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.

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.

May 102011

Over twenty years ago Radon Gas and testing for radon started to come to light in the media after the Environmental Protection Agency issued reports about studies that stated radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

Radon is a natural element caused by the decay and different levels of uranium that are found in soil and rock. It can seep into homes through foundation cracks and sump pump drain tiles. It is odorless and tasteless, yet it can be tested with an inexpensive EPA certifies test kit that are available at hardware stores and other retail outlets.

Where does Jim Murray, Inc. fit into the radon world? We supply sump pump basins with sealed covers. We also make custom size clear polycarbonate and schedule 80 pvc covers, both in 1/4″ and 3/8″ thickness, made to your specifications with selected cord seals and pipes seals (up to 4″). These basins and covers are used by the contractor as part of the radon mitigation services. Yes, there are specialists out there that are EPA Certified and state approved that can test, evaluate and remove radon from your home.

In new home construction, modern building techniques are incorporated to eliminate the entry of radon into the home or basement. Ask your builder what steps or features in the construction process they take to prevent or mitigate radon from the home.

Attached is a Radon Fact Sheet provided by the Southeast Wisconsin Radon Info Center that describes radon and offers more information and suggestions.

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 282011

At Jim Murray, Inc. we specialize in sump, sewage and wastewater pump and pumping related products for residential and commercial applications. In this blog article we will try to break down the most common categories and offer a description to help you identify your product and how it works.

4 Pump Calcifications We Deal With

Dewatering Pump:

Generally referred to as a drainage or clearwater sump pumps. Dewatering pumps have screens which prevent the solids from entering the pump. These pumps are used to pump ground water out to grade or to a storm sewer. These pumps usually have a 1-1/4″ or 1-1/2″ discharge.

Effluent Pump:

Effluent pumps are rated for the use in sanitary sump drainage applications. These pumps are designed to pump grey water and capable of passing limited amounts of ½” or 3/4″ solids. The sump basin used must be gas tight and vented according to code. Most often these pumps are 1-1/2″ discharge, and sometimes they are 2″ discharge. Effluent type pumps are often used in septic and or mound systems.

Sewage Pump:

Sewage pumps are used in sanitary pumping applications where toilets are being used. These pumps are capable of passing 2″ solids. As with effluent pumps, sewage pump basins must be gas tight and vented according to code. 2″ discharge is very common, but 3″ discharge may also be found on older residential or commercial applications.

Sewage Grinder Pump:

Grinder pumps are very powerful sewage handling pumps that actually chop, grind, and shred the sewage and reduce it to a slurry. Sewage grinder pumps are capable of pumping this slurry through smaller diameter pipe and for much higher and longer distances than a sewage handling pump. 1-1/4″ discharge is common, however the discharge pipe may be increased to a larger pipe size.

How your pump works:

All of the above pumps have impellers that are attached to the shaft of the pumps motor and turn inside of the pump volute to eject the liquid. Below is a list of common sump and wastewater impellers. Attached are cut away drawings that will give you a visual idea of the internal design of each impeller.

Vortex Impeller:

A vortex impeller is located at the top of the pump volute, as it spins it creates velocity that transfers the liquids and solids. By theory, this impeller is a better selection for handling solids than a deep vane impeller because the solids are less likely to come in contact with the impeller. (Please see 18S cut away)

18S Cut Away

Deep Vane Impeller:

The deep vane impeller paddles the liquid and solids. Pumps with these type of impellers typically will produce a greater gpm outlet. (Please see 16S cut away)

16S Cut Away

Vortex Grinder Pumps:

A grinder pump uses a cutter and shredder to reduce the solids to a slurry. As the solids pass through the cutter they reach the volute where a vortex impeller passes the slurry along. (Please see Omni Grind+ cut away)

Omni Grind + Cut Away

Progressive Cavity Grinder Pumps:

This grinder too has a cutter and shredder to reduce the solids to a slurry. The slurry is then removed by the positive displacement of a rotor and a rubber stator. (Please see UltraCav cut away)

UltraCav Cut Away

So there you have it, hopefully you now have a better understanding of how your pump works.

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

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)

Feb 032011

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

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

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.

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.