Sump Pump Maintenance

What is a Sump Pump?
Sump pumps are self-activating electrical pumps that protect homes from moisture intrusion. They are usually installed in a corner of the  basement or in a crawlspace.  They are designed to  to remove rising groundwater and surface runoff before it has a chance to seep into the home. Water can cause interior damage and encourage the Mold growth.  Sump Pumps should be maintained and equipped with all necessary components in order to ensure their reliability and be tested to ensure proper operation. Sump Pumps are one component I check during my Home Inspection.

Types of Sump Pumps

  • Submersible sump pumps are designed for  underwater use and sit at the bottom of the sump pit, and are much quieter than pedestal pumps. Their oil-cooled motors and tight seals protect against water and dust and afford them a long lifespan.   Sump Pumps can be purchassubersable pumped from your local home improvement stores from about $150.00 to $400.00 which is a small price to pay considering  the possibility of moisture in your basement or crawl space leading to Mold Growth.

 

  • Pedestal sump pumps sit above the water line beside the sump trench and are not designed to get wet. Since they are not contained within the sump pit, they can be accessed easily but are also very noisy.


Maintenance of Sump Pumps

  • Sump pumps must be kept clean and free of debris. The inlet screen prevents the passage of dirt and other solid material from entering the pump.   Cleaning the screen should be a part of regular maintenance.

 

  • You should make sure that the float is not tangled or jammed in one position.  The float should be free to move up and down.  Raise the float and the pump motor should start, lower float and it should stop.  A sump pump with a jammed float is useless because it will not sense when it should turn on and shut off.

 

  • The pump can be tested by pouring water into the pit to make sure it becomes activated and expels the water.  Depending on the size and design of the pit and how fast the water peculates into the ground this procedure can take quite a few gallons of water.


Components of a sump pump

  • For most homes, the sump pit should not be less than 24 inches deep and 18 inches wide.  The sump pit must be large enough to allow thesump pit pump room to work properly.  The sump pit does not need to be constructed from any particular material, as long as it is solid and provides permanent support for the pump. It must, however,. Some homeowners use a 5-gallon bucket as a sump pit, but this is insufficient.

 

  • The check valve must be the same diameter as the discharge pipe into which it fits and is usually a different color. A check valve should be installed in order to check valveprevent pumped water in the discharge line from re-entering the sump pit when the device is turned off. Without this valve, the pump will have to work twice as hard to remove the same column of water, which causes unnecessary strain to the pump components. A check valve can also prevent the rare yet disturbing possibility that a discharge line connected to a stream or pond will back-siphon into the sump pit.  These Items will be checked by a Certified Home Inspector if you are purchasing a home with a sump pump installed.

 

  • An alarm can be installed because sump pumps can burn out, lose power, become clogged or misaligned, or malfunction in a variety of other ways. It is valuable to have a warning device installed that will signal water build-up. These alarms can alert homeowners or neighbors of flooding so that it can be resolved before water damage occurs. Alarms are especially important in residences that are not occupied for long periods of time.

 

  • Backup Power sources can be installed to maintain operation during power outages which are most likely to happen during heavy rains and floods, which are situations when the sump pump is most needed. For this reason, sump pumps should have a backup power source to rely on. A pump powered by a battery or the home’s water pressure can also be installed as a backup.

 

  • A GFCI receptacle can be used but may trip during safe conditions and deactivate the sump pump when it is needed. A sump pump is among the most critical of all household appliances, and its deactivation, especially if the tenants are not home, could allow catastrophic building damage. Codes recommend that appliances in basements and crawlspaces be connected to GFCIs to reduce the chance of electrical shock, but this advice is often ignored due to these concerns over nuisance tripping.


Sump Pump Discharge

  • Point of discharge should be 20 feet from your foundation and should have positive drainage from your wall or foundation line.
  • Water should not drain onto your neighbors property and in most areas is not permitted to drain into the sewer system or septic system.

Inspections Done Right

Should I Worry About Radon?

Based on the amount of a requests I receive for Radon Testing , homeowners and home buyers are becoming more concerned about Radon gas. I think it’s important for homeowners and buyers on radon and radon testing.  I’ve included a list of links at the bottom of this article.  Please reach out ot me if you have questions.

What is Radon?

Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that is produced by the radioactive decay of radium. Radium is a product of a decay chain beginning with uranium, a naturally occurring radioactive element. Radium is found in trace amounts in nearly all rocks,soils,and groundwater as well as building materials, plants,animals,and the human body.

Where is Radon Found?

Radon is a natural component of the air we breathe. Radon gas decays to solid particles called radon decay products. Inhaled radon decay products account for more than two thirds of the natural background radiation dose to members of the public. Scientists have long known about the radiation dose from radon, particularly to miners; however, the general public in the United States became aware of the potential risk of radon in homes in the 1980s.

The map below shows the concentration of mapped Radon zones. Notice Colorado notice we in Colorado are in the Highest  Zone 1.   Colorado Springs and Elpaso County have a very high incidence of Radon Gas.

EPA Map of Radon Zones.

Is Radon Harmful to Your Health?

According to the EPA, radon is the second most important cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. Radon exposure is also considered the  primary cause of lung cancer in individuals who have never smoked. The majority of radon related lung cancers are attributable  to long-term exposures at low or moderate concentrations since most of the exposures occur at these lower concentrations. Adverse health  effects, other than lung cancer, have not been consistently demonstrated in epidemiological studies.

EPA chart (vertical number of Deaths - Horizontal Causes of Death)

 

How is Radon Measured?

Radon concentration is a measurable quantity that is related to the amount of radiation that would be emitted by radon and its decay products  in a liter of air.  Radon concentration in air is expressed in units of picocuries per liter (pCi/L).Higher radon concentrations and smoking habits are related to a higher potential for adverse human health effects. The concentration to which an individual is exposed can be influenced by that person’s lifestyle,such as time spent indoors, building construction,local geology, and other environmental factors.

What Level of Radon is Acceptable?

The U.S. EPA has established guidelines for exposure to radon in homes. At levels of 4pCi/L or more, the U.S. EPA encourages members of the public to take steps to reduce the radon concentrations and to consider action at levels above 2pCi/L. The Health Physics Society concurs with the U.S. EPA guideline of 4pCi/L. However, because 4pCi/L is not a definite line between safe and unsafe, the HPS also agrees with the EPA s recommendation to consider action at levels below 4pCiL. Recent residential epidemiological studies have demonstrated that there is a statistically significant increased risk of lung cancer at concentrations below the U.S. EPA s action level of 4pCi/L.

Radon Testing Guidelines

You should have your home or building tested by a Certified Radon Measurement Professional.   Closed house conditions are required 12 hours prior to deployment of the tests and for the 48 hours during the test.  Closed-house conditions means keeping all windows closed, keeping doors closed except for normal entry and exit, and not operating fans or other machines which bring in air from outside.  Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating for only short periods of time may run during the test.

How Long does Radon Testing Take?

Many different types of Radon Measurement Devices are available.  Short term tests require a minimum deployment tome of 48 hours to 7 days.  For the Radon tests I conduct I use either a Charcoal Liquid Scintillation which is two small vials of activated charcoal  or Activated Charcoal Adsorption container filled with activated charcoal and covered with a screen and filter.   Both of these types are deployed for 48 hours.  Long  term can be a Continuous Monitoring which could be in place for a year.

What if my Radon Levels are High?

For existing homes with radon concentrations at or above 4pCi/L, proper radon mitigation can almost always reduce levels to below 2pCi/L. Homeowners, or others responsible for a particular building, should contact a qualified radon mitigation specialist to determine the appropriate actions to be taken to reduce indoor radon concentrations. Confirmation tests should be made after mitigation to ensure that the system is working properly.

What if I Plan to Build a New Home?

For new construction, particularly in areas designated by the U.S. EPA or state radon programs as  having the potential for indoor radon concentrations exceeding 4 pCi/L, radon‐reducing features or a full mitigation system should be installed at the time of construction. Nationwide, the average cost of installing radon resistant systems in new construction is in the range of several hundred dollars, while the cost of mitigating an existing home often exceed $1,000.

Radon and Home Sales?

Radon testing is standard for many real estate transactions along the front range.   Because real estate sales happen quickly, there is often little time to mitigate for radon and this becomes a price negotiation item regardless of whether the buyer is actually concerned with radon or not. The best thing to do is to test for radon NOW and save the results in case the buyer is interested in them.  If there is a radon issue, I can recommend a mitigation company to resolve your issue and get on with the purchase or sale of your home.

 

Radon References:

EPA on Radon

El Paso County Colorado Radon Services

InterNACHI Radon Information

Or Contact me for your Radon Testing or other Home Inspection Needs

Inspections Done Right

Should My FPE Stab-Lok Panel be Replaced?

Home Inspection Electrical Issues

I see electrical issues frequently during home inspections. FPE Stab-Lok electrical panels are typically found in homes built in the 1960s. From Home Inspector Pro software and am able to advise homeowners quickly on this and other electrical problems uncovered during their inspection. Here’s the verbiage that goes on the inspection report:

FPE Stab-Loc Circuit Breaker Photo from taken during Home Inspection

FPE Stab-Loc Circuit Breaker Photo from taken during Home Inspection

 “ Federal Pacific Stab-Lok model panels are known to have a high rate of failure of circuit breakers. Failure of circuit breakers can result in a fire and/or electrocution. I strongly recommend the Federal Pacific “Stab-Lok” main electric panel be replaced by a qualified electrical contractor.”

Another narrative from Inspectopedia: 
“*** Safety Warning*** I have observed a Federal Pacific Electric “Stab-Lok” service panel in the house. This panel is a latent fire hazard: it’s circuit breakers may fail to trip in response to an overcurrent or a short circuit. Failure of a circuit breaker to trip can result in a fire, property damage, or personal injury. A circuit breaker that may not trip does not afford the protection that is intended and required. Simply replacing the circuit breakers is not a reliable repair. The panel should be replaced, and significant expense may be involved.

Since I see these fairly frequently during home inspections, I did some further research on these panels from the experts..  In a class action lawsuit, a New Jersey State Court ruled that the Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Company “violated the Consumer Fraud Act because FPE knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards.   An expert who investigated the potential hazards of Federal Pacific Electric panels stated under UL 489 test conditions, that FPE panels fail to trip at a much higher rate than standard panels.  Using UL 289 test conditions, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that Federal Pacific Electric panels may be unfit for homes. The materials used to construct the breakers may be weak. As a result, the breakers may not trip, and the panel could be susceptible to catching on fire.

Most breakers in a home are never called upon to trip, and the homeowner’s perception is that ‘the breakers work fine.’ The same observation could generally be made if there were no breakers (or fuses) at all, just a hardwired system. In the event of an electrical malfunction, however, our safety may depend on proper operation of the circuit breakers.

Electrical Safety Defect

The presence of a Federal Pacific panel in a home should be classified as a ‘Safety Defect.’ The Federal Pacific breakers are primary safety devices of questionable operating reliability. The breaker’s function is to stop certain electrical sequences that could, if allowed to proceed, lead to fire in the building. If an electrical fire hazard develops somewhere in the building, the breaker is supposed to trip and minimize the possibility of fire ignition. If the breaker is defective, fire is more likely to result.

“There is no question but that the Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® panels should be replaced. There is no practical and safe alternative.”
Dr. Jesse Aronstein, BME, MSME, PhD
Consulting Engineer Specializing in Mechanical and Materials Engineering

There appear to be two options for correcting the hazards of having this panel in your home, First is total replacement and second is an Adjustable Retrofit Kits produced by Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products (E-CH) are a patented design new electric panel interior designed to replace aging electrical panels in residential and light commercial applications.
Here is a website with lots of information on the Federal Pacific / Stab-Loc panels .  Please contact me if you have any questions or need an experienced home inspector to help you with your home purchase or sale.

Inspections Done Right