There are many fixtures around the house that homeowners do not often think about so long as they are functioning correctly. Sump pumps, for example, are nearly the definition of “out of sight, out of mind.”
With larger appliances like water heaters, homeowners usually knows a few things — if they have a tankless or tank-type unit, what brand it is and maybe even how old it is — but sump pumps are just “there” and are not something to worry about, at least until it stops doing its job.
When this happens, basements can become flooded, resulting in damage to other appliances and personal items. This can leave a homeowner with a great deal of financial and emotional stress.
It can be hard for contractors to know just the right way to handle these situations, and different contractors deal with homeowner concerns in different ways.
Jim Criniti, president of Zoom Drain, suggests a no-nonsense approach.
“First, have a flat-rate price manual that shows the total cost of installation,” Criniti says. “Second, show the customer that you follow a written set of procedures for installation. Lastly, show the customer before and after pictures of previous jobs so they understand how the job is meant to go and they can see the value of what you’re doing for them. It’s even better if you have customer testimonials from those who have had the same type of work done by your company.”
Giving homeowners options can also help them feel less boxed in and stressed.
“When dealing with the homeowners, always give the option of with or without back-up inverters, and discuss one-, three- and five-year warranty options,” says Trent Dawson, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing in Ohio. “Involve them in the decision-making process; this will eliminate most objections.”
“Objections are minimal when dealing with sump pumps as long as they are educated correctly,” agrees Joe Todaro, director of operations for Gold Medal Service.
If a homeowner has any reservations due to past experience with a flooded basement, Ryan Williams, general manager at 128 Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electric, assures them that during their annual heating, plumbing or AC maintenance, they automatically check the operation of the sump pump.
“Some homeowners ask can it keep up with volume of water,” Williams notes. “After we evaluate the home, we can recommend whether the home would need single or dual basin pump systems based on past experience of water filtration.”
The do’s of sump pump installs
There are a number of installation tips and best practice that should be followed when dealing with sump pumps. When done well, these actions show professionalism to the homeowner and can ease their concerns.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness with sump pits,” says Joseph C. Wood, owner of Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating. “We make sure that our pits are 4 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep, and the entire perimeter is loaded with crushed pea stone to allow irrigation into the pit but prevent dirt. A clean sump pump will outlive us all.”
“It’s important to bid the whole job, including cleaning the outlet pipe and installing or testing the existing check valve," Criniti says. “Also, make sure the sump pump is properly sized to take care of the water capacity.”
“Always inspect and clean the bottom of the pit,” says Mike Krejci, service manager at Jays Plumbing. “Make sure the pit is large enough, and always replace check valves.
“One thing I train my guys on is the size of the pit. If the pit is too small, you will have a couple issues, one being that your pump will be short cycling,” Krejci adds. “This will dramatically reduce the life expectancy of the pump. Two, if the pit is that shallow and you have water backing up your drain tile, then when you have a heavy rain, you will have a much harder time keeping up with the new water entering the system.”
“Always install a weep hole below the check valve to prevent lockouts,” Todaro says.
“I always tell apprentices three things,” Wood says. “First, unplug the pump. It is awesome when you plug in first and then lower to the pit, only to be hosed down by sump water discharge.
“Second, don’t hold the pump by the discharge line,” Wood continues. “I had one snap and the pump fell into the pit and splashed nasty water all over me. Third, get a long offset screwdriver to push the check valve open without getting drenched. Oftentimes, when fussing with the check valve, you wind up having to take it off — this step will keep you clean.”
The don’ts of sump pump installs
“The type, size and location of the sump pump’s basin will help support direct discharge of water from the basement,” Williams says. “Be sure to always hard-pipe the discharge drain from the sump pump to the outside. Do not discharge the sump pump drain onto walkways or streets. Do not use coil stock. Ideally, a dewatering sump pump basin with a bolted-down lid will prevent debris from falling in and children from exploring the pump.
“It is also important to remind homeowners not to unplug the sump pump to use for a temporary outlet,” he continues. “Homeowners almost always forget to plug it back in. Don’t use coil flexi stock inside the home. Outside of the home, using coil stock will accumulate water and could freeze in some climates. Don’t use an extension cord for your sump pump. Hard-wire it into a dedicated circuit outlet. Don’t chip-up concrete floor and then place right below in the dirt; the reason behind that is the sump pump isn’t low enough to capture water as it’s rising toward the basement floor. The pump can get caught up with dirt, small debris and rocks when it’s placed incorrectly.”
“Don’t tie the outlet of the sump pump into a downspout line or any other line without having the line camera-inspected,” Dawson says. “Also, don’t tie the sump pump into a septic system. In addition to shortening the life of the leach bed, during heavy rains, when the leach system is saturated, if the sump pump kicks on it can possibly back up into the house drains.
“Also, never install a sump pump and crock in a basement to fix leaky foundations without understanding the source of the water,” Dawson adds. “It can potentially bring water into your sump pump crock faster than your sump pump is designed to handle, which can cause erosion along your foundation or water damage during heavy rains. It could be a clogged drain or a city or county main backup — you should always call a professional to diagnose the source and give you options before doing it yourself.”
“Don’t just swap out old for new,” Criniti warns. “Evaluate the current capacity requirements and any upgraded electrical needs.”
“The washing machine and utility sink should not discharge into the sump well,” notes Laura A. Engler, project manager at Jim Engler’s Homework. “Lint and soap cause problems for the pump. The sanitary drain line is for waste water. Monitor the sump basin and add water occasionally to be sure the float valve is functioning.”
Pricing and educating
Pricing a job right is not only important to the bottom line, but, as stated earlier, can be a source of either comfort or distress to a homeowner.
“Don’t take a piecemeal approach with your customer,” Criniti advises. “It’s not in their best interest or yours. Make sure your price includes the entire job so the job is done correctly. That way it’s a win-win.”
Education goes a long way in this industry. The more a business owner and his or her employees know, the bigger and faster the company grows.
“It’s important you train your technicians using a company operations manual so they know your company’s best installation practices,” Criniti says. “And have up-to-date manufacturer installation procedures. Then, it’s important that you practice the installation with your technicians in your training center or even your own home.”