When last we saw our Stainless Steel, groundwater pumping hero he was resting quietly in his own storage tub. Let’s see what adventure awaits our hero in this installment of “A beep in the night”.
I don’t remember the events of the afternoon, as I am sure they paled in comparison to the mechanical symphony of creativity and forethought that was unfurled during nap time, but as all Saturdays do, this one came quickly to an end. Kids in bed, and off to dreamland I went as well, resting assured in the new found comfort of knowing that I was a rich man in terms of sump pump possession.
My slumber was rudely interrupted about 0200 hours when I awoke to hear a peculiar beeping sound emanating from somewhere within the premises. It wasn’t loud enough to be my alarm clock, and it had better not be going off at this hour anyway. It kept beeping so it wasn’t the coffee maker turning itself off after someone absentmindedly left it on. What was that sound? So I rolled out bed with a grumpiness that only 2 am and an empty bed affords, donned the house shoes (what!? All guys wear house shoes right!?), grabbed the trusty flashlight that resides on my dresser and headed down the stairs. It wasn’t coming from the main level. It sounded decidedly lower in elevation that that, so down to the finished portion of the lower level I went. Family room, nope, quiet. Utility room, getting warmer, but still not there. Aha! Crawl space it is. I opened the doors to the crawl space and to my surprise was greeted by about 2″ of water all over the entire crawl space floor. What the….!! So kicking off my house shoes, removing my socks, and rolling up the pant legs of my pajamas…. I fetched the tote with the sump pump in it, grabbed the end of the hose from the top of the plastic tote, dragged it to the nearest window, tossed it outside, pulled the pump from the tote, dropped it into the basin, plugged in the pump and once again, ‘VOILA! Pumping was able to commence within minutes of the need arising. The pump ran for close to 40 minutes before I was content that the crawl space was going to dry out alright and went back to bed. Luckily, earlier that winter we had the forethought to put everything up on used pallets in the crawl space so all that got wet was one or two boxes that were destined for a yard sale or thrift store near you.
The pump stayed in that basin for another 2 days until it was dry enough and the water was flowing slowly enough into the basin that I could investigate the cause of the issues with the permanently installed sump pumps in the crawl space. Apparently the beeping sound I had heard was the low battery alarm on the battery backup sump pump sounding because the gel cell battery in the unit’s battery box was shot and the pump was tying to run, but could not. The secondary sump pump was ruined, a hole rusted in the side of the case (I guess they should have bought a stainless steel model, huh!?). The primary pump a massive 1 HP model was, for some reason running, but not pumping anything. After removing the non-working battery backup and secondary pump, I was able to remove the primary pump and discovered a plastic square about 3″ by 3″ sitting directly below its inlet. As soon as the pump switched on, the hydraulic pressure would suck the peculiar square of plastic up against the bottom of the pump, effectively sealing the inlet and preventing the pump from, well, pumping anything. Add to that the fact that there seemed to be a strange fibrous material in the pump, floating around the sump basin and on the floor around the crawl space and I slowly began to piece together my theory of what had happened.
The following day, I removed the cover from my in ground sump pump testing facility in the shop and discovered that it was EMPTY. Completely empty. Don’t get me wrong, it was still wet. Water could be seen weeping in through the block walls, but it was running across the floor and draining into, yup, you guessed it, the 4″ drainage tile.
At first I thought that the fibrous stuff I was seeing laying around was the fur of a long decomposed varmint of some variation. You see the previous owners had told us during our closing process that they had seen a rat in the house. This led to the wife and kids abandoning ship and literally moving out of the house to stay with relatives until the unwelcome intruder was euthanized (no joke, here). This, in turn, led to the father doing whatever he could possibly conceive in order to prevent the entry of said pest to the premises. He told me that he suspected that there was a 4″ drainage tile that led from the service pit in the shop and into the sump basin in the crawl space. Stated that he surmised that the rodent was using this as a means of entry to the dwelling, so he had “blocked” the tile. I naively assumed when we moved in that the cinder block that was placed against the opening of the tile in the service pit and carefully braced in place with a piece of lumber was the “block” to which he was referring. The fact that repeated efforts in dryer months to open the drain in the service pit had proven unsuccessful in opening it, also led me to believe that the rodent may have been trapped inside the drain and been sent to an untimely watery grave, thus clogging the pathway for drainage. All assumptions were close to the truth, but none was what I now consider to have been the case.
In my disgust (it IS after all rather disgusting when you suspect that you’re cleaning up the decomposed remains of a rodent from the continually wet sump basin in your crawlspace), prior to returning the permanent sump pump to its place, I had scooped the sand, silt and trash out of the basin and thrown it into a plastic bucket. The strange “fur” was thrown in the same bucket as was the peculiar plastic square that had served so effectively as a flapper valve on the inlet of my sump pump. All these things were taken out of the crawlspace together in the bucket and placed in my shop, still in the bucket. A few days or maybe a week later, after the disgust of the whole ordeal had faded to tolerable levels, I returned to find the bucket had dried out sufficiently to discard of the contents. The plastic square, it occurred to me, looked exactly like the black plastic “glue” traps that I have seen used for rodent removal. And that “fur”, after it dried had taken on a strange pink appearance. At this point I was starting to feel like a forensic investigator from CSI. Trying to piece together the “who done it” of my little flood. Further sifting through the debris in the bucket revealed the presence of some thick paper that was brown on one side, black on the other and had some of that peculiar pink “fur” on it. It was one of those light bulb moments. An epiphany in fact.
Apparently a few of my assumptions had been flawed. Here is what I now surmise to have occurred prior to that fateful day.
The previous paternal occupant of my property, having been continually thwarted by the rodent that had been visiting his dwelling had “blocked” the drainage tile leading from the pit in the shop to the sump basin. I had assumed that this was done with the block that was placed over the tile in the shop, but apparently this assumption had done what many assumptions do and made a, um, donkey’s hind end out of me. The fibrous pink “fur” I was seeing was, I now believe a ball of fiberglass insulation that had been shoved into the drainage tile to deny entrance to the unwanted pest. The plastic pad, was in fact a glue trap, undoubtedly set by the same wily, increasingly annoyed and lonely homeowner in an attempt to catch the intruder. When I had pumped the water out of the pit, I had loosened the clog, but not dislodged it. The emptying and refilling motion of the water being removed from the pit acting like a big plunger on clog in the tile. As the pit refilled the hydraulic pressure in the drain increased until the clog could no longer hold back the water. The “blockage” was ejected from the tile into the sump basin in my crawl space, and was then followed by somewhere close to 800 gallons of cold and muddy ground water. The sump pump (even a 1 HP model) never would have kept up with the water rushing in through a 4″ tile, but it was clogged with the Pink Panther’s favorite weather proofing and one exceedingly well placed “humane” rodent trap. Maybe if the pump had been constructed from some corrosion resistant alloy of steel it had, but ….nah, probably not, never mind.
The take away from this mildly dramatic and highly sarcastic story is as follows.
-Know the layout and design of your drainage system. You never know what surprises may await you if you aren’t aware of their design.
-Use the right materials for the job. Fiberglass insulation, as it turn out is a great way to clog a drainage tile, and a stainless steel bodied sump pump will not rust through (at least not as quickly) as will a pump whose body is constructed from mild steel.
-Check and properly maintain the batteries in your battery backup appliances. Those battery backup sump pumps, garage door openers and UPS systems on your computer are only as good as the batteries in them.
-Test your backup systems regularly. At the time that this occurred I wasn’t aware that there were three pumps in that basin, let alone that two of the three were not functioning.
-Be prepared for the unexpected. Look at your home and assess your biggest weaknesses and do what you can to prepare to meet those needs, should an emergency arise.
-Materials stored in basements or crawl spaces should be elevated above the floor to prevent them from being damaged by moisture and water. Skids (pallets as many call them) are an easy way to accomplish this.
In my case, it was a really good thing that I had prepared for the failure of a sump pump (even if it was only 12 hours before I ended up needing it) and that the materials in my crawl space were elevated above the floor 6″ or so. Since then I have also bought a couple inexpensive “Leak frog” water alarms. These are just one type of battery powered alarms that go off at the presence of water and are enough to alert you to a problem. Had the battery in my backup sump pump not been bad, I would not have discovered my water problem until it had risen to a level high enough to flood the finished part of my lower level.
Looking back now, I can see many places where it is apparent that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was (never mind the previous owner, we’re not going to talk about him right now…). A little bit of my planning payed off and saved me from a situation that was, at least in part, created by my own negligence and lack of understanding of my home’s drainage systems. Going forward I still have some work to do to improve the design and eliminate some of the liability of the current design from my property. One thing is for sure. I’m sure glad that sump pump is stainless steel! SHINY!