we see is where there is a bathroom group of fixtures in a lower level that drains and collects into a basin and gets pumped to a gravity line which is connected to the gravity sewer or septic system. The sewage pump is usually installed in that 18″ x 30″ or larger basin with a sealed cover, sealed vent and discharge, and a check valve to prevent backflow from the gravity sewer.

A grinder pump is usually used in jobs where the gravity sewer is a long distance from the home, or there is a high vertical lift of 30′ or more, and in a lot if situations, is part of a pressure sewer system. There are in fact whole subdivisions where all the homes have grinder pumps. These have sewer laterals that are 1-1/4″ with sewer mains being 2″. The ground up waste is pumped to a municipal sewer station for treatment.

Some grinder systems are installed outdoors in a “Lift Station” or indoors in a 24″ or 30″ diameter basin with a sealed cover, sealed vent and discharge, and a check valve. Most grinder pumps have a control panel with a built in alarm because they are serving the whole house.

In my opinion, all sewage pump systems should be equipped with an alarm that is properly set and tested. This will warn you to stop using your plumbing and allow you to call your plumbing service technician before you flood.

If you have questions, we have answers. Please feel free to call us for pump sizing and unique pumping situations.

Jan 102011
 

Lately I have been recommending to those who have extremely high end finished lower levels to explore the cost of a generator, particularly a whole house generator. A whole house generator would turn on automatically if the power goes out and would in turn power the sump pump circuits along with other crucial circuits including heating, refrigeration, water well, phone, computer and security systems. With a whole house generator you would have almost unlimited pumping capabilities. You could up your pumping potential by then adding a second or larger sump pump and a “Duplex Control Panel” that would alternate the run time of the  two sump pumps or turn both sump pumps on if a single sump pump could not keep up with the inflow of water. This “Duplex Control Panel” has a built in high water alarm that would let you know if one sump pump has failed or if both sump pumps are working at the same time. A generator system will test itself weekly or monthly to insure that it is ready to go when you need it.

The key again is maintenance and testing. If you travel frequently or spend several months away from your home, you should have someone regularly check your house and basement. If you have a home security system it can be attached to your sump pump system or you can have an “Automatic Phone Dialer” installed that will notify you of any sump pump issues.

Secondary Pump vs. Battery Back Up

 battery back up system, check valve, float switch, Maintenance, Sump Pump  Comments Off on Secondary Pump vs. Battery Back Up
Jan 052011
 

A lot of people tell me after they find out I’m in the sump pump business… “Boy, I need a battery back up pump, my sump pump runs all the time. In fact it can barely keep up with the water coming in.”

If that is truly the case I ask them “How often do you lose power?” and “For how long?”. If their answer is that they hardly ever lose power, then I recommend just adding a secondary sump pump and setting the float switch higher than the primary pump float switch, connecting the secondary sump pump to a separate electrical circuit, and running a separate discharge line. In addition, each sump pump should have its own check valve. If running a separate discharge line is not an option and you have to “T” or “Y” them together you will only receive 75 to 80% of the combined output. I also recommend that that give the secondary sump pump some “exercise”, in other words, unplug the primary sump pump and let the secondary sump pump get some run time. Do this every 60 to 90 days for a few hours at a time. If their answer is that they lose power all the time then I confirm that yes they probably should have a battery back up pump. But I tell them to keep in mind that most battery back up pumps only put out a fraction of what a 1/3hp, 115v pump puts out in gallons per minute or hour. A battery back up pump also has limitations depending upon the age and quality of the battery.

Every back up system will need maintenance and attention, it is a commitment, and I recommend giving these sump pumps some “exercise” too. You need to make sure the sump pumps will perform when needed. I recommend you use the largest maintenance free battery that you can buy and change it at least every two years. Talk to your plumber installation technician about a yearly check up.