Nov 112011

“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.

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.

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.

Finished Lower Level? – You and Your Customer Need Protection

 battery back up system, Finished Lower Level, High Water Alarm, Sump Basin, Sump Pump  Comments Off on Finished Lower Level? – You and Your Customer Need Protection
Dec 302010

The cost of cleaning up a flooded basement in 2011 is astronomical. Just recently I received an insurance claim for over $16,000.00 relating to a failed sump pump that was over five years old. Yes… I said five years old! You have got to be kidding?!?!?

In this particular case the sump pump impeller was jammed with a buildup of iron and minerals, a sandwich bag full of debris, to be exact! This buildup prevented the sump pump from starting and the motor overheated and burnt itself up. I was surprised the homeowner did not smell something. Eventually the water raised up, probably after a big rain storm, saturated the foundation and leaked in around the finished areas creating a real mess.

“How could this be prevented?” you might ask. Well the homeowner should have tested the sump pump and periodically cleaned the sump basin as outlined in the owners information provided with each sump pump that leaves our shop. Or the owner or plumber could have installed a simple “High Water Alarm” set a few inches above the point where the sump pumps float switch turns the pump on; the homeowner would have been notified that there was a “high water” situation sooner and would have been able to remedy the situation before the water had backed up into the drain tiles and caused the flooding.

The retail cost of a basic “High Water Alarm” with a 9 volt battery, similar to a smoke detector, is about $35.00 and is easy to install. A better high water alarm, similar to a septic tank alarm, retails at around $109.00 and some can even be wired directly into a home security system or an “Auto-Dialer” that notifies the homeowner if they are away from their home.

The key is to remember with any of these  high water alarms is that they need to be tested and checked yearly, or even more often, if they have an active sump pump.

Or… how about a battery back up system, which is always a great idea and will be the subject of my next blog.

Remember… a finished lower level means you and your customers need protection.