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Sump pump runs every two minutes
12 May 2007

Q. We have lived in our Rancher since 1962. After many years of having a wet basement we had an inside drainfield installed. This solved the problem of leaks completely. However the noise from the pumps and plumbing is about to drive us crazy. It keep s us awake at night, disturbs our meals, interferes with our conversations and is generally irritating. For weeks after heavy rain or snow the pumps run every two minutes. What advice do you have for us?

A. The pumps cycling on and off so frequently suggest a lot of things may be going on. The first thing you need to do is to verify that water is indeed getting away from the building after the pump pumps it out. Frequently sump pumps have a discharge pip e that just sticks a few inches out from the foundation wall and after long series of repetitious pumping water can accumulate near the discharge point and literally seep back into the building-- and to your retrofitted drains-- then back to the sump to be pumped out again and again.

Remember that water coming into the building in the first place is a symptom that your drain and pumps took care of. The real problem is where and how water is coming from in the first place. Since your house has spent the last 45 years on your watch th ere are conditions that may have occurred right under your nose without you really noticing anything amiss.

Check the general grading around the house and make sure there is a positive slope away from the foundation of the soil next to the house. The best slope would be an inch or two for every foot of distance away from the foundation wall for a distance of a bout six feet at the minimum for good drainage.

Double check the gutters and downspouts. Their primary purpose is to get rainwater that lands on your roof away from the house. Make sure they are clean and free flowing and doing the job. Overflowing gutters can cause all sorts of water related damage not the least of which is foundation leakage.

Mature landscaping and trees close to the house have a tendency to alter the elevation of the soils around them and begin to change the direction of the water flow around them as they grow. This is a condition that can change slowly and gradually over th e years and escape your attention. Water follows the laws of gravity so look at what is growing close to the house with a critical eye and change what you must to get good drainage.

I know some building lots are problematic in that they may be flat or even naturally flow towards the house. In difficult cases like that I have recommended intercepting water before it gets to the house with an exterior drain system often called a Fren ch drain. They can be expensive and difficult to install but-- if done right-- worth it in the long run.

If the pumps cycle every two minutes or so and you have determined that the water isn’t just coming back in again then perform a little experiment. Wait some time after a weather event such as a rainstorm or snowmelt, go down to the basement and unplug the pump and watch the pit fill up and see if it gets to a point and stops filling. If it does, mark with a crayon where the water levels fills to and stops and repeat the experiment. If you see a pattern developing then set the sump pump’s float switch turn on level an inch or two above this mark and see what happens. You may discover a natural water level that will only increase after an event but will tend to stay at a lower level most of the time. Then you will only be pumping excess water from a rain and not continuously trying to lower the neighborhood’s water table.

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