sump pump concerns
July 24, 2007 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I have 2 related questions about sump pumps. 1) Will bleach damage the pump? 2) Is there a way to monitor the pump for failure (or the water level which would tell me the same thing) easily?

Basically, we have a sump pump in our basement* that we recently replaced after our old one failed. I now live in constant fear that this new one will fail as well and since our A/C unit and water heater are both on the floor of the basement, there is a lot of damage that might be caused. My first thought on monitoring was to put a simple float in and somehow rig a mechanical contraption to a guage at the top of the basement stairs but would prefer a more tried solution.

I also plan to build a cover for the hole that the pump is in since the smell from the mildew that has built up permeats the guest room directly above but am thinking I should pour bleach in regularly as well to kill any nastiness down there but don't know what that will do to the pump.

*12'x12' concrete hole dug in the middle of our crawl space containing a/c and water heater. Our dehumidifier and A/C both drain into the pump hole as well as minor leaks during heavy rain.
posted by GrumpyMonkey to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Your heat pump is in a hole under your house? That strikes me as a little weird and maybe not to code, depending on where you live. Anyway, I know there are alarms that are triggered when they're immersed in water. I've seen them mainly in the context of boats' bilges (which have a similar potential for problems) but I'm sure they exist for sumps as well. I have no direct experience but googling for "sump pump failure alarm" turned up several likely-looking hits on the first page.
posted by Alterscape at 6:38 AM on July 24, 2007

I don't know about the bleach, but for the second part of the question, you could use a high water level alarm, preferably battery operated. A search on the Net provided many links, including this one:
posted by mbarryf at 6:39 AM on July 24, 2007

Adding a small amount of bleach (about one once for every five gallons) to any standing water in the sump should help with the smell and no it won't harm your pump. If there is just moisture and no standing water you can spray a bleach solution onto the damp areas with a spray bottle.

If you worry about your pump failing you might add a second pump, perhaps even one with a boat battery as a power source, so that you don't lose your sump pump in a power outage.
posted by caddis at 7:06 AM on July 24, 2007

When we renovated our house, we replaced the hot water heater and heating unit. The plumber put the new ones up on small concrete slabs about 2'x2' and 2" thick. Maybe that would be a good idea here?
posted by plinth at 7:57 AM on July 24, 2007

A dilute bleach solution probably won't damage your pump, if it's not on the rubber parts for extended periods of time. (It attacks rubber (in the seals).

You could build a raised curb (some angle iron and concrete bolts (HILTI bolts)), then silicone around the bottom edge, would be a cheap way of doing it. (Cheaper than pouring a concrete base, though that looks better)

A high water alarm, and possibly a second pump like mbarryf and caddis reccomend would probably be a good investment too.

Have you looked at the root cause of the flooding? Is it high rainfall? Snowmelt? etc.. you could maybe improve drainage, or divert water around the house..
posted by defcom1 at 8:30 AM on July 24, 2007

I agree bleach is not a problem if diluted. But that bleach odor will get into your house, too.

If things are getting mildewed down there, there's too much moisture in the air and not enough ventilation. Think about creating some grated openings in the foundation wall and perhaps running a small fan to pull air through (which will at the very least keep the air from rising into your house). And/or, get a dehumidifier that drains outside, not back into the hole. Also, check the grading outside, add gutters where needed and packed gravel to make sure water is directed away from the house all around. With all that covered, do a single spraying/scrubbing of all the basement walls and floors with dilute bleach solution to kill the residual odor.
posted by beagle at 9:18 AM on July 24, 2007

If you have systems actively filling the sump, and the sump requires a pump to lift collected water into the sewer, or to outside drainage (for jurisdictions that prohibit sump water discharge into sewers), the sump needs to have a capacity great enough to represent several days worth of drain accumulation at peak volume, or else you need to keep a second pump as a spare on hand, and be able to change out the pumps on a timely basis, if you're going to avoid flooding damage.

As to the smell of mildew, chlorine bleach in concentrations high enough to control mildew will probably be damaging to pump O-rings and seals over time. You can purchase additive tablets for sumps that will disperse bromine, or copper or silver salts into the sump water, to control algae or mildew, but the use of such additives must be considered in terms of what is the ultimate destination of the waste water stream. Pumping bromine laden water out to your lawn or to street storm drains is not a good idea, but some of the floater type release systems take enough time to dissolve the control agent tablets, that a major flooding event causes very little dissolution of the treating agent during the majority of the event. Additive only returns to biological control levels over several hours, by slow dissolve of the control agent tablet, once the sump level is again reduced to normal.

A variety of high water and moisture sensing alarm switches are available, but for a system to be worth installing, the alarm must be constantly monitored, or be able to trigger some additional pumping or remedial activity.
posted by paulsc at 9:50 AM on July 24, 2007

I have three. One to get the job done. One to help out if things go horribly wrong. And one to pick up the slack if one of the other two dies.

Here's an interesting thing about sump pumps: the only time you know they are working, and are doing their job, is in the instant the pump switches states.

When it goes from off to on, you know it's working, coming on to empty rising waters. When it goes from on to off, you know it's working, having lowered the water level to an acceptable level.

A running pump is not necessarily keeping up with the flow, and a quiet pump is not necessarily pumping at all.

I call this the Schrodinger Sump Pump Effect.
posted by Area Control at 11:06 AM on July 24, 2007

You might want to check out this sump pump, it's designed as a back-up. It pumps using the water supply of your house, so it will work no matter how long the power is out.
posted by Marky at 2:25 PM on July 24, 2007

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