Friday, April 4, 2014

Sump Pumps

Yesterday was a wintery, drizzly, dreary day.  I was awakened from my afternoon nap by Mrs ERJ.  "There is water on the basement floor."

That is not my favorite way to have Mrs ERJ awaken me.  Sigh.

Sump Pumps

In general, sump pumps are marvelously forgettable appliances.  They are a robust, mature technology.  If there is power, they work.

I went into the basement.  There was water on the floor and the crock was full.  I went back upstairs and changed into tee shirt and shorts.  Then I joined battle with the recalcitrant sump pump.

The float was stuck.  A piece of trash had blown into the crock and jammed the float.

The sump started humming after I pulled that piece of trash (about the fifth piece) out of the crock.  The pump was humming but the water level was not subsiding.

Robust systems

One characteristic of robust systems is that they can shrug off multiple insults and still continue to turn in adequate performance.  It takes more than one or two arrows to bring down a mastodon.  A corollary of that observation is that one must be prepared to address many issues to bring a failed robust system back to baseline performance.

Smelling pretty

Part of launching kids into adulthood is to have them do their own laundry.  It is something they need to know how to do.

Mrs ERJ and I have two different approaches to encouraging our kids to take ownership of their laundry.  My approach is to tell them that I wash everything together and that I was everything on COLD/COLD.  If I pick your clothes up off the bathroom floor they might come out of the drier or off the line smelling like your brother's sweats, the dog's towel or the kitchen wash rags.

Mrs ERJ's approach is to buy them sweet smelling paper to throw in the washing machine and different sweet smelling wax paper to throw into the drier.  Those sheets of paper become limp, blowable litter after being used.  They migrate like salmon to the crock and mate.  An important part of their mating ritual involves being sucked into the sump pump and jamming the impeller.

I pulled the mating drier sheets out of the pump one at a time.  The crock was still overflowing and I was very, very wet.

Galvanized fittings

Assured of success at last, I plugged in the sump pump.

And a blast of  cold bilge water broke over the washing machine.

I unplugged the sump pump and muscled the washing machine away from the wall.

Forty years ago the builder decided to save a few dollars and use galvanized clamps to hold the hard piping for the gray water to the cinderblock wall.  He also used galvanized fittings and short lengths of radiator hose to plumb in the check valve.

Two of the galvanized wall clamps had disintegrated and the weight and the thrust of the bilge water had been supported by the radiator hose and galvanized clamps to the check valve.  Until today.  My yanking, tugging and cussing must have broken them loose as well.

All the clamps need replacing.  This is the one that let loose.

A trip to the hardware store.

I bought two stainless steel clamps.  After kibitzing with the clerk (Plumbing = Three trips.  Always) I bought another two clamps.


After many abortive efforts to insert the nipple on the check valve into the forty year old radiator hose I was finally successful after liberally lubritating the inside of the hose with dish detergent.  Clamp was tightened.  A piece of 5/4 decking put beneath the plumbing with the rotted out wall clamp.  The pump was plugged back in and the water on the floor started to recede.


In spite of repeated requests that I run for public office on the strength of my experience with crocks, bilge, filth, sweet smelling sheets and failure of robust systems, I must decline.   I have other, productive work to do.