Monday, January 28, 2008

Sump Wars - Third Time's the Charm

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Forget my numerous attempts to hook you up with a catchy opening. Too much time spent on where to begin about my sump pump seems way over the top. Finding the right combination of words that would draw you in like flies to poop is I have found, hard to do when the subject is sump pumps. I finally gave up. This is not a sezy subject. And as you can see, I am obviously not conducting rocket science here. But for those of you interested it was gonna start something like this ........

Imagine if you will. (my apologies to Mr Serling, but he can't care too much, he's dead fer chrisakes) A machine, a mechanism nurtured and powered from oil fields afar. A machine entwined and dependent on the grid. That network and morass of wires and poles stretched across the fields of grain. When in use, someone somewhere knows it. When in use it takes a toll if not in flesh , but hours of hard earned labor are used up in order to ensure it's continued presence in our lives.

Life would get by without this device. Yes, Life would go on. But Life is made a small amount easier to take because of it's existence. Some creature comforts are enjoyed by the folks who use this machine connected to magic conceived by Man in his quest to make Life more comfortable.

This is a humble contraption, toiling in the dark dank underworld locations found in cellars and basements coast to coast. It may never be needed, but when it is, this machine is everyone's best friend. When it fails to deliver it's reliable services, what was once taken for granted is now a pain in the ass.

These tireless and forgotten machines do not warn or give a heads up when they decide to cease operations. They just stop. The rest of Life is put on hold until they can be persuaded by cajolement or fear of fire and brimstone to........................................

See, it was gonna be deep and insightful. Words of wisdom found the hard way. But let's get a grip here folks. It's about my sump pump. Another g-d-ed gizmo I can't live without, but sure wish I could.

The problem is obvious. To control the millions of gallons of ground water that run under and often through my basement every year. The solution, punch a hole in through the concrete floor, put a pump in that hole in the floor, hook some pipe to it, and pump the water outside. Straight forward. No serious mental gymnastics required. You would think even simple minds would be able to deal with it. Assuming I am of simple mind that is. Apparently when concerning myself with anything of a hydrological nature, I fall short of the tag, "simple mind". My only consolation is my genius ole man failed also. But it would be 45 plus years before I figured it out. I assume it would not have taken him as long. Dumb and dumber.

The last great upgrade of our subterranean water control system was in the 1960's when my ole man put in a new sump pump, some new 1-1/4" black plastic pipe and stuck it out of the garage wall a few inches. (Remember the "sticking out a few inches" thing. It will become of paramount importance when the light finally came on.)

Water found it's way to the sump hole and the pump pumped it out. The floor of the basement was always wet from late January to the end of April. At least the floor guy knew the realities of basements in Maine. He tilted the floor toward the sump hole. Most of it anyway. Water came in for free each year, and each year we paid $50 a month to pump it out.

Seems that pumping the water out of the house right next to the house is not a good idea. Especially if the ground being saturated ends up being a catch basin which then reloads the ongoing water assault going on so busily under the floor, against the walls and up through drains. A few inches of pipe just won't do it as it turns into baling the boat from the bow and dumping it into the stern. A closed system fountain like folks buy down to Home Depot in the Spring for that front yard makeover they have had on the drawing board for years now. You know, the one they always wanted to plant next to that Sister Mary of the Bathtub Shrine they erected with love so many years ago.

Number than dumb I exercised this futility for 25 years. Continued the same path to stupid started so long ago by my smarter than average dad. When finishing some re-construction in the basement last year I thought, “Hey, look at that sump hole. I bet I could improve it. Make it better, more efficient and clean up that mess of pipes and clamps.”

So I did. Pulled the pump. Dug out 40 years of silt. Filled three 5 gallon buckets. Dumped in some stone and made a nice little brick base for the pump to rest on. Cleaned up the pipe routing and then sat back. Pleased with myself, I went outside to watch my overhauled water management system perform its magic.

“Hmm”, I thought as I watched the water spew out and pool next to the garage. “I wonder where that water goes that’s higher than the floor of my garage? It sure don’t seem to be draining much now does it? Uh, I wonder where it goes?” Then I scratched my sack and sucked on that pesky piece of gristle from supper and spit. “Maybe I oughta try to get it farther from the house. Like get it to where gravity will take over and remove it from my life for good. Or at least until next year.” Scratched again and looked like I felt. This Eureka moment was long in coming. Number than a pounded thumb.

So I pieced together some old plastic pipe to the stub sticking out and 75 feet later I had the water harmlessly running down the drive. I guess I should be grateful that it only took me 25 years to figure this out. The basement has stayed relatively dry and the damp held at bay. But once again proving I am not the sharpest tool in the shed put a damper on my self satisfaction.

Okay. We have the water under control. It is now this winter. The Winter of 07-08. My slapped together patchwork of pipe and hose is in place and ready. Even did a dress rehearsal and ran the hose into the sump hole just to make sure everything was working as planned. November and December ran their course. My solution was working. My basement had never been drier.

And then two days ago while nursing that first cup of coffee and contemplating a day outside shoveling snow, blowing snow and what to wear, I heard the sound. A muffled groan of machinery not being allowed to do what it was supposed to do. A machine was in pain.

It only took a moment to find the problem. My wonderful new water diversion scheme was not diverting much and complaining because it couldn’t. Who knew how long that pump had been pumping up a dead hole? But for the cold groundwater that was creeping up to that over flow point, I am sure there would have been smoke and the smell of electricity on fire. I knew immediately my wonderfully conceived water dispersal network had fallen victim to the sub zero temps. Somewhere in the patchworked and jury rigged mess of pipe and clamp some water had frozen. Plugged up. Constipated.

Quickly I hooked up what peices of pipe I could find to create yet new drainage away from my home. It froze up before night fall. Damn! No more pipe. My Sunday afternoon was now shot. Instead of relaxing watching the NFL network and all that important just have to know what's up information about the upcoming Super Bowl, I sat in my truck for an hour hoofing it to the closest Loew's and that emergency fix I know I would find there.

1/2 hour of floundering back in the plumbing section successfully filled my cart with three 25 foot sections of flexible sump pump hose at $12.49 each, a variey of clamps and a few connectors to turn those 3 lengths into one 75 foot curefor my water woes.

Here's to hoping the thrid time is indeed the charm.


Brambor said...

My sump pump issues are somewhat solved now. After the creation of a swimming pool in the basement (more times than I care to admit) I have finally setted on crude albeit still imperfect solution.

The problems:
1.Sump pumps floater gets tangled and does not turn the pump on - water in the basement

2.Sump pump floater gets tangled and does not turn the pump off - burned motor on teh sump pump.

3.Water in a hose outside freezes - water does not pump out of the basement and therefore floods the basement.

4.Make the hose short to avoid frozen water in the hose - water congregates around the foundation and floods right back in which makes the pump run more and consume electricity.

5.Ice storm or power outage does not turn the sump pump on - flooded basement.


Solution for 1 and 2: Stand up pump from Sears is more reliable.

Solution for 3: Cut the hose so only inches stick out of the foundation window.

Solution for 4: Buy 4-5 sections of plastic gutters. Inexpensive. Stack them so that the water out of the basement window flows out and away from the foundation. The gutters can collapse and be put along the foundation or under the porch for easy storage only to be taken out when needed.

5. Get a generator - I still haven't bought one!

MRMacrum said...

brambor- Over the 27 years I have been dealing with sump pumps, I have dealt with all 5 of your problems. My answer for the tangled floater was to buy one that hinged and could not tangle. Stand ups never lasted more than a year or two. An expensive 3/4 horse submersible is the way to go IMO. And I have a back up pump on hand at all times.

As to you solving your frozen line problem- I thought about the gutter thing also, but I really have to get the water at least 75 feet away from the house. Dealing with that much gutter is way harder than flexible hose given my situation. So far the light weight flexible hose I bought works well. If it freezes, I just bring it into the garage for a few hours to thaw it out.