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Foundation drains are pipes that are installed under your foundation or basement floor to collect water and move it off-site to prevent your basement from filling with water.
If your home was built after 1920 it likely has a network of pipes under the basement floor called foundation drains that are supposed to pick up groundwater before it can seep into your basement. If your house was built before 1954 (approximate date), your foundation drain is likely directly connected to the sanitary sewer near your floor drain through a fixture called a palmer valve.
Foundation drains that are directly connected to the sanitary sewer work well and require no maintenance, but they also add a lot of clear water to the sewer which greatly increases the chances of a basement backup for you and your neighbors. Houses built after 1954 are required to have the foundation drains directed to a sump pump that sends the water to your lawn or to the storm sewer.
If you do have a sump pump, there are a few things that you can do to minimize the chance of water in your basement and keep your pump functioning efficiently and reliably.
Doing so can significantly increase the risk of basement backups for you and your neighbors during heavy rain by slamming a lot of excess water into the sanitary sewer system when it's at or near capacity.
Always make sure the discharge pipe from your sump pump is at least six to ten feet away from your house. Your discharge pipe may go into another pipe underground that usually drains into a storm sewer. If you are not sure if the discharge pipe from your home is connected properly, call the plumbing inspector for your city or village.
Here's an overview of how a sump pump is installed in your basement.
The electrical contractor verifies the electrical panel meets electrical code and has room to install a new circuit for the sump pump.
The electrician installs an electrical outlet dedicated to the new sump pump.
The plumbing contractor locates and excavates where the foundation drain tile connects to the sewer. This is typically at the floor drain at the “palmer valve”. All digging is usually done by hand and buckets.
The plumbing contractor disconnects the foundation drain tile from the sanitary sewer by removing the palmer valve and installing new pipe to direct the foundation drain to the new sump pump. A new floor drain is installed and the sanitary sewer lateral reconnected.
The plumbing contractor installs a new sump pump basin and connects the foundation tile to the sump pump basin.
With the new sump pump basin installed, a new sump pump is installed with a new discharge pipe to direct the clear water to the exterior of the home away from the foundation walls.
Floor is restored.
The new sump pump installation includes the installation of a new discharge pipe. This new pipe directs the clear water entering the sump pump basin to the exterior of the home. When contractor verifies that the sump pump and discharge pipe is working properly, the plumbing contractor restores the excavated hole with stone and concrete to match the existing basement concrete floor.
Finally, the contractor adds a flexible hose to the exterior discharge directing the water away from the house foundation wall preventing the water from recirculating along the wall back to the foundation drain. When a stormwater lateral exists on the property, the sump discharge may also be directly connected to the stormwater lateral.
A palmer valve is a type of check valve that was designed to allow the groundwater collected by a building’s drain tile to be directed into the sanitary sewer system through a flap that would open as water flow or pressure increases behind it. Releasing ground water into a sanitary sewer is no longer allowed, therefore the palmer valve needs to be removed and a sump pump needs to be installed to direct the water outside of the building.
Palmer valves often cause maintenance issues because they were made of metal. Over time the ‘flap’ tended to rust or become frozen and inoperable. Once the flap is inoperable, the foundation drainage cannot discharge freely into the sanitary sewer. The foundation drain tile system has nowhere for the ground water to drain to. In many cases, this can lead to increased hydraulic pressure on the basement floor and foundation wall, causing common basement issues such as cracks in the floor and walls, basement seepage, etc.
Test the sump pump as described in the section below "How to Test Your Sump Pump". Good quality sump pumps installed properly run very quietly. The sump pump may be working fine.
Test your sump regularly, spring is a good time to test this before the snow melts.
Remove the cover of the sump pump. While most styles of covers lift right off, some have screws that need to be removed before the cover can be lifted
The pump should turn on by the time the water covers the pump completely and before the basin is completely full.
*NOTE: If you have standing water in your basement or pooled water around your sump pump and / or electrical fixtures, DO NOT TRY TO DO ANYTHING! CALL A PROFESSIONAL PLUMBER!
If you can’t determine why the pump is not working, call a professional (plumber or electrician).
REMEMBER TO PLUG THE SUMP PUMP BACK IN AND REPLACE THE COVER!
If you already have a sump pump, it's a good idea to have some type of backup system installed in case you lose power during a storm. There are several to chose from with a wide range in price.
Most battery backup systems are equipped with alarms to notify you if the main power goes out and the backup system is operating. Battery backup systems are not designed to run for long periods of time, but they may buy you enough time to borrow a portable generator or for the electric company to restore power to your home.
When you lose power at home, your sump pump will not run without a backup system. Unfortunately, the water will keep flowing into the basin and the most likely time for a power outage is during a storm. You have three options for providing backup for your sump pump.
Help protect Lake Michigan and keep water out of your basement during rain events.