May 102011
 

Over twenty years ago Radon Gas and testing for radon started to come to light in the media after the Environmental Protection Agency issued reports about studies that stated radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

Radon is a natural element caused by the decay and different levels of uranium that are found in soil and rock. It can seep into homes through foundation cracks and sump pump drain tiles. It is odorless and tasteless, yet it can be tested with an inexpensive EPA certifies test kit that are available at hardware stores and other retail outlets.

Where does Jim Murray, Inc. fit into the radon world? We supply sump pump basins with sealed covers. We also make custom size clear polycarbonate and schedule 80 pvc covers, both in 1/4″ and 3/8″ thickness, made to your specifications with selected cord seals and pipes seals (up to 4″). These basins and covers are used by the contractor as part of the radon mitigation services. Yes, there are specialists out there that are EPA Certified and state approved that can test, evaluate and remove radon from your home.

In new home construction, modern building techniques are incorporated to eliminate the entry of radon into the home or basement. Ask your builder what steps or features in the construction process they take to prevent or mitigate radon from the home.

Attached is a Radon Fact Sheet provided by the Southeast Wisconsin Radon Info Center that describes radon and offers more information and suggestions.

Apr 252011
 

A service plumber from a plumbing company had called me from a job site and said his customer had a clear radon sump cover on the sump basin and it appeared that the pump was running, but not removing the water. When the plumber was looking into the sump basin there was bubbling and turbulence. To complicate matters there were two pumps in the basin, one primary pump and one battery back up pump, both discharge pipes were coming up through the cover and were tee-ed together. He could not tell which pump, or if both pumps were running as both discharge pipes were vibrating.

As a process of elimination I asked the plumber to unplug the primary pump. He did and reported that nothing had changed, there was still turbulence and bubbling action going on in the sump basin. I then asked if each pump had its own check valve and sure enough, they did.. The plumber asked “why two check valves?” and I explained that without a separate check valve for each pump there would be water recirculating from pump to pump.

As it turned out the primary pump had a stone jammed in the impeller and the check valve for the primary pump had a broken flapper. The battery back up pump was just recycling water through the path of least resistance, the primary pump.

The plumber did mention that the alarm on the battery back up system did not work. Some battery back up systems have an alarm with a “silence mode”. I asked him to check the alarm to see if it was set to this “silent mode” and it appeared that it had been “silenced”.

With the rock removed from the primary pumps impeller, a new check valve installed, the alarm mode set to “audible” and the radon cover resealed the homeowner is back in business. Fortunately the homeowner had heard a different noise coming from the area where the sump pump was located and took action by calling a professional plumber. The service plumber had never seen this type of installation and called us for troubleshooting advice. A Job well done. Mysterious bubbling sump pump solved.

Mar 162011
 

When I was in college I moved my study room into my parents basement. Yes, I lived at home, I was a “commuter” student. The study room was in an area located right next to the sump pump, which may have been the inspiration for my life’s work.

Late one night in March, I think it was around St. Patrick’s Day, I came home to finish some reading only to find the window well above my desk full of water and leaking around the sash and water running down my cork board wall drenching my desk. Fortunately no electrical devices were on my desk to get wet or damaged. In 1973 the only things that were at risk were my eight track tapes, and they were safe.

The sump pump was running continuously, so I ran outside and found the discharge pipe was un-attached and a huge pond was forming right outside that corner of the house in the flower bed. I think the discharge pipe must have broken apart due to the small diameter pipe being clogged or frozen.

Once a larger down spout pipe was attached the water started to flow away from the house. The next morning the window well was baled out and I was able to drag my cork board and desk out to dry.

Fortunately the basement was sparsely furnished. It was just concrete block walls, old furniture and a few throw rugs. Back then a finished lower level was rare and even then is was referred to as a rec room that may have included a ping pong table, a pool table, laundry room or a bar.

Remembering that event reminds me that by this time of the year, the beginning of spring, you need to take a long hard look at your sump pump discharge and make sure the water you are pumping has a place to go, other than in your flower beds.

So far in Wisconsin we have had a pretty good melt down, but there still may be some drifts and piles of snow that can block the natural drainage from around your home. In addition, you should take a walk around your home and make sure your down spouts and gutters are free and clear because in the event of a heavy spring rain you want the water from your roof to have a place to go.

If your sump basin is dry it would be a good time to carefully add water with a hose or a 5 gallon pail to “test run” your pump. You want to make sure that it runs several times so you know it is ready for the spring rains.

In closing, remember if you have a finished lower level you need protection. Consider a high water alarm or a battery back up system to protect your property.

Feb 032011
 

The sanitary sump pump is different from a drainage sump pump in that this sump basin collects wastewater from plumbing drains and fixtures. In most states, if you have a basement with a floor drain, a laundry sink or a bathroom group you may need a sanitary sump basin and pump that can eject or lift the waste water to a gravity sewer drain.

If you have a gravity sewer or drain that exits the house below the basement floor, you probably would not have a sanitary sump basin and pump. All of your wastewater would then be flowing away from the house by gravity.

These sanitary basins and pumps are installed on the lowest level of your home and can involve a simple effluent pump that would only handle wastewater from a sink or floor drain. This system would be capable of passing ½” to 3/4″ solids, it is sometimes referred to as a “gray water” system. (please click on link for an example of a “gray water” system http://www.jimmurrayinc.com/detail.asp?pid=2&catid=1)

The other common sanitary sump basin and pump would involve a sewage pump which would handle wastewater from a toilet or bathroom group which may include sinks, showers, tubs and floor drains. These sewage pumps are capable of passing 2″ solids and would have a discharge pipe of either 2″ or 3″(inside diameter). (please click on link for an example of a sewage pump system http://www.jimmurrayinc.com/detail.asp?pid=4&catid=1)

Most, if not all, sanitary sump systems are covered and sealed and vented as required by state or local plumbing codes. Check your local codes with regards to vent size and other requirements. Some states require that the sanitary sump pump be vented through the whole house plumbing vent system, some allow separate vents. Studor vents or air admittance vents are not recommended for a sanitary basin and pump.

The whole theory of venting a sealed sump cover is to create a conduit for any odor or sewer gas to escape into the environment along with the other drains throughout the home that are vented and to allow proper drainage and plumbing system design.

Inspecting and maintaining a sealed sump basin and pump is more complicated in the sense that you must re-seal the cover when you are finished with your inspection or you can expect a foul odor. If you have a sealed sump basin for sewage or effluent you can look trough the cord grommet that seals the power cord into the cover. Carefully pry this flexible rubber plug out of its hole in the cover and use a powerful flash light to observe as much as you can. After you have made your observations carefully push the rubber plug back into place to maintain the sealed effect it offers. If your view is not satisfactory, or if you suspect that there is a potential problem you can carefully un-bolt the cover and lift it up to get a better view. Remember to unplug your sewage or effluent pump before removing the cover. You will not be able to completely remove the cover because the discharge pipe and the vent pipe are sealed to the cover, but you will be able to lift the cover several inches to gain a better view of the inside of your sump basin. At this point you can now add water to observe the sewage or effluent pump cycle and get a good look at the pump working. If you suspect there is a problem you may want to consider calling a professional for an opinion or a replacement.

Some “gray water” or effluent pumps, especially in laundry or kitchen applications, can have quite a build up of “gunk” and it may involve removing and cleaning the whole pump and sump basin. It is possible that you may be able to leave the pump in place while doing this by just hosing the pump down and “purging” the whole sump basin by letting the pump run a cycle or two. Same is true for a sewage pump and basin, it can be a nasty job and you may want to call a professional.

A yearly inspection is a good rule of thumb to follow with regards to this critical part of your plumbing system. If you have valuable furnishings or property consider installing an alarm to alert you in the event of a failure. Water will back up through the floor drain if the pump fails to turn on leaving quite a mess.

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.