Hey everybody! Sorry if I’ve been AWOL lately. Work has been pretty crazy and I’ve been unable to read or comment on my regular blog reads. I’m hoping to set aside some time in the next day or two to get caught up. In the meantime, I’ve also been busy with annoying, but necessary repairs around the house. This past week I had to replace our sump pump. As far as technically challenging repairs go… on a scale of 1 to 10, this one is around a 3 or a 4, where changing a light bulb would be a 1 and replacing a furnace is a 10.
So, we’ve lived in our current NJ house for a little over 2 years now and we’ve never, ever heard our sump pump run. Even during and immediately after hurricane Sandy it was quiet. About a week ago, Lisa had been noticing this recurring humming noise coming from the basement. In typical, ‘you’re probably hearing things mode’ I blew it off as just typical furnace noise. Then a couple days later I was in the basement grabbing some tools and I heard it first hand. Crap. The sump pump was running for 30-45 seconds, would stop for 30-45 seconds then would run again. It wasn’t raining, and it hadn’t rained heavily for a couple weeks. Something is wrong with this picture.
If you don’t have a sump pump or are not sure how it works, I can explain. Most new home foundations and a lot of existing homes are outfitted with a perforated plastic pipe that wraps around the outside perimeter near the footer or the base of the basement wall. It then gets covered in gravel to prevent sand and dirt from clogging its slits. This pipe, which can be sometimes referred to as a “weeping tile” (ala Mike Holmes) then runs into the basement into a large bucket. The bucket is equipped with a sump pump that evacuates the water back outside, except it does so away from the house, keeping the foundation dry and less likely to settle further or become disturbed from water erosion.
Here’s what our bucket and evacuation pipe looks like…
The small pipe on the left is the condensate discharge from the central air system. The larger pipe on the right is the outlet pipe from the sump pump. These systems are also vented and may have two large pipes as opposed to one. We DO have a vent in this system it’s just hidden in the basin.
That large plastic box is a check valve.
The check valve prevents the water that was just pumped out from coming back down the pipe and back into the sump bucket. It’s just a little rubber gasket that only opens in one direction. When this pump was continuously running, the first thing I assumed was the check valve wasn’t sealing and it was constantly sending the water back into the basin only to be ejected again. After taking the check valve apart, cleaning it, putting it back together and then plugging the pump back in, it was still running constantly.
Time to investigate further. So, I disconnected the check valve, slid the AC discharge pipe out of the way and popped off the cover to the basin. Couple things I noticed:
1. there wasn’t much water in the bucket, only a couple of inches.
2. there was a spider in there with a leg span about as long as my thumb and with WAY more hair on its legs than mine. I’m generally not afraid of spiders. I was afraid of THIS spider.
Sump pumps usually have some type of float mechanism so when the bucket fills high enough with water, it will switch on. This pump was running AND the float was a couple inches above the water. This thing is straight up broken. Now I could try to repair the switch mechanism or I could just go out and buy a new one, a new shiny one that didn’t have giant banana spiders hidden inside. I think you can guess which way I went on this.
They even sell these in stainless steel! As if it were going to be on our kitchen counter next to the toaster.
The replacement went pretty easy. I disconnected the old sump pump at the check valve union and just pulled it out of the sump bucket. Easy. The new sump pump and the old sump pump have different PVC fittings. Take note, the one on the right has a fitting that goes OVER the threads. The new one is a female type connection, where the PVC will need to go INTO the pump. So much for reusing that pipe.
Here’s a closer shot of the fittings…
So, after assembling a few pieces to the new pump, I glued on the male fitting to a small section of 1 1/2″ PVC pipe. Lowes and Home Depot sell certain diameter pipes in larger 8′-10′ lengths and a few at 4′-5′ lengths. Since this is a smaller section, I opted for the car friendly 5′ piece.
To glue on the male fitting (which I fitted up to the display pump at Lowes to make sure I had the right one), I just placed my pipe on a stable surface to start. You’ll need both the purple primer and the PVC glue for this part.
I applied the purple primer to both pieces and then the glue to both. You need to put these two piece together within a few seconds once you apply the glue or it will harden prematurely.
To glue them together, place the male fitting over the pipe, hold it steady for a few seconds, then try to give it a very slight turn. If you get resistance to the turn, you’re good. I like to hold the piece onto the pipe for maybe 30 seconds to a minute before letting go.
Okay. The new pump was then connected to the pump and placed into the basin. I marked both the new pipe and the old pipe for length taking into consideration a gap for the new check valve.
To cut the new pipe to length, I just used my miter saw.
With the new pipe cut, I added some thread compound to the male fitting and reinstalled the pipe to the new sump pump.
To cut the existing part of the discharge pipe that was hanging from the basement wall, I used a hack saw. You could also use a reciprocating saw, aka a Sawzall, but I find they shake the pipe too much.
The new check valve is a flexible rubber boot style and it slides over the pipes and gets clamped down. You just need to leave some extra room between these pipes for this valve.
Sorry that photo is a little blurry, but you get the idea.
After the new valve was installed, I plugged it in and tested it by lifting up the float. Success!
The flexible check valve let’s you get away with the pipe being slightly misaligned, which is nice.
So, that sucked. Any annoying repairs in your future? Any 8 legged monsters?
So we (mostly me) have been thinking about adding an egress to the basement. We had the option of incorporating a basement egress when we spec’d the house out, but we declined it since the cost was significant and we had other priorities.
Why add an egress at all?
Adding an egress will allow us to bring larger objects into the basement without having to manuever them through the house. The interior access to the basement involves a turn halfway down the stairs and it would be challenging to bring in large sheets of drywall, plywood, couches, etc. Moreover, when we finish the basement, having an egress into the backyard is safer than not having any escape route at all.
There are four basic egress options we are considering, well, five if you count doing nothing at all. The first and most basic option is an egress window system. An egress window is an enlarged basement window that is low enough to use during an emergency. There are several companies in the area that can easily install an egress window in one day and the cost is reasonable. The downside of doing a window is it’s not a door. While it can be used to bring 2×4’s in, it’s no help with 4×8 sheets of plywood or drywall.
The second option is a Bilco door. A Bilco door has the ability to bring in larger building materials or sofas, but it’s usually locked when not in use, so it’s no help during an emergency like a fire. The install can be done in one day because the unit uses a pre-cast concrete stairwell. Bilco doors are weather-tight and can be painted to whatever color we want. In terms of price I think they are a step up from the window egress.
The next two options are either a single or double door option with poured concrete sidewalls and poured concrete stairs. To have this done by egress pros would cost $5k-$10k more than a Bilco door. Normal entry doors have all the advantages of a regular exterior grade door including the ability to bring in large objects and the day to day in and out use that Bilco doors and egress windows aren’t intended for. Since this option won’t have a weather covering, this door option will require a drain at the bottom of the stairwell. A drain will need to either connect to a sump pump at an additional cost or evacuate directly into the yard. The only differences between a single door or a double door design besides the material cost for a double door are a longer lintel and wider stairs.
At this point, I’m leaning towards the single door option. In order to reduce the cost, I’d like to do as much of the work myself as reasonable. I can rent the excavation equipment and hire out the concrete cutting portion. I’ve already had a professional engineer evaluate the site and it is doable. For a fee, I would have the same engineer provide me drawings necessary for a permit. If I can get the cost down to the same as a Bilco door by DIYin it, why not?
Am I crazy? What would you do? Am I forgetting something? Any suggestions would be helpful!
Hey! Thanks for stopping by. We're Lisa and John and this is our DIY and Home Improvement blog. Feel free to browse our DIY project gallery or our latest posts. You can read more here.
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