Jul 092012
 

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.

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.

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.

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.