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.

Dec 282011

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.

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 092011

A lot of motor powered tools and appliances are rated by horsepower. The technical definition of horsepower is, horsepower is a unit for measuring the power of motors, one horsepower equals 33,000 foot pounds of work per minute. A foot pound is the amount of energy required to raise a one pound weight a distance of one foot.

What does all that mean? If you were an engineer you would be familiar with a formula that could chart the efficiency and recommend the best product for the job. For the average Joe or Jim, more horsepower means more power, which is not always the case….

In terms of sump pumps we look more at gallons per minute and hour more than at horsepower. Most sump pumps are rated by horsepower, but are also rated by gallons per minute and gallons per hour. Every pump has a performance curve that is based on the gallons per minute on the horizontal axis; and the vertical lift which is also called total dynamic head on the vertical axis. (Please see below for examples of various pump curves)

Pump Curve Example 1

Pump Curve Example 2

Most 1/3 horsepower sump and effluent pumps will deliver between 35 and 50 gallons per minute at 10 feet of vertical lift or total dynamic head. There are 1/3 horsepower effluent pumps that will pump 60 gallons per minute at a 10 foot total dynamic head. I can also site examples of pumps that are rated at ½ horsepower that will pump less than 70 gallons per minute. The actual performance has to do with the RPM of the motor, the amount of copper or metal in the motor, the size of the impeller and the design of the pump volute (the pump base or case).

What does this mean? Well, it means don’t purchase a sump or effluent pump based on horsepower, look at the gallons per minute or gallons per hour first. Then I suggest looking at how much electricity or the amp hour rating the pump has. The lower the amp rating the more efficient, or less energy will be consumed.

There are now sump pumps on the market that are equipped with a PSC motor, a “Permanent Split Capacitor” that are very efficient and can consume up to 40 or 50% less energy and deliver more gallons per minute or gallons per hour than ever before. (Please see our specifications for model # PZM-EP-33V-SJ http://www.jimmurrayinc.com/pumps_detail.asp?id=120)

How much can you save with an energy efficient sump pump? If the average cost per kilowatt hour is $0.12 and your pump runs for 5 minutes per hour year round you could save as much as $50.00 a year. (Please see The Definition of Green is Pro Series Pumps)

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.

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.

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.