Sump Pump Floats And Floor Drains, Oh My

Yesterday, I got one of those phone calls from my wife that I never want.  “There’s water in the basement.”  My wife heard one of our water alarms going off and found a puddle of water in the middle of the basement.  She couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.  I only work a few minutes from home, so I was able to get there pretty quick.  I didn’t even have to go to where the puddle was.  As soon as I went down into the basement, I knew what the issue was.  The sump pump wasn’t pumping.

Why You Don’t Skip Routine Maintenance

Remember how I said I knew right away what the problem was?  I knew that it was the sump pump because when I went downstairs, I saw that water was seeping up through the cracks in the floor, as well as around the perimeter.  And this had happened once before, many years ago.  That time, I went downstairs to feed our cats, and saw the same thing.  And it was the same problem.  The sump pump wasn’t working

What happened that time was that the sump pump floats got tangled up.  See, we actually have a backup system.  We have a backup pump that runs on a marine battery.  That way if power ever goes out, or the main pump fails, the backup can keep us water free.

They both have floats to trigger them to turn on, and what I found out years ago was that they wiggle around over time to where they end up around the same place.

Ever since then, every few months, I would go down, work my way into the tiny space where the pumps are, and move the floats around to where they were nowhere near each other.  For years I didn’t have the problem.

Except guess what I didn’t do last fall when I should have?  I’m not sure why, but it just didn’t happen.

So when that happens, it knocks out both the primary and the backup system.  Since the floats basically get stuck together, both fail.

Preventing it is a simple fix and I was kicking myself for not having done it.

Image from morguefile courtesy of jade

All Kinds Of Lucky

On a scale of one to ten, I’d rate it a four on the luck factor that we had a water alarm.  Since we no longer have cats, we don’t go down to the basement every day.  So, I have a water alarm near the hot water tank in case that starts leaking.  That actually was the one that went off.   The water was coming up through a floor drain that normally drains into the sump well.  Because of the alarm, I got the floats untangled quickly enough that nothing got very wet.

Now, on a scale of one to ten, that this happened THIS week was incredibly lucky, and I rate it a ten.  We’re heading down to Florida, and if this had happened a week later than it did, we’d have come home to an awful mess.  All the alarms in the world wouldn’t have helped if nobody was in the house for days to hear them.

That got me thinking, maybe I need to look into a wi-fi water alarm.  Such a thing has to exist.

Uncovering A New Issue

After everything was quickly back to normal, I started looking around to make sure there wasn’t anything I was missing.  As I was walking around, I happened to notice the other floor drain.  And I noticed that it was completely dry.

Now, in the sense that we only had one puddle to mop up instead of two, this was a good thing.  But, if we ever needed that half of the basement to drain, having it not functioning is bad.

When I looked down into the drain with a flashlight, I could see water but it was clearly nowhere near the level that you’d expect.  Clearly there’s something wrong.

I started thinking about it and the probable answer came to me.

Cat litter.

Although we no longer have cats, for the nine years that we did while living in this house, the litter boxes were each about ten feet from the drain.  My guess is that over time, a piece of litter here and a piece of litter there fell into the drain.  While there is still some water getting through, it’s probably blocked.

I’ve done some research and have found out that cat litter in pipes does cause clogs.  It’s also somewhat of a common problem, as I’ve found.  Apparently some people flush their cat litter down the toilet?  Ew.

Anyway, it seems that pouring a rush of boiling hot water can often free up the litter.  So I’ll have to try that.

In my case, it’s going to be a bit more of a complex job.  The pipes in question empty in to the sump well.  So, if I break up the litter, I can’t just let it travel along its merry way.  Otherwise, it’ll just end up in the well and probably wreak havoc on the pump, or create another clump in the pipe exiting the house.  So, I’ll have to figure out the exact spot where the pipe drains into the well, and will have to catch whatever comes out of it.

It’s been a pretty wet few weeks.  Doing what I described would probably be more manageable when things are dry and there isn’t much water coming into the sump well.

Add it to the to do list.   As well as making sure those floats are re-adjusted every few months.  Without fail!

Readers, have you ever had a sump pump issue?  Did you ever dodge a bullet like I did?  Let me know in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

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4 thoughts on “Sump Pump Floats And Floor Drains, Oh My

  1. Holeee mackerel! What a headache for you! Sorry to hear you’re having to deal with this conundrum.

    Y’know…it’s never too late to move to Arizona. 😉 Mostly our houses don’t have basements. But those that do don’t seem to have water issues…that would be, i s’pose, because we don’t have enough water to make an issue!
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    • Yeah, well given that Michigan is surrounded by water on three sides, it’s pretty much a big swamp. There’s this major sewer line about 20 miles away, I’m talking about 12′ in diameter, that has collapsed three times over the last 40 years. This past Christmas Eve a lucky couple woke up to all this popping which turned out to be the house basically starting to fold in on itself from a sinkhole that had formed directly underneath. So water issues are more common out this way, for sure.

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