Aug 182011

In my last blog article I touched on this topic now, recently a customer brought in two 18 month old sewage grinder pumps that had failed. The motors in both pumps had burnt and open windings. The service plumber said they when they had a tank cleaner vacuum out the basin they had to scrape the walls of the basin with a shovel. (Please note the attached photo of the two grease caked pumps next to a new pump)

When I was asked why the pumps had failed I told the service plumber that the control floats were probably caked with grease too, and that they were not able to operate properly in such a greasy environment. My guess was that the pumps turned on at some point and the grease build up did not allow the pumps to turn off and they ran continuously until they burned themselves out.

My recommendation to the service plumber was to have the grease trap cleaned monthly and have the duplex system inspected and the floats cleaned quarterly. I also recommended replacing the control panel and floats as the original were over 15 years old.

Jun 172011

We get a lot of call from customers requesting that we come visit their job sites that have older commercial pumps systems. We are asked to inspect and prepare a quote, if necessary, for pumps, controls and covers. We are willing to do this to help insure that we are supplying the proper product. If the pump system is really old and unidentifiable, we can often times reverse engineer the system based on the plumbing code and established formulas used by plumbing designers.

Restaurants and commercial kitchens are really hard on pumps and floats, even with a “well maintained” grease interceptor, a lot of grease and fat can collect in the sump and on the floats. Commercial dishwashers and overuse of some cleaning solutions that go down the drain can effect the pumps power cords, seals, gaskets, and anything rubber leading to a shorter product life.

Most property owners or maintenance technicians will call you when they hear an alarm or if they have water backing up their floor drain. Let’s hope it’s the alarm and not the latter.

Typical Duplex Pumping System

Sometimes it’s just a matter of cleaning and adjusting the floats or pumps switches. If the system is set up properly the floats will be accessible and easily removed to be cleaned and reinstalled. If it is a true duplex system, there will be an alternator with a “hand on / off” switch for each pump inside the control box. Some commercial pump systems will have a rod and float set-up with a mechanical alternator. On larger covers there is usually an access opening that the floats can be serviced through.

If you can manually activate one or both pumps and they both seem to draw the tank down, you could eliminate the pumps as being the problem. If you know the amp rating of the pumps and you can test, then you would insure that both pumps are working to spec. Caution: Always disconnect ALL circuits feed the pump and control panel before servicing.

If one or the other pump hums and does not start you could either pull the pump and inspect the base and impeller for clogs and debris or switch the pump power cord to the “good” running side of the panel and see if the humming pump starts, or if it reacts the same way on the “good” side of the panel.

If the pumps are 3 phase electric and you change the power cords, the rotation of the impeller will need to be checked before reinstalling the pumps.

If you are suspicious of the integrity of the control panel you may want to consult a qualified electrician. The sensor floats that operate the control panel can be tested with an OHM meter by simply disconnecting each individual float and lifting it while observing the OHM meter for continuity.

We always recommend that a vacuum truck be brought to the site on a regular basis to clean and wash the tank especially if there is a build up of grease and debris.

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.