Dispute with home warranty company: sewage ejector pump or sump pump?
September 19, 2016 9:58 AM   Subscribe

We're going around and around with our home warranty company over whether or not they are obligated to replace the sewage ejector pump in our basement. They say it's a "sump pump functioning as an ejector pump" and therefore not covered. What can we do to fight this?

We're going around and around with our home warranty company over whether or not they are obligated to replace the sewage ejector pump in our basement. It handles water from our clothes washer and an adjacent sink. It does not process ground water.

The lid is sealed, the line out is 2". It is vented. When enough water runs into the basin, it triggers the pump. There is no battery backup.

Here is a picture:


The home warranty company is saying that this is a sump pump functioning as a sewage ejector pump. In order for them to cover a sump pump, it has to be "permanently installed," by which I'm guessing they mean in a sump pit in the basement floor. So they are refusing to replace it under the home warranty.

I have not called the home warranty company yet since the last rejection of coverage, but I'm guessing the scenario is this: when they are calling in the part number for the bad pump, it's coming back with some kind of language containing sump pump, and they are going "Hey, look, we don't have to pay!"

Are sump pumps and ejector pumps really all that different? It just seems like a matter of semantics to me. What can I do to fight this?
posted by halcyon_daze to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
I believe that a sump pump is designed to move just water and a sewage ejector would have grinder to grind up solid waste so it can be pumped up hill.
posted by tman99 at 10:06 AM on September 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a similar pump for my basement sink. You're right, it's basically just a sump pump in an enclosure. The uses are different, though. I'd agree with them that a sump pump is more a part of the house infrastructure but the ejector pump is more like an appliance.

What's wrong with it? When mine stopped working it ended up just being clogged with various chunks of cat litter and other crap. I detached it and gave it a good cleaning and it worked fine.
posted by bondcliff at 10:11 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's tripping the GFCI outlet. Any GCFI outlet.

Some sort of fault with the float switch is causing a short, if I remember correctly.
posted by halcyon_daze at 10:16 AM on September 19, 2016

Could they be objecting because you have a "sump pump" and they are claiming the application requires a "Sewage ejector pump" therefore they are not going to install the wrong part for the application nor are they going to correct improper work done by someone else. They could be claiming that the installation does not meet code.
posted by tman99 at 10:17 AM on September 19, 2016

It's possible, tman99. The language they used was as follows: (Paraphrase) This is a sump pump functioning as a sewage ejector pump. In order for us to cover sump pumps, they have to be permanently installed. Since this is not permanently installed, coverage is denied.
posted by halcyon_daze at 10:22 AM on September 19, 2016

The contract should have a definition of "permanently installed" somewhere up-front. I'm curious how they define it.
posted by GorgeousPorridge at 11:37 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not familiar with your home warranty contract ... but didn't they inspect, or see, or implicitly acknowledge the contents of your house before they entered into the contract? As I see it, they contracted to cover the pump you've got, regardless of its name (or its misnomer), even if it's not specifically named in the contract. What are the actual terms of the contract on what it covers?
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:14 PM on September 19, 2016

Do you have a copy of the home inspection report from when you bought the house? Home warranties tend to have verbiage excluding coverage from improperly installed appliances or violations of the building code. It's typically the responsibility of the home inspector to spot obvious violations of code or non-conforming features of the home and flag them. The building code can vary depending on location. If they failed to flag it as a possible issue, it might be worth calling them.

Unfortunately, even if your home warranty does cover sewer ejector pumps and sump pumps, they may be right. This is not a properly installed sump pump, and there is no sewer ejector pump installed -- just a sump pump acting as one.
posted by mikeh at 12:41 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

No definition of permanently installed included in the contract.

No prior inspection - I doubt their business model is predicated on that, but rather that people will just give up.

Language: "PLUMBING COVERED ITEMS: Leaks and breaks of water, drain, gas, waste, or vent lines – Faucets – Shower heads and shower arms – Valves for shower, tub,and diverter – Angle stops – Risers – Gate valves – Hose bibs – Toilet tanks, bowls, and related mechanisms – Toilet wax ring seals – Pressure regulators – Plumbing sewage ejector pump only – Permanently installed sump pumps (ground water only) including the battery, if exclusive to the sump pump – Built-in bathtub whirlpool motor, pump, and air switch assemblies."

The "Plumbing sewage ejector pump" language is there to make a distinction between that type of pump and the "Septic sewage ejector pump" listed in the following "Not covered" paragraph.
posted by halcyon_daze at 12:42 PM on September 19, 2016

Are sump pumps and ejector pumps really all that different? It just seems like a matter of semantics to me.

Yes, they are quite different. A sump pump, as your contract states, must be used only for ground water. A sewage ejector pump has a built in grinder intended to handle sewage solids. A sump pump is not designed for sewage solids.

If you go over to the Home Depot or Lowes websites you will see that a sewage ejector costs two to three times the price of the same size sump pump. So they really are different.

The insurer is saying that you are using a sump pump for an improper use, for sewage. Your contract states that a sump pump must only be used for ground water.

You should check and look up the model number of the pump yourself. If it comes up as a sump pump, it seems that you are on your own for repairs.
posted by JackFlash at 1:09 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

This isn't the answer you are looking for, but I replaced the float and switch on a sewage pump with little to know plumbing knowledge/experience. The float/switch only costs about $35 and it was less than an hour long job. It seems you would have the benefit of not actually having to deal with the sewage part of a sewage pump.
posted by Broken Ankle at 1:25 PM on September 19, 2016

From this site:
Watch out: Pump manufacturers may show that the same pump models can serve as a sump pump, effluent pump, and de-watering pump. But that is not universally the case - in other words, there are some sump pumps that work just fine as effluent pumps, but other sump pump models (such as low-cost sump pumps using a vertical float and rod switch and intended for indoor de-watering in basements) may not be suitable for septic effluent pumping and may not be designed to be used in a septic effluent tank or drywell.
The bit I'm highlighting is probably what's tripping you up (as you suspected). Here, for example, is a Sewage Pump that lists "sump drainage" as a possible application.

So, there are two tacks that you can take. The first being to get the actual model number (and ideally technical specifications/manual from the manufacturers website) and use that to verify that the actual pump you have is rated for use as a sewage ejector, even if some people choose to use it as a sump pump.

The other tack could take would be to point out that when you bought the policy, your home had a [device] that ejected sewage to something other than a septic system. Therefore, under the terms of the warranty, they should be providing you with a [device] that serves the same function. For this, it would be ideal to have documentation that shows that you had the sewage ejector when you purchased the policy. I'm thinking either a buyer's home inspection report that lists it, or maybe a checklist that was produced as part of the policy purchasing process.

If it turns out that what you've had all along is a sump pump that should never have been used for sewage (even graywater), you may be hosed as far as the warranty goes. If you haven't been in your house for super long, you might want to look into remedies that you might have against the sellers and/or your buyer's home inspector. That being said, I'm seeing sewage ejection pumps at Home Depot for < $300, so you may wish to consider at what point the cost of the frustration outweighs the cost of just getting the thing fixed.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:14 PM on September 19, 2016

The picture linked shows a device being used as a sewage ejector. All your wast water goes into it, and it pumps the...stuff...up and out of the house. So, *application wise* it's an ejector.
The specific model shown may not be rated for ejector service. You may need to get the model # and do some googling.
I suspect that it's an ejector, because if it were just a sump pump it would not perform very well.

The "permanently installed sump pump" is to specifically exclude a trash pump plugged into a wall outlet, in a hole in the floor. What you 've got there has plumbing hard piped to it; it's permanent.
posted by notsnot at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2016

I agree that you need to find out if your specific model of pump can be used as a sewage ejector pump. If it can't, then I think you are hosed because the wording is pretty clear that they only cover sump pumps used for ground water. Since yours is not used for ground water, I don't think you'd have a leg to stand on. This is sort of reasonable, because why should the company cover a sump pump that is used for things other than what it is designed for (leaving aside that it would likely work just fine for laundry grey water)?
posted by ssg at 4:28 PM on September 19, 2016

I'm going to pull the pump today and get the model number, make some calls. I finally called American Home Shield and was given a list of reasons for the denial: sump pump installed as ejector pump, something about horsepower, lack of cutting blade. When I asked for a copy of the report, I was told I would need to ask the plumbing contractor for that, so I did. They wrote back with a single line: we reported a sump pump installed as an ejector pump. I replied with a request for a copy of the information they sent to American home Shield, have not heard anything back.

I do have a yellow copy of the form the technician filled out that says: "Sewer ejector needs replaced, pump shorts out when (illegible) clicks on." Clearly, something happened between his assessment and calling in that part number for the pump.

The plumbing contractor did call this morning. "Sump pump installed as ejector pump needs to be upgraded, home warranty will not cover, we will gladly perform that upgrade for $1200.00."

That's about three times what it should cost, so I just laughed and politely declined.
posted by halcyon_daze at 7:11 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Goulds STS31 Submersible Sump Pump


Specially designed for the following uses:

•Basement draining
•Water transfer

So there it is.

I still think it's scammy BS. And it remains to be seen if using a sump pump in this particular application is ok or not. I've found pump set-ups designed specifically for laundry, and those use a sump pump. For example.
posted by halcyon_daze at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2016

I think you're hosed.
Shit water needs an ejector/grinder. Laundry does not - it's just dirty water, no solids or god knows what.
posted by notsnot at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2016

Notsnot, we're talking about a set-up for laundry. That's what our pump processes, or did - laundry water, and water from an adjacent sink; not sewage.
posted by halcyon_daze at 8:55 AM on September 20, 2016

I've found pump set-ups designed specifically for laundry, and those use a sump pump. For example.

The example you show has a pump that is rated by the manufacturer for both sump water and effluent up to 1/2" solids. It is not the same as your sump pump, which is not rated for effluent.

You can't just go by the name "sump". You have to look at the manufacturer's specifications.
posted by JackFlash at 9:04 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

It looks like the home warranty company is right. There's nothing about that Goulds STS31 that would make me believe that it would be able to handle laundry waste long term, because even though you don't need a grinder, the pump needs to be able to pass on lint and other small debris. From the warranty company's point of view, it's reasonable to infer that this device failed because it was being abused -- just like a car manufacturer might not honor a warranty if they found out that you were using home-brewed biodiesel in your car.

The plumber may be being a bit scammy, I don't know how much of the $1200 was parts vs. labor but they may have been quoting you more pump than you need, plus crazy labor charges.

If I were you (and you were reasonably handy), I'd first look to see if it was something as simple as laundry lint clogging the impeller on your current pump. If it's not an easy fix, I'd look up laundry effluent rated sumps (check on the minimum basin size too), buy one from the local home store of your choice (and whatever combination of adapters you require), and do the swap yourself.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:42 AM on September 20, 2016

I can rebuild a Type 1 Volkswagen engine, but plumbing is my kryptonite.

We called a plumber, who installed a "remote sink/drain pump system" manufactured by Mainline. The pump included in the package is a sump pump with specs relatively similar to the one that was removed, with the exception of solids handling - 3/8" for this one vs. 3/16" for the other - and maximum temperature - 120 for this one, 104 for the other. I would imagine both of those specs are important when processing laundry water. Horsepower, GPM, RPM are all the same.

$440 for everything, and the plumber laughed out loud at the $1200 quote. Finding a great plumber is certainly a relief.

We're canceling the home warranty. They didn't deny service because the sump pump wasn't appropriate for the task, they denied service because it wasn't "permanently installed." Between this incident and all the half-baked crap we've endured from their contractors (installed garbage disposal with a broken outlet pipe, disconnected heat pump emergency heat from breaker in order to make room for a dryer connection), we're done. The warranty came with the house, we made the mistake of renewing it for a few months, now we're cutting our losses.

Thanks for all the good suggestions!
posted by halcyon_daze at 9:15 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Must we combine our finances?   |   How do you 'freshen up' curly hair during the day? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.