Jim Murray & Tom O’Brien have written an article about evaluating & properly up-sizing a stormwater sump pump system. Scroll down to view or click the link to download a pdf version. JMI PHCC Article Spring 2014
Jim Murray & Tom O’Brien have written an article about evaluating & properly up-sizing a stormwater sump pump system. Scroll down to view or click the link to download a pdf version. JMI PHCC Article Spring 2014
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.
An integral part of most sump pumps and especially sewage pump installations is a check valve installed in the discharge pipe of the pump. In most plumbing codes there is a requirement for a full flow check valve to be installed in any application where a sump or sewage pump is installed. This prevents the back flow from the sanitary or storm sewer siphoning back into your basin or sump pit after the pump shuts off. (See typical installation below)
The check valve is a fitting that has a flapper that acts as a one way trap door by allowing the water flowing out to open the flapper while the pump is running. When the pump stops the water in the discharge line forces the flapper or trap door closed.
There is a secondary benefit to having a check valve, it helps prevent the constant recycling and re-pumping of the same water left in the discharge pipe when the pump shuts off.
Below is a drawing of a typical sump or sewage pump installation. Note the need for a 3/16″ diameter bleed hole in the discharge pipe. We suggest that it be located below the “On” point of the pump being installed. The bleed hole is to prevent an air lock and in essence it would allow water to fill the pump base with water, rather than air.
Every year when the temperature drops below freezing we get a few phone calls from frantic home owners that say “My sump pump seems to be running, but it’s not discharging water”.
This usually happens if you have a small diameter pipe or flexible hose discharging to a low spot in your yard, perhaps that low spot is full of frozen water. We will usually suggest that the home owner un-plug the sump pump and detatch the small diameter hose pipe and install a 3″ or 4″ diameter pipe that would be pitched away from the house allowing the water to flow by gravity through the larger pipe. Plug the sump pump back in and observe that the water is actually flowing away from the house.
If you have a buried sump pump discharge line and you think the discharge line is frozen this situation is a bit more complicated. You may want to consult with a plumbing professional. You will need to locate where the discharge line leaves your house. Sometimes it is below grade and other times it comes out and is “elbowed” down into the ground and the rest is buried below grade.
Depending on the temperature and your drain line set-up you may want to temporally cut into the discharge line and attach a larger discharge pipe above grade rather than digging things up during the winter. With the ground being frozen, it could be a huge expense. Consult with a plumbing professional if you are concerned with where your water is being discharged. If you are in a city with sidewalks, ice could be an issue.
Many homes with an active sump pumps have a check valve installed which prevents the water in the discharge pipe from flowing back into the sump basin and making the pump work harder than it needs to. There are situations where you may consider removing the check valve during the winter months to prevent the freezing of trapped water in your discharge pipe. If you remove your check valve make sure you have a good pitch for the water running away from your home, otherwise the water could siphon back into the sump basin inside your home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.